Iraqi Christians: "We need somewhere safe to live"

ERBIL, Iraq - There are important developments in the Iraq crisis.

It appears Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will step down. There had been concern that after eight years he would try to hold on to power by military force. And correspondent David Martin reports that President Obama is sending about 130 more American military advisers to Iraq. There are 250 in the country already.

They're helping the Iraqi government roll back ISIS, a Muslim extremist army that has taken control of parts of Iraq and Syria.

Obama ordered airstrikes on ISIS when it threatened the Kurdish city of Erbil in northern Iraq. That's where these new American advisers would go, to help thousands of refugees who are surrounded on Mount Sinjar.

On Monday, when an Iraqi helicopter dropped water to help the refugees, some refugees seized the chance and jumped aboard.

On Tuesday, a similar Iraqi mission crashed after it was rushed by refugees. The pilot was killed. Many were injured.

Refugees are fleeing because ISIS militants have murdered, by the thousands, anyone who is not a member of their Sunni Muslim faith.

CBS News discovered what's happening to the Christians.

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Christians in Iraq still pray in Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ.
CBS News

We visited the town of Bartella two months ago, as ISIS militants began their campaign of violence and terror in northern Iraq.

Christians have lived here for at least 1,500 years. They still pray in Aramaic - the language spoken by Christ.

With the Islamic extremists just 10 miles away, Capt. Firaz Jacob and his 600 local militiamen had vowed to protect their home.

We asked what they would do if the militants came to this Christian town?

"We don't know," Firaz told us, speaking in Arabic, "but maybe they'll do what they've done in other places and kill us."

Capt. Firaz and his men held on until last week when ISIS went on the rampage again, capturing more territory for what they say is their own, Islamic state.

The townspeople fled in the middle of the night. Now, 200 families are crowded into a community hall, including baby Marbel, who was born the same day they ran for their lives.

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Some 200 Christian families are staying in a town hall in Erbil, Iraq.
CBS News

These are proud people who have lost everything and have nowhere to go.

Capt. Firaz is here and told us he was the last to leave Bartella, after everyone else had made it out.

Does he think they will ever be able to go back to Bartella?

"If we go back to our town in a few months or a few years we'll be pushed out again," he said. "We need somewhere safe to live."

Many people blame the current prime minister, al-Maliki, for fueling religious and ethnic tensions here. He's now isolated and will probably have to leave office. He's lost the support of his Iranian backers as well as the militias that were once loyal to him.

But the question is whether a new government can end those hatreds and unify Iraq.

  • Holly Williams

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