SAN DIEGO (AP) -- A sobbing businessman in his 30s called a hotline set up by his fellow Iraqi immigrants, desperate to talk to someone after fearing his father was the man he saw in an online news video of a beheading in northern Iraq.
Another call came in from a mother who was inconsolable after not hearing from her son and daughter-in-law who had a baby a year ago in the besieged city of Mosul.
The anguish caused by the violence thousands of miles away fills the business office in San Diego where volunteers man the hotline to help Iraqi immigrants cope.
Many Iraqi immigrants in the United States who risked their lives to escape the country's past wars fear they may never hear from those they left behind. They have been unable to communicate with their families in Iraq where Sunni militants have seized territory. The unrest is hitting their close-knit immigrant communities hard and dashing the little hope they had of ever returning.
"My heart is breaking every day," said Laith Shamon, 42, an Iraqi Christian who has been manning the hotline for a week. "One man told me he saw a video on the Internet of a beheading, and he thought the victim was his dad. He was crying and telling me he needs to know. He can't get ahold of him. There have been a lot of calls like that. I tell them we have to be patient and pray."
Shamon noted each caller's information in case the immigrant business community that set up the hotline gets word about someone reported missing. Shamon's family also has not heard from relatives in Iraq.
Thousands of people in cities with large Iraqi immigrant communities have attended both Muslim and Christian prayer services since the Sunni militants led by an al-Qaeda splinter group took control in parts of northern and western Iraq more than a week ago.
Leaders from the U.S. Iraqi communities are lobbying Washington to take action. Most do not support sending back American troops but instead favor drone strikes, releasing aid and setting up a safe passage for Iraqis wanting to escape but who face a tougher time fleeing because of unrest in Syria. President Barack Obama announced Thursday that he was dispatching up to 300 military advisers to help quell the rising insurgency.