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August 19, 2014

Displaced Iraqis fear returning home

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More than 1.5 million Iraqis have fled their homes due to threats from a militant Islamic group that is seeking to overthrow the government.  Many are too afraid to return, even though American and Iraqi forces are fighting the group.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a Sunni group that the United States has designated a terrorist organization, advanced through Iraq this summer and now controls nearly one-third of the country.

As ISIL swept through northern towns, residents fled to other areas. Tens of thousands are camped near Irbil, a major city and capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Others fled the Sinjar Mountains, where ISIL killed and kidnapped members of the Yazidi religious minority who refused to convert to Islam. Thousands of Yazidis remain stranded there.

Residents are asking international agencies to help provide for the refugees, also called internally displaced persons (IDPs), according to Tahir Tawfik Ahmed, senior adviser to the Kurdish regional government’s human rights commission.

“We have millions of IDPs and refugees. And if they don’t feel safe to go home, the Kurds cannot provide aid for all of them alone,” he said.

President Obama announced on Aug. 7 that the U.S. would begin airstrikes to weaken ISIL. The airstrikes have helped prevent the fall of Irbil so far and helped Kurdish and Iraqi fighters retake the Mosul Dam, which is critical to the water supply in the region.

U.S. airstrikes have boosted morale among military forces on the front lines against ISIL, according to Colonel Jabar Mohi Osman, who commands a Kurdish operation in the Iraqi town of Makhmour.

Defeating ISIL will require military and political cooperation between Sunni and Shiite Muslims as well as the Kurds, NewsHour correspondent Margaret Warner said in a report from the region.


Warm up questions
  1. Where is Iraq?
  2. What are human rights?
  3. What is a refugee?  What are some challenges refugees face?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Do you think the United State’s decision to help the Kurds with airstrikes is right? Explain your answer.
  2. Imagine that you are an ethnic Kurd living in northern Iraq where you and your family have lived for generations. You know that ISIL is closing in on your town and you or your family may be harmed or even killed if you stay. However, you are unsure of what could happen to you and your family if you decide to leave your home and become a refugee. Outline the risks and benefits to both decision scenarios and choose whether you would stay or go and make an argument supported by evidence and logic to explain your choice.
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