40,000 of Iraq's Yazidi Muslims in danger of dying of thirst
Is the Islamic State the most effective terrorist group in history? Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are on the move, fleeing from their brutal and barbaric practices. If they're not the most effective terrorists in history, they may be the best since Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes terrorized the world in the 13th century.
Their practice of murdering people of minority religious sects is now well established, which has Shiites and others fleeing for their lives in northern Iraq. One such group is a small sect known as the Yazidi. Their stronghold in the north was overrun by ISIS which sent more than 150,000 of them fleeing. Now, about 40,000 - most of them women and children - are stranded on a rocky, mile high mountain with no food or water and no escape from ISIS.
Tens of thousands of members of one of Iraq's oldest minorities have been stranded on a mountain in the country's north-west, facing slaughter at the hands of jihadists surrounding them below if they flee, or death by dehydration if they stay.
UN groups say at least 40,000 members of the Yazidi sect, many of them women and children, have taken refuge in nine locations on Mount Sinjar, a craggy, mile-high ridge identified in local legend as the final resting place of Noah's ark.
At least 130,000 more people, many from the Yazidi stronghold of Sinjar, have fled to Dohuk, in the Kurdish north, or to Irbil, where regional authorities have been struggling since June to deal with one of the biggest and most rapid refugee movements in decades.
Sinjar itself has been all but emptied of its 300,000 residents since jihadists stormed the city late on Saturday, but an estimated 25,000 people remain. "We are being told to convert or to lose our heads," said Khuldoon Atyas, who has stayed behind to guard his family's crops. "There is no one coming to help."
Another man, who is hiding in the mountains and identified himself as Nafi'ee, said: "Food is low, ammunition is low, and so is water. We have one piece of bread to share between 10 people. We have to walk 2km to get water. There were some air strikes yesterday [against the jihadists], but they have made no difference."
At least 500 Yazidis, including 40 children, have been killed in the past week, local officials say. Many more have received direct threats, either from the advancing militants or members of nearby Sunni communities allied with them. "They were our neighbours and now they are our killers," said Atyas.
"It's not like this is a one-off incident," said the Unicef spokeswoman Juliette Touma. "We are almost back to square zero in terms of the preparedness and the supplies. Enormous numbers of people have been crossing the border since June.
"The stresses are enormous; dehydration, fatigue, people sometimes having to walk for days. The impact on kids is very physical, let alone the psychological impact."
A former diplomat, the longest serving State Department employee in Iraq, paints a frightening picture of what's happening:
"Iraq is spiralling out of control," said Ali Khedery, the former longest-serving US official in Baghdad. "The centrifugal forces are spinning so quickly. They are on one timeline and Washington is on another. I am beyond concerned."
Khedery, who reported to five US ambassadors and three US central command generals and is now chairman of the Dubai-based consultancy Dragoman Partners, said: "Everybody is retreating to their corners. And there is no credible international actor that I can see that is trying to bring it together again.
"It definitely is an existential threat to the Iraqi government and I think it represents yet another manifestation of the disintegration of Iraq as we know it.
"Iranian overreach, the genocide in Syria, [Nouri] al-Maliki's consolidation of power in a very sectarian way, have all led to the disillusionment, the disenfranchisement of the Sunni Arabs, who have fatally, but perhaps understandably, chosen to consummate a deal with the devil. Now we are locked in a race to the bottom."
"No credible actor" includes the US which is nowhere to be found while Iraq disintegrates. We've got a few hundreds soldiers apparently training the Iraqi military, but beyond that - nothing. Wepeans are on the way but by the time they arrive, Iraq may be no more.
But with everything else going on in the world - Syria, Ukraine, Ebola, our southern border - the tragedy that is unfolding before our eyes in Iraq gets lost in the shuffle. A situation that cries out for American leadership isn't getting it because the American president doesn't want to risk getting drawn into the conflict.
Risk is part of sitting in the big chair. But as with everything else these days, the president seems disengaged and helpless to do anything about the situation.
A previous version of this article implied that the Yazidi are Muslim. They are not. They follow an ancient religion related to Zoroastrianism. I regret the error.