THE continuing struggle to provide food and shelter for the thousands of Christians and members of other minority communities sheltering in the Kurdish-administered region of Iraq is taking place against the background of increasing Sunni-Shia tension in Baghdad and other cities.
This in turn is hindering efforts to form a new inclusive government to tackle the challenges posed by the Islamic State (IS) jihadists, who control a large area of the country. Last Friday, about 70 Sunnis were shot dead at a mosque near Baquba, 70 miles north-east of the capital.
The assumption was that the attackers belonged to a Shia militia. On Monday and Tuesday, dozens of people were killed and wounded in attacks on Shia targets in the capital and in towns just to the south of it. In one incident, nine worshippers in a mosque were killed.
Two representatives of the Sunni community, the recently elected Speaker of Parliament, Salim al-Jabouri, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Saleh al-Mutlak, announced at the weekend the suspension of their involvement in talks to establish a new government, in protest at the Baquba mosque killings.
There is widespread agreement in Iraq that the creation of a cabinet that represents the interests of the Sunni community is essential, if Sunnis are to be persuaded to turn against IS. The Sunnis accused the previous Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, of discriminating against them.
Any concerted military operation against IS will have to await the formation of a new government. But the more pressing concern is providing care for the hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, who chairs the British charity the AMAR International Charitable Foundation, has been meeting medical teams treating some of those who have fled the areas controlled by IS, and who are now forced to live in camps in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
During a visit to Khazar, close to the Kurdish-IS front line, Lady Nicholson met a family who had just escaped from an IS area. All their possessions had been stolen. She said that the grandfather had told her that "his lifetime's work building a farm with a 500-strong herd of sheep had been destroyed in a few minutes. The IS took everything.
They even snatched the gold cross from around his daughter-in-law's neck. What this poor family has been through is something I am hearing repeated constantly. Terrible crimes against humanity are being committed here over and over again. . . We are in desperate need of more funds".
A Christian relief organisation, Medair, says that it is sending emergency-response teams to Iraq to meet the urgent needs of the displaced. Medair will distribute high-energy food rations and other supplies.
"The humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq is complex and fluid," the international director of Medair, Mark Screeton, said. "But you cannot fail to see the chaos and suffering". Another aspect of the Iraq crisis is how to respond to both IS and the upheavals that it has caused.
The Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon and Archbishop of Baghdad, the Most Revd Louis Raphael Sako, in a statement on Sunday, said that the international community, "principally the United States and European Union, due to their moral and historic responsibility towards Iraq, cannot be indifferent.
While acknowledging all that is being done to solve this crisis, it seems that the decisions and actions undertaken until now have made no real change in the course of events, and the fate of these affected people is still at stake, as if these people are not part of the human race."
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, has called on the Government to show leadership internationally and domestically in support of those suffering in Iraq. He said that he wrote to the Prime Minister about this three weeks ago, but has so far not received a reply.
Dr Sentamu agrees that the UK has a responsibility to do more to help in Iraq. He wrote on his website on Tuesday that, as a Security Council member, Britain should "support calls from the United Nations' own committees for the creation of a 'safe zone' in Iraq, enforced by UN peacekeepers, to protect the country's minorities".
The time had come for the Government "to show leadership in offering asylum to those at risk of persecution". Lord Carey of Clifton, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, writing in the Mail On Sunday, said that he believed that British Muslims who travelled abroad to "commit violent jihad" terrorist acts should be stripped of their passports.
The list of atrocities committed by IS is growing fast. The UN has said that close to 670 prisoners in Mosul were summarily massacred. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, spoke of "grave, horrific human-rights violations" that were being committed daily.
The IS was "systematically targeting men, women, and children based on their ethnic, religious, or sectarian affiliation". Another atrocity was the beheading of the American journalist James Foley, which was filmed and distributed on the internet.
At a memorial mass on Sunday, in his family's Roman Catholic parish church in New Hampshire, a message sent on behalf of Pope Francis to the Bishop of Rockville Centre was read out. The Pope also spoke privately by phone to Mr Foley's parents.
by Gerald Butt