Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community cross the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on August 11, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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For the desperate of Iraq there is no quick fix, but we can help alleviate some of the suffering

We must not find ourselves wondering how this humanitarian crisis spiralled further and further out of control.

The news from northern Iraq is terrifying in detail, and staggering in scale. No food, no water, no shelter, tens of thousands uprooted by a murderous mob of Islamic State (IS) terrorists, too many out of contact and out of reach. At times like these the UK must play a leading role in helping those in need. Our capacity to assist in humanitarian crises is immense – we must now put the full force of that experience and expertise behind the Iraqi people, for many of them are in desperate need. 

After a week of heightening violence in Ninewa Province, northern Iraq, IS have been gaining ground - leaving hundreds of thousands displaced, in a region already home to almost a quarter of a million Syrian refugees and nearly 400,000 internally displaced Kurds.  

On 3 August, IS fighters took control of the districts of Sinjar and Tel Afar. The chaos that ensued saw 200,000 Yazidi and Christians forced from their homes. Four days later, IS fighters took Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town, and its surroundings forcing a further 200,000 to flee. Mount Sinjar is now home to 50,000, half of whom are children. The reports that have emerged of mass graves, beheadings and systematic rape are not easy to independently verify but the signs of a man-made humanitarian crisis are undeniable. 

President Obama was right to authorise air strikes to prevent the slaughter of these terrified and vulnerable people and to support the humanitarian air drops of food and water, and Labour support that action. The humanitarian priority now has to be providing immediate life-saving assistance including water, food, shelter and medicine for those who have been forced to flee their homes. This government is right to use the RAF to deliver essential supplies to the Yazidis, and they are right to release an £8m package of support for those who have fled IS terrorists. But there’s more we can do.

First, given the grave concerns regarding the imminent danger faced by minorities in Iraq, the UK Government should focus their response on the issue of discrimination against minority groups. All of those in need must have equal access to protection and aid.

Second, additional capacity and funding is desperately needed – the UK must not just do our bit, but invest real political capital in rallying the international community to fund urgent support the people of Iraq.

And third, the UK must lead international efforts to provide that assistance and funding through all means available, including through the use of any appropriate UK military capabilities.

Further, we have to make the protection of women and girls a priority - as the crisis drags on, the position of women and girls becomes all the more desperate. Around 250,000 women, including nearly 60,000 pregnant women, are in urgent need of care; around 20,000 women and girls face increased risk of sexual violence. The international community has to do all it can to ensure they are protected.

And coordination is key – northern Iraq is in chaos, access to IS areas is impossible, assessing the rest of the region impossibly complex. The continuous movement of displaced peoples and the all pervading fog of war mean many have not received the water, food and medicine they desperately need. Clear command and control of resources is difficult but vital. Firm leadership structures must be established and followed, and funding gaps can identified, assessed and addressed.

No-one doubts that the situation in northern Iraq is grave, and the truth is for those in desperate need is that there is no quick fix, no magic wand, but we can help alleviate some of the suffering. But we must not find ourselves wondering how this humanitarian crisis spiralled further and further out of control. With the resources and capabilities at the world's disposal these people cannot be abandoned. 

Jim Murphy is shadow international development secretary and Labour MP for East Renfrewshire

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood