They left an N on the door: targeting Christians in Iraq

Iraqis displaced by ongoing conflict in nearby areas arrive in the northern Kurdish controlled Iraqi city of Kirkuk (AAP)

Hanaa and her family were by all accounts everyday people until an ISIS militant painted an “N” on the door of their family home.

Hanaa Yussef was a doctor. She worked in the health centre at Mosul, Iraq. Has two children,a  husband and a passion for healing the sick. Hanaa and her family are by all accounts everyday people who lived what could otherwise be described as an everyday life. At least until an ISIS militant painted a “N” on the door of their family home.

Like a lumberjack marking trees ISIS militants, fresh from their advance into northern Iraq, painted “N” on the doors of Christian houses.

The “N” is for nasarin, a term for Christians in the region and now an ominous warning to the families left behind.

When Marvin, a 27 year old accountant received a visit from militants in late July his elderly parent, brother and sister were given four choices: convert to Islam, pay jizya (a non-muslim tax), leave or die.

They left an “N” on Marvin’s door and left.

The family left with what they could carry, all of their money and jewellry was confiscated as they fled the city. Like so many others they are now stranded.

Hanaa Yussef’s children still scream and cry at night from the fear. All that they had built is gone and life in Iraq has become impossible. In Hanaa’s words, ISIS has stolen their lives.

Closer to the Syrian border in the west, tens of thousands of civilians are trapped in the Sinjar mountains, most of whom are from the Yezidi minority.

The Yezidi are an offshoot of the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian faith - and are often referred to by Muslims in the region as “devil worshippers”. They have long suffered persecution in Iraq and now are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

Hundreds have been killed or abducted and this week tens of thousand have fled. Men, women and children were taken as ISIS advanced and surrounded towns assisted by captured weapons supplied to Iraq by the US-led coalition of the willing.

Civilians fleeing the violence would care little for the political machinations that have fermented the terror that currently reigns in northern Iraq, but those countries part of the “coalition of the willing” must take some responsibility for the situation Hanaa, Marvin and the Yezedi’s now find themselves in.

Many will argue that the war was necessary, that Iraqi’s were left with a democracy and free from an abusive regime but this is not the point. It is not the big decisions of a decade gone that empowered ISIS but recent tangible oversights by the international community that have fueled this violence.

The ‘coalition of the willing’ supplied weapons left unsecured throughout Iraq have no doubt assisted the advance of ISIS. The exact circumstance of the ISIS advance could not have been known at the time the weapons were supplied.

The advent of a violent uprising against a new and unstable government in a country dominated by tribal politics was predictable. Despite this not so unlikely eventuality no one made sure that the weapons would not fall into the wrong hands.

The US-led coalition had a responsibility to put safeguards in place to prevent groups like ISIS captured and using the firepower against civilians.

The failure of the international community in Syria also assisted the growth of extremist groups like ISIS. As the uprising turned civil war in Syria continues to rage extremist groups have grown in numbers and strength.

Nobody is suggesting the the US should attempt a grandiose saving of the day by deploying to stop ISIS, particularly given how things turned out the last time they marched into Iraq without a UN mandate.

The US and other members of the ‘coalition of the willing’ have a greater responsibility to make sure that aid is delivered and sensible international action is taken to protect the civilians of Iraq.

Michael Hayworth is Amnesty Australia’s crisis campaigner. Got a question? Ask him on twitter: @MichaelHayworth

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