KHANAQIN - The UN on Monday (Aug 25) accused jihadists in Iraq of waging a campaign of "ethnic and religious cleansing", as Syria said it was ready to work with the global community against "terrorism". The accusation by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay came as Kurdish peshmerga forces pushed back Islamic State (IS) jihadists in northern Iraq a day after the militants overran a key military airport in Syria.
Pillay said in a statement the IS reign of terror in Iraq against non-Arab ethnic groups and non-Sunni Muslims alike involved targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, trafficking, slavery, sexual abuse and destruction of holy and cultural sites. "They are systematically targeting men, women and children based on their ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation and are ruthlessly carrying out widespread ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control," Pillay said. "Such persecution would amount to crimes against humanity," she added.
Iraq is struggling to regain significant parts of the country after the jihadists led a lightning militant offensive, seizing second city Mosul in June and sweeping through the country's Sunni heartland, as security forces fled. The IS militants have also taken control of swathes of neighbouring Syria contiguous to the land seized in Iraq, declaring an Islamic "caliphate" straddling both countries.
"Syria ready for cooperation"
Syria, which has been locked in a civil war with various rebel groups including IS since March 2011, said Monday for the first time it will work with the international community, including the United States, to tackle the problem. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem insisted at a news conference in Syria's capital, however, that any strikes on its territory must be coordinated with Damascus.
"Syria is ready for cooperation and coordination at the regional and international level to fight terrorism and implement UN Security Council resolution 2170," Muallem said. The resolution, passed earlier this month, seeks to cut funds and the flow of foreign fighters both to the Islamic State and to Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Al-Nusra Front. Muallem said Syria was willing to work within international or regional coalitions as well as in bilateral arrangements. He also said Damascus was prepared to work with the United States and Britain. "They are welcome," he said.
Western powers fear the IS "caliphate" - a successor state to historic Muslim empires - could become a launchpad for a new round of global terror attacks. Those fears were exacerbated by the grisly IS beheading of American journalist James Foley who was abducted in Syria. In a video released online late Tuesday, a masked black-clad militant said Foley was killed in revenge for US air strikes against IS. Washington has ramped up its rhetoric following the beheading, calling it "a terrorist attack against our country" and said operations against the group in Syria may also be necessary.
The US air strikes in northern Iraq have allowed the peshmerga to claw back some lost territory, but the campaign has so far been limited to northern Iraq. On Monday, the peshmerga retook three villages in the Jalawla area northeast of Baghdad from jihadist militants and also held off two assaults elsewhere, officials said. The Kurdish fighters also took control of a main road used by jihadists to transport fighters and supplies, peshmerga members said.
Farther north, militants launched two assaults on the Shiite Turkmen-majority town of Tuz Khurmatu, late on Sunday and early Monday. Both attacks were beaten back by Kurdish forces supported by Iraqi aircraft, officials said.