Thousands of refugees flee fighting in Iraq

Iraqi civilians flee fighting, as militants c... 02:28

ERBIL, Iraq - Thousands of frightened Iraqis continue to flee the fighting, streaming across the desert to Iraqi Kurdistan - a region that enjoys relative peace.

Amer Riad Hussein told CBS News he's a soldier in the Iraqi army who fought against the militants when they seized the city of Mosul on Tuesday.

"They're terrorists, and I want to crush them," he said, speaking in Arabic. "But we couldn't resist them because our commanding officers abandoned us."

Many others have told similar stories - and there are pictures that show it happening.

Scene of chaos as frightened Iraqis flee the approaching militant army. CBS News

Iraqi soldiers, many dressed in civilian clothes, deserted the battlefield outside the strategic oil town of Kirkuk.

The Iraqi government hit back Thursday, launching airstrikes in the north.

But on the ground, despite billions of dollars in American aid, Iraq's military seems unable - or unwilling - to take on the armed Islamic extremists.

ISIS: Who are the Islamic militants challengi... 02:15

Many here resent the government in Baghdad because of religious differences. Most of the refugees CBS News spoke to only had praise for the Islamic militants.

Umm Yussuf fled here with her family, but said she likes the militants because they don't harm civilians.

She only left, she said, because she's worried that Iraq's government may try to recapture the city by shelling it.

The militants have reached the outskirts of Samarra, about 80 miles north of Baghdad.

Samarra is home to one of the holiest sites to Shiite Muslims, and there are fears this could reignite Iraq's deadly religious tensions.