NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–June 12, 2014. In the past 48 hours, militants have seized control of cities across northern Iraq, including Mosul, the country’s second largest city. Led by the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the insurgents’ rapid advance is raising fears of an all-out civil war as they move south towards Baghdad. The approach of this armed offensive is escalating sectarian tensions and the threat of violence even in areas beyond insurgents’ control.
MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization, is mobilizing an emergency response to protect people at severe risk as the threat of sectarian violence grows.
Yifat Susskind, MADRE Executive Director, said today, “In a climate of rising sectarian violence, those championing secularism and human rights are particular targets. MADRE is activating a strategy to secure the safety of our partners at the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) and the women they serve.”
OWFI has identified an urgent need to relocate residents of their women’s shelters, located in neighborhoods with deep sectarian divisions. In addition to the shelter residents, OWFI staff and supporters are also at risk because of their vocal support for secularism and women’s rights.
Yanar Mohammed, President of OWFI, said today, “Armed militias are everywhere in the streets of Baghdad.” She reported that, in some neighborhoods, sectarian tensions are already so high that people are afraid to leave their homes even to buy food.
Yifat Susskind of MADRE went on to say, “This surge of violence signals a return to the worst days of the sectarian fighting that was triggered by the US invasion. In fact, these divisions are directly traceable to policies advanced by the US that exacerbated distinctions between Sunni and Shia. These policies pushed Iraq away from secular government in favor of distributing authority according to religious affiliation.”
MADRE and OWFI are partnering to provide emergency relocation, food and shelter to the women in the safe houses. In particular, the organizations are working to relocate a shelter into a neighboring city less marked by sectarian division.