Middle East Updates / Australian PM doesn’t rule out boots on ground in Iraq

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Amnesty International accuses Islamic State group of war crimes; Obama sending 350 more troops to protect U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Haaretz’s latest analyses on the Middle East: The real threat from Islamic State isn’t in the Middle East (Anshel Pfeffer); Egypt: We’ll open Rafah crossing only if PA troops guard it (Amos Harel).

5:19 A.M. An international rights group accused the extremist Islamic State group on Tuesday of systematic “ethnic cleansing” in northern Iraq targeting indigenous religious minorities, as well as conducting mass killings of men and abducting women.

In a new report, Amnesty International said militants abducted “hundreds, if not thousands” of women and girls of the Yazidi faith. The extremists also killed “hundreds” of Yazidi men and boys, Amnesty said. In at least one incident, the report said militants rounded up on trucks, took them to the edge of their village and shot them.

The 26-page report adds to a growing body of evidence outlining the scope and extent of the Islamic State group’s atrocities since it began its sweep from Syria across neighboring Iraq in June. The militants since have seized much of northern and western Iraq, and have stretched to the outskirts of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

In its report, Amnesty detailed how the advance of Islamic State group fighters expelled an estimated 830,000 people — mostly Shiites and those belonging to tiny religious minorities that barely exist outside of Iraq. They include Aramaic-speaking Christians, Yazidis, a faith that traces to ancient Mesopotamia, the Shabak, an offshoot of Islam, and Mandeans, a gnostic faith.

Most fled as extremists neared their communities, fearing they’d be killed or forcibly converted to the group’s hardline version of Islam.

Thousands of Christians now live in schools and churches in northern Iraq. Yazidis crowd into a displaced persons camp and half-finished buildings. Shiites have mostly drifted to southern Iraq.

Islamic State fighters also systematically seized Yazidi women and children, some as they rounded up villagers, others as they tried to flee the militant onslaught, the report said. Their fate is unclear.

The report said they had obtained the names of “scores of the women and children” seized by the group. It said “hundreds, possibly thousands,” were likely being held.

Some captive women are secretly communicating with their families on cell phones, Amnesty said. They told their families that some girls and young women were separated and taken away, Amnesty said.

It appears that some teenage girls were taken in groups to the homes of Islamic State fighters, the report said.

The brother of one girl who escaped the militants told The Associated Press that his 17-year-old sister was held with another Yazidi teenage girl in a house in the Iraqi town of Falluja. Khairy Sabri said militants threatened to kill his sister Samira if she did not convert to Islam. Sabri said his sister was seized on August 3 and was moved three times.

After fighting intensified between Kurdish forces and the militants, the three Islamic State group fighters guarding the house fled, allowing the women to escape, Sabri said. Sabri said his sister was otherwise unharmed.

Amnesty noted allegations that some abducted women were raped or forced to marry fighters.

The group said detained women who were in contact with their families had not been harmed, but “they believe that others have, notably those who were moved to undisclosed locations and have not been heard from since.” (AP)

4:50 A.M. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday declined to rule out sending combat troops to support U.S. air strikes in Iraq, amid a growing confrontation with radical Islamists who have seized large swaths of that country and neighboring Syria.

Abbott was asked by a journalist whether “boots on the ground” were needed to push back the Islamic State militant group, which on Tuesday released a video purporting to show the beheading of a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff.

“Many countries are talking to one another about what is the best way forward here but plainly ISIS is a threat not just to the people of the Middle East, but to the wider world,” he said, using an acronym for the Sunni militant group.

“This is a conflict which we understandably wish to avoid, but it is a conflict which sadly, is reaching out to us, as we have seen.”

Although Australia is not a NATO member, its troops fought alongside the coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is expected to accept formal membership in the coalition’s Enhanced Partnership Program at a summit later this week. (Reuters)

3:40 A.M. U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered about 350 more troops to Baghdad to protect the U.S. Embassy in the Iraqi capital and is sending top officials to the Middle East to “build a stronger regional partnership” against Islamic State militants, the White House said on Tuesday.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby added that the move  would bring the total number of U.S. military personnel responsible for bolstering diplomatic security in Iraq up to about 820. (Reuters)

 

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