Patrick Cockburn writes in The Independent (13 July): "Since the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) on 10 June, Shia women and children have been killed in villages south of Kirkuk, and Shia air force cadets machine-gunned and buried in mass graves near Tikrit."
"In Mosul, Shia shrines and mosques have been blown up, and in the nearby Shia Turkoman city of Tal Afar 4,000 houses have been taken over by Isis fighters as 'spoils of war'. Simply to be identified as Shia or a related sect, such as the Alawites, in Sunni rebel-held parts of Iraq and Syria today, has become as dangerous as being a Jew was in Nazi-controlled parts of Europe in 1940".
Cockburn also quotes a former MI6 chief as recounting that some years back a leading Saudi prince told him: "The time is not far off in the Middle East when it will be literally 'God help the Shia'. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them."
The MI6 man reckons that ISIS got its initial funding from rich individuals in Saudi Arabia and the Qatar. The Saudi princes knew that the Sunni ultra-Islamists hate the "American Islam" of the Saudi monarchy almost as much as they hate the Shia, but reckoned they could safely license limited encouragement to them to cause trouble for Shia powers.
Now, as Cockburn puts it, "The rise of Isis is bad news for the Shia of Iraq but it is worse news for the Sunni, whose leadership has been ceded to a pathologically bloodthirsty and intolerant movement, a sort of Islamic Khmer Rouge, which has no aim but war without end".
Shia-sectarian militias are mobilising against ISIS more effectively than the Iraqi army. There have been sectarian killings of Sunnis in Baghdad.
Kurdish ministers have quit Nouri al-Maliki's government to protest against his wild accusations that Iraqi Kurdish authorities are sheltering and aiding ISIS; and the Kurdish regional government has seized oil fields around Kirkuk previously controlled from Baghdad.
Momentum is growing for formal independence for Iraqi Kurdistan, and both justice and sense add weight to that momentum. Maliki has ruled until now thanks to an alliance of convenience with Kurdish parties, and it is hard to see how he can regain authority even in a rump Shia-dominated Iraqi state.
The US wants him out, and is keeping military aid against ISIS within narrow limits until it sees political movement. Iran at first hinted that it would back Maliki, but is now reported as wanting a replacement. Who the replacement can be, some able to do business both with Iran and with the USA, is still obscure.
The left can do three main things amidst these horrors: defend the Iraqi labour movement, threatened both by ISIS and by Shia-sectarian war fever; argue for secular government as the only basis for uniting Iraq; and uphold the Kurds' right to self-determination.