As Islamic extremists threaten Baghdad, residents of the Iraqi capital are fleeing on foot, emptying grocery stores and hiding in shelters to escape the bloodshed.
Typically crowded streets in Baghdad were nearly empty today except for police officers manning checkpoints on major streets and outside mosques. Also visible are men who have volunteered to join the fight. One Baghdad resident told Reuters his local market is “deserted” as his neighbors try to avoid the militants, an army of radical Sunni Muslims called ISIS whose tactics have been deemed too brutal by al Qaeda. They consider Shiite Muslims to be "unbelievers," and Baghdad is a preodominantly Shiite city.
“I used to go every Friday to al-Ghazil market and I used to see a large number of people there,” Arkan says in a Reuters video. “I went today, but the market was deserted. No one was there.”
Many people from Baghdad fled after hearing ISIS took over much of northern Iraq, including the cities of Mosul and Tikrit and vowed to march on the capital. The group is known for public executions and beheading opponents in its takeovers and a top U.N. human rights official said today there were reports of public executions in Mosul, including 17 people on just one street.
“All the people are afraid now,” Arkan told Reuters. “Some of them have already gone to Kurdistan region and others went abroad. It is possible that Baghdad will see chaos.”
About half a million people have fled their homes in northern Iraq since ISIS’ attacks began on Monday, according to a U.N. estimate. Iraqi army soldiers have abandoned their posts rather than confront the militants, spooking citizens.
“We left after we saw everybody else leaving,” Abir, a 33-year-old teacher who joined the exodus with her husband and three children, told The Associated Press.
Many don’t know where they will stay tonight. One family of 12 said they would sleep together on a thin mattress lining the back of a pickup truck. Others are gathering at shelters quickly set up at schools, hospitals and mosques.