Eyewitnesses in Qaraqosh said IS militants were taking down crosses in churches and burning religious manuscripts. The town - referred to as Iraq's Christian capital - is located 30km (19 miles) southeast of the city of Mosul, which was captured by IS in June. As many as 100,000 people are believed to be fleeing toward the autonomous Kurdistan Region.
Meanwhile thousands Iraqis belonging to the minority of the Yazidis are faced with a bleak choice: descend and risk slaughter at the hands of the encircled Sunni extremists – or remain where they are and risk dying of thirst. Humanitarian agencies have estimated that between 10,000 and 40,000 civilians remain trapped on Mount Sinjar since being driven out of surrounding villages and the town of Sinjar on Sunday. But the mountain that had looked like a refuge is becoming a graveyard for their children.
Unable to dig deep into the rocky mountainside, displaced families said they have buried young and elderly victims of the harsh conditions in shallow graves, their bodies covered with stones. Iraqi government planes attempt to drop bottled water onto the mountain, but have so far reached few of those marooned.
“There are children dying on the mountain, on the roads,” said Marzio Babille, Iraq representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef). “There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded. It’s a disaster, a total disaster.”
The Yazidi sect melds parts of ancient Zoroastrianism with Christianity and Islam. They are considered by the al-Qa’ida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) to be devil worshippers and apostates.