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It'll take you 3 minutes to read what's happening in Iraq. Stop saying you don't have time.

Whats happening in iraq
A Yezidi woman and her baby in northern Iraq. (Photo: Amnesty International.)

By GRACE JENNINGS-EDQUIST

The crisis in Iraq is so overwhelming and complex that it can be difficult to stomach reports from the devastated country.

It can be tempting sometimes to tune out from coverage of the crisis, what’s happening in Iraq is only getting worse.

The background to this crisis is complex, but here are few key facts that will only take a couple of minutes to learn.

Amnesty International Australia’s crisis campaigner Michael Hayworth told Mamamia just how horrifying the situation on the ground is.

“They’ve been taking women, they’ve been taking children”

The Islamic State (also known as ISIS or the IS) is an Islamic militant group intent on establishing its own state. The IS is the same group responsible for the devastating execution videos of US journalists James Wright Foley and Steven Sotloff – but as Mr Hayworth told Mamamia, its sick, cruel tactics extend far beyond the beheading of those two Westerners.

“It’s horrible,” Mr Hayworth said. “They have been moving through villages, rounding up men, putting them in lines and shooting them dead.”

“How we’re describing it is ethnic cleansing. They’re removing whole ethnic groups from a population and from an area (in northern Iraq),” he said.

“We’ve seen people beheaded, we’ve seen mass grave sites… We’ve seen thousands of people dead and we can’t really see an end in sight for this conflict.”

A mass killing.

Last month, two incidents of mass killings on a single day claimed the lives of hundreds of men and boys as young as 12, Amnesty International said in a briefing this week.

“They’ve also been taking women, they’ve been taking children and abducting them,” Mr Hayworth told Mamamia.

Amnesty International reports that hundreds and “possibly thousands” of women and children have been abducted since the IS took control of northern Iraq —  and that those abducted, “notably girls in their teens and early 20s,” have allegedly been subjected to rape, forced to marry fighters, or sold into sexual slavery.

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Which groups are being targeted?

Ethnic and religious minorities have lived together in northern Iraq for centuries.

But today, much of that area is under IS control — and the group has embarked on a campaign to obliterate non-Arabs and non-Sunni Muslims, meaning a wide range of minority groups, including Yezidis, Kakai, Sabean Mandaeans, and Assyrian Christians are under threat.

“All in all, we’re seeing this incredibly violent group target minorities, showing up and giving them the choice to convert (to Islam), leave or die,” Mr Hayworth told Mamamia. “It’s an incredibly horrific situation for families on the ground.”

Whats happening in iraq
A displaced woman, Sawsan Hassan, and her children. Amnesty told Mamamia Hassan’s husband was abducted by IS last month and has since disappeared. Hassan is pictured here trying to call him using a mobile phone – so far, there has been no answer. (Photo: courtesy of Amnesty)

Mr Hayworth said Shi’a Muslims were also being targeted — but that even Sunni Muslims, despite being from the same sect as the IS, were not safe.

“Sunni Muslims who are seen to cooperate with the Iraqi government or the coalition oif the willing in the past, are also being singled out by mass executions,” Mr Hayworth said.

Those who were able to flee are mostly sheltering in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Amnesty reports.

The humanitarian conditions for the overwhelming majority of the hundreds of thousands of displaced are dire. “They’re living in makeshift camps with little to no sanitation; there’s no toilets; there’s certainly no schools,” Mr Hayworth said.

Amnesty International reports that displaced families were living in “building sites, makeshift encampments and parks with no sanitation, others in schools, halls and other public buildings”.

Mr Hayworth said the living conditions could be likened to a description once passed onto him by a displaced person: “It’s the taking away of your entire life and world that is often experienced by these people,” he said.

“They’re hugely affected.”

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