Please see the map at the bottom of this post for updated movements in Iraq by ISIS and Kurds.
CBC News reporters Margaret Evans, Sasa Petricic, Nahlah Ayed and Tracey Seeley are on the ground in the northeast city of Erbil, where only 90 kilometres west in Mosul, militants with the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) have taken control.
Erbil is considered safe by some Iraqis because it is controlled by the Kurds, who have managed to keep the militants away from this area of the country.
"Those militants have become famous for attacking and taking over the cities of Mosul and Tikrit," Petricic said. "They've been posting horrific pictures of people who have been killed and assassinated."
As the Iraqi military has run away during most of these situations, Petricic said, many of the people in Iraq are very afraid of these developments.
The Iraqi government has asked for help from the American government.
"There is some sign that maybe help is coming. The United States has moved a couple of major ships into the Persian Gulf — into this region. Perhaps positioning them for some kind of airstrike," Petricic said.
The refugees in Erbil have made it clear they want help. They just don't know where it will come from.
The U.S. is weighing talks with its arch-enemy Iran to support the Iraqi government in its battle with Sunni Islamist insurgents who routed Baghdad's army and seized the north of the country in the past week. Remember, Iran is Shia Muslim as is the government of Iraq, although Shias are a minority in Iraq. If you try to figure out who the good-guys are, Sunni or Shia, you eventually come to the conclusion that neither qualify.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said Monday ISIS militants have "almost certainly committed war crimes" with "cold-blooded executions" of hundreds of civilians, Petricic reported.
The radical Sunni group itself has boasted about killing hundreds of people, with the group releasing videos of militants tormenting Shia Muslim prisoners, including one man in an Iraqi army uniform, and asking them about religion. There are fears that such scenes will cause an explosion of sectarian bloodshed all over the region.
Ottawa's chargés d'affairs left Baghdad yesterday. Canadians had already been warned to avoid all travel to Iraq because of the volatile situation there.
While critics have argued the Obama administration is being too slow to react to the crisis in Iraq, Larry Diamond, a Middle East analyst with Stanford University in California, says the U.S. president is being careful not to play into the hands of ISIS.
"He's handled this carefully and wisely. I think it would be a huge mistake to commit American ground troops. This is what these ruthless Islamist terrorist thugs want, is to enmesh the United States in another ground war in Iraq," Diamond said.
|This image posted on a militant website appears to show militants from the |
al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) leading away
captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq. (The Associated Press)
"I think the only way it can truly be stopped is by constructing a broadly inclusive government in Baghdad that Iraqis of all types want to fight for," he said. And you think there is time for that?
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that American drone strikes are an option in a bid to halt the dramatic sweep by insurgents over a swath of Iraq.
He also said the Obama administration is willing to talk with Iran on ways to co-operate on helping to solve the crisis.
State department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that military co-operation with Iran is not in the cards, but that the two nations could seek "a responsible diplomatic approach."
"Not military co-ordination or co-operation, but there's a shared concern about the threat of [ISIS] and that's why we would be open to that discussion," Psaki said.
CBC's Meagan Fitzpatrick, reporting from Washington, said the idea would be for the U.S. to encourage Iran to try to persuade Iraq to build a more inclusive government, one that isn't built so much along sectarian lines.
Already, the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force, Gen. Ghasem Soleimani, is in Iraq, consulting with officials on how to roll back the al-Qaeda breakaway group leading the insurgent charge, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Iraqi security officials said.
With Kirkuk and Jalawala, the Kurds have extended their territory. How far do they intend to go?