Iraq conflict’s Austin tie: “Innocent people are dying”

AUSTIN (KXAN/AP) — An Austin man who grew up in Iraq is pushing for action to help his family trapped by militants on mountain in Iraq.

“This is my mother and this is my nephew,” said Khaleel, pointing to a picture on his laptop.

The pictures are from 2012, just before Khaleel moved to the United States.

Khaleel says he helped the U.S. Army as a linguist in Iraq before moving to the United States.

“She’s there too,” he said pointing to another picture of a child.

Each picture has members of Khaleel’s family he says are stranded in Iraq.

The U.S. unleashed its first airstrikes in northern Iraq against militants of the Islamic State group Friday amid a worsening humanitarian crisis. The extremists took captive hundreds of women from a religious minority, according to an Iraqi official, while thousands of other civilians fled in fear.

Khaleel’s family are members of the Yazidi religious minority whose plight – trapped on a mountaintop by the militants – prompted the U.S. to airdrop crates of food and water to them.

Still, Khaleel says his family has not received any of the aid.

The International Rescue Committee said it was providing emergency medical care for up to 4,000 dehydrated Yazidis, mostly women and children, who survived without food or water for up to six days hiding in the Sinjar mountains before fleeing to a refugee camp in Syria, where a civil war is raging.

“And they are dying out there because there is no water. There is no food,” Khaleel said of his family in Iraq.

Khaleel said he’s had difficulty keeping in contact with his family. A few attempts to call relatives while KXAN News was present did not connect or were routed to the wrong phone.

“I can not let the emotions take over me because if I do let them take over me, I will not be able to help [my family],” said Khaleel. “I just want to let the whole world know that innocent people are dying.”

Khaleel hadn’t heard from family in hours at the time of the interview with KXAN News, but on the fourth phone call attempt, he got through to two of his brothers.

“And this indicates that they’re still alive,” said Khaleel. “And I know that some of them, they are still out there and praying and hoping that they can be saved someone.”

Khaleel is pleading for help from the U.S. government. He wants the aid to reach his family and he wants military action to stop ISIS.

“If they ask me to go now, I’d go right now and leave everything out here just to save those innocent people,” said Khaleel.

Families from several Texas cities also traveled to Washington D.C. to push for action in hopes of saving families trapped in Iraq.

The families represent the local Yazidi community and live in Austin, San Antonio and Houston, said Alan Ibrahim who traveled to Washington D.C.

“I called my family on the mountain and they said they weren’t able to get food, but there was some water they were able to get,” said Alan Ibrahim, who spoke to KXAN News from Washington D.C., but lives in San Antonio.

Iraqis on Friday welcomed the U.S. airlift of emergency aid to thousands of people who fled to the mountains to escape Islamic extremists and called for greater intervention, as U.S. warplanes struck the militants for the first time.

Cargo planes dropped parachuted crates of food and water over an area in the mountains outside Sinjar near the Syrian border, where thousands of members of the Yazidi minority where sheltering, according to witnesses in the militant-held town, who asked not to be identified for security reasons.

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