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KALAK, Iraq -- Iraqis fleeing Islamist militants who have seize large parts of the country's north expressed fears of clashes, kidnapping and rape.
Hundreds of men, women and children crammed into vehicles and arrived at a checkpoint at the northern frontier of this largely autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq.
"Masked men came to our house and they threatened us: 'We will get to you.' So we fled," said Abed, a laborer who abandoned his home on the edge of Mosul Thursday. "They kidnapped other people. They took away some people for interrogation."
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The young man said rumors were quickly spreading that Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) fighters — as well as masked bandits taking advantage of the chaos — were seizing young women for rape or forced marriage.
"They are destroying the honor of families," said Abed, who, like many of the displaced, wouldn't give his full name, fearing the ISIS fighters.
Many of the displaced said they were on the move because they feared retribution by Iraq's military — underscoring the grave sectarian tensions that have allowed the ISIS fighters, who are Sunni extremists, to conquer so fast and deeply.
Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, is mostly Sunni, and many residents have long complained of discrimination and mistreatment by the Shiite-dominated central government.
"We were worried the struggle would get bigger, that Maliki's army would shell us," said a middle-aged Sunni woman, referring to the country's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
"Whoever will rule us — let them rule us," said her husband Talal Ahmad, 62. "We just want our children to be safe."
His family of 12 was sleeping in the back of a pickup truck that was lined with thin mattresses.
One fleeing Iraqi soldier said he was ordered by his officer to abandon his post, even before ISIS fighters reached the area.
"We didn't even raise our weapons. This isn't even unimaginable — it's madness," said 38-year-old Shaker Karam. "We didn't even see a terrorist."