Islamic State Forces Capture Kurdish Town Near Syrian Border
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's report next on a crisis in Iraq. It's a crisis even beyond that country's day-to-day war, in which the extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State has seized a large part of the country. That group also known as ISIS has surrounded members of a religious minority. ISIS considers that minority, the Yazidi community, to be heretics. Reporter Patrick Osgood of the Iraq Oil Reports is following the battles. He's on the line, welcome to the program.
PATRICK OSGOOD: Thank you for having me.
INSKEEP: So how many Yazidis are we talking about and where exactly have they fled to?
OSGOOD: Well, of the approximately total population of Yazidi in Iraq, they're a small minority of about 400,000 of them. One-hundred-fifty thousand of them have fled a town called Sinjar. Most of them fled north into the Kurdistan region. They had to flee because the Kurdish Peshmerga, the security forces there collapsed in the face of a night assault. Tens of thousands of them displaced in other Yazidi towns and camps inside the Kurdistan region. There is also at least 15,000 of them stranded on a mountain range immediately above the towns, without food or water or shelter. They've been stranded there for three days. The reason why they're stranded there is because ISIS militants together with local Sunni Arab villages, who are also (unintelligible) have surrounded all by that mountain range and they cannot come down without the likelihood of being exterminated.
INSKEEP: And you underline some of the complexity of the situation here because you're saying they could not even find shelter in the Kurdish region, which is a region that has been somewhat separate from the rest of Iraq, has its own security forces and you're saying even those security forces have not been able to withstand the assault of this extremist group.
OSGOOD: That's correct. There sustained fighting on the second of August. But the Kurdish Peshmerga suffered a lack of ammunition and also a lack of just general force capability against fighters, which have of course inherited this huge trove of weaponry - American weaponry from the Iraqi army. The Kurdish Peshmerga have not able quit to match that, and that's what shows.
INSKEEP: So the Iraqi Army has collapsed in many places. The Kurdish Peshmerga have not been able to fight very well in every case. Let me come back to the main Iraqi army, which has been trying to regroup. Have they been doing any better in battling ISIS?
OSGOOD: The Iraqi army is actually not been doing much battling of ISIS, really at all. They have been doing so to some extent. The main focus is on reconstituting units and putting together commands after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sacked a lot of the top brass for their under-performance in the initial campaign against ISIS. The main way in which the Iraqi security forces are trying to turn the tide is through the use of their new air power. They purchased some Russian bombers, which are now active over much of central Iraq. And they're hoping with the some air power they can turn things around. To go back to the Kurds they are multi-counteroffensive at the moment, very fierce battles in Sinjar, and other key towns in between the Syrian border and Mosul. They retook a key town called Rabia, two days ago. It's a very, very fluid situation. But because they're now firmly in this war, the issue is now is the expense that they can cooperate with the Iraqi army in order to defeat ISIS.
INSKEEP: Patrick Osgood, because you report for the Iraq Oil Report and therefore cover just that, I'd like to ask how much of Iraq's oil does ISIS control at this point?
OSGOOD: They control several hundred, maybe upwards to a million barrels of oil reserves. They have control of several oil fields now, that produce crude and they also now have control of an operational refinery, which is quite close to Sinjar in the area where much of the fighting has been going on. So, what they've been doing is getting smugglers (Unintelligible) This very consistent, widespread oil smuggling network and they have been selling at large discount oil to these smugglers and getting money for their focal Caliphate in that way. The Kurds have tried to shut down the oil smuggling that was going on into the border with Kurdistan. So I think that that's going away, but of course ISIS has this ability to move things across Syria, where they've been monetizing oil for some time. So oil is important for ISIS; it gives them money; it gives them the ability to fuel place where they control and the vehicles they use. So it's an important part of what they've got, and they've continued to expand their control over oil assets in Iraq.
INSKEEP: Patrick Osgood of the Iraq Oil Report. Thanks very much.
OSGOOD: Thank you.
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.