[QODLink]
Middle East

Iraqi Yazidis caught in Islamic State advance

Ancient community flees fearing violent persecution as UN says "humanitarian tragedy" unfolding in Sinjar.

Last updated: 05 Aug 2014 10:51
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Three-quarters of Sinjar residents are Yazidi, a religion the Islamic State group views as heretic [Getty Images]

An Islamic State group offensive that began on Saturday around Iraq's Sinjar province, west of Mosul, has seen Kurdish military forces suffer a serious military setback and triggered a humanitarian crisis in the province.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, fighters from the Islamic State attacked the predominantly Yazidi town of Sinjar, quickly forcing Kurdish Peshmerga units to withdraw.

Al Jazeera's Mohammed Vall reports

The same offensive saw the town of Zumar and at least one oilfield also fall into Islamic State hands the previous day.

As Sinjar fell, Yazidi residents, who make up over three-quarters of the population, fled in huge numbers, fearing violent persecution by Islamic State.

Yazidism is an ancient but relatively small religion which the Islamic State group views as heretic, calling Yazidis devil worshippers.

Most Yazidis chose to flee the spiritually important town of Sinjar rather than wait to see how they would be treated by fighters who have previously shown themselves to be brutally intolerant of religious minorities .

Families headed to the Sinjar mountains, many on foot, where they remain without water, food or shelter. One resident of Sinjar, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of falling into the hands of Islamic State fighters, contacted Al Jazeera by phone from the mountain where he has fled to with his wife and children.

There [are] old people here, children. [Islamic State] is about seven kilometres away and they're saying if we don't return to the town and convert to Islam they will come up and start killing people.

- Sinjar resident

"We need help," he said, sounding clearly distressed. "There's no food, no water, no Peshmerga. If nobody comes to help us, in two days everybody's going to be dead. There [are] old people here, children. [Islamic State] is about seven kilometres away and they're saying if we don't return to the town and convert to Islam they will come up and start killing people. They were killing our women and children."

The United Nations Special Representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, warned that " a humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Sinjar ".

Estimates vary as to how many people have been displaced from Sinjar and the surrounding area, but it is thought to be up to 200,000. The UN has described the humanitarian situation in the province as "dire", especially for those trapped on Sinjar mountain who, at the time this was written, were surrounded by Islamic State fighters.

While Sinjar lies within the area of land that was previously claimed by both Baghdad and Erbil, it has been under Kurdish control for many years and represents the first loss of traditionally Kurdish territory to the Islamic State group.

Some Kurdish media outlets have reported that a Peshmerga counter-offensive aimed at relieving those trapped and retaking the town has already begun, but it has not been possible to confirm these reports.

559

Source:
Al Jazeera
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
At least 25 tax collectors have been killed since 2012 in Mogadishu, a city awash in weapons and abject poverty.
Tokyo government claims its homeless population has hit a record low, but analysts - and the homeless - beg to differ.
3D printers can cheaply construct homes and could soon be deployed to help victims of catastrophe rebuild their lives.
Lack of child protection laws means abandoned and orphaned kids rely heavily on the care of strangers.
Featured
Booming global trade in 50-million-year-old amber stones is lucrative, controversial, and extremely dangerous.
Legendary Native-American High Bird was trained in ancient warrior traditions, which he employed in World War II.
Hounded opposition figure says he's hoping for the best at sodomy appeal but prepared to return to prison.
Fears of rising Islamophobia and racial profiling after two soldiers killed in separate incidents.
Group's culture of summary justice is back in Northern Ireland's spotlight after new sexual assault accusations.