Iraqis Suffer In Nineveh As World Watches Gaza

An ancient landscape that was once the envy, perhaps the centre, of the civilised world.

Now a desert hell for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Nineveh faces a religious pogrom while the eyes of the outside world are fixed on Gaza.

In the past week the self-styled Islamic State, which captured Nineveh a few weeks ago from Iraq's army, has attacked the heartland of the Yezidis.

This religious movement has roots that predate Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Its community is a living tie to the global past of monotheism with a theological tradition that incorporates Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and paganism.

Now some 300,000 - the core population - are reported to be under pressure from the IS to leave their villages near Mosul or face death.

They have joined tens of thousands of Christians from Nineveh's capital and surroundings who were given the choice to convert to Islam or die.

Now 50,000 are reported to be starving in the nearby mountains.

The reported exodus of Yezidis came as the IS launched an offensive aimed at driving Kurdish forces from the neighbouring semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, from the area.

Kurdish officials are reporting that tens of thousands of ethnic Kurd Yezidis have fled into the mountains of the region and are trying desperately to reach safety behind Peshmerga lines.

The Iraqi central government has sent aircraft to support the Peshmerga to recapture the Sinjar Mountain area.

The Kurds have claimed success but there has been no independent verification of the claim.

What is less in doubt is the cultural vandalism that the IS has unleashed in the region.

Nabi Yunis, an ancient tomb said to be that of the Old Testament's Jonah, has been reduced to rubble.

An architectural gem, it was an important shrine for Muslims, Christians and Jews and sat on top of a mount that experts believe was probably an Assyrian temple before it became a Zoroastrian temple, a church, and later a mosque.

The Sunni extremist fighters have removed or destroyed more than a dozen tombs, statues, mosques and shrines.

Nabi Yunis was wired with explosives and blown to dust by IS which is emulating the Taliban's destruction of ancient monuments in Bamiyan Province.

But IS has gone to a different level. The Taliban did not attack religious shrines that did not show representations of the human form not tear down Sufi monuments.

IS has introduced a regime of total religious intolerance and even, reportedly, ordered that all women in the regions under its control submit to Female Genital Mutilation - a practice that is almost unknown in northern Iraq but has been imported from outside.

The spokesperson for the Yezidi Spiritual Movement, Hadi Babasheikh, told Rudaw, a Kurdish news agency, that the situation of the Yezidis "is getting worse and worse".

Many Yezidi women have been taken hostage and sexually abused by the Islamic militants, he added.

Mr Babasheikh said he had met the US and British consuls in Erbil on Monday, urging them to come to the rescue of his community.

The Kurdish administration has, meanwhile, been appealing for donations of modern weapons to combat those stolen by IS from the Iraqi army when it collapsed.