While the recent beheadings of two Westerners by ISIS/IS has garnered headlines around the world, ISIS has a history of brutality that has terrorized northern Iraq. A recent report by Amnesty International provides us with some examples of how ISIS/IS, a Sunni-based terrorist organization, has targeted non-Arab and non-Sunni communities.
Beginning on June 10, 2014, after capturing Mosul, IS forces began to spread its military influence throughout areas in Northern Iraq where there is a concentration of Yezidis along with a relatively wide selection of Christians, Shi'a Muslims, Kadai and Sabean Mandaeans. All of these different cultures had lived in harmony for centuries. For those of you that are not familiar with Yezedis, they are a Kurdish-speaking people that live mainly in Northern Iraq. They follow the Yezidi faith, a religion that is drawn from Islamic Sufism and Zoroastrianism, the faith of Persia. The Yezidis claim that their religion is the oldest in the world with a calendar that dates back more than 6760 years, longer than the Jewish, Islamic or Christian calendars. The Yezidis have been persecuted for centuries by Muslims who believe that the Yezidi's primary diety, the Peacock Angel, is actually Satan.
During the hostilities in Northern Iraq, approximately 830,000 inhabitants were able to leave the area conquered by IS fighters. The inhabitants that were unable to leave were subjected to threats of death if they did not convert to IS preferred form of Islam. Most of those that did flee are now living in Iraqi Kurdistan, living in makeshift camps and public buildings where there are insufficient facilities to provide for the needs of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons. The United Nations, through the UNHCR, declared the area a humanitarian emergency and began to provide aid for displaced families. Sadly, those who escaped with their lives are the lucky ones.
Here is a map that will help orient us to the areas in Iraq controlled by IS and Iraqi Kurdistan:
It appears that IS has been responsible for mass killings in the Sinjar region of Iraq. In this posting, I will outline the mass killings undertaken by IS in the villages of Qiniyeh and Kocho/Kuju.
On August 3, 2014 near the village of Qiniyeh, between 85 and 90 men and boy were executed after they were trapped when trying to flee advancing IS fighters. In this case, it appears that IS fighters were punishing those who attempted to repel their advance. Here is an eyewitness report from a villager:
“After the Peshmerga who used to protect our villages fled in the night between 2 and 3 August, me and many other men from the village [Tal Qasab] took our weapons (most of us had Kalashnikovs, for the protection of our families) and clashed with IS militants. At about 7 or 8am we ran out of ammunition and ran away toward the mountain (Mount Sinjar). We stopped in the village of Qiniyeh, near the foot of the mountain. We were about 90 men and youths and with us were more than 100 women and children from our families.
At about 1pm or so IS militants came and spoke to us and said that they were only looking for Peshmerga and asked if we had weapons and said they would kill anyone found to have weapons. We had hidden our weapons and said we had none. They said we could go home soon and left. After half an hour some 20 IS vehicles came and surrounded us. My relative Nasser Elias tried to run away and they shot him dead.
They split us into two groups, men and boys of 12 and older in one group and women and younger children in another group. They started to load the women and children in the vehicles and made us (men and boys) walk to the nearby wadi. The youngest of the group was my brother Nusrat, 12 years old. We were made to squat by the edge of the wadi, which was deep. They told us to convert to Islam and we refused.
“One grabbed me by my shirt from behind and pulled me up and tried to shoot me but his weapon did not fire. My brother Nusrat was scared and was crying. They opened fire from behind us. I fell into the wadi and was not injured. My brother Nusrat was right next to me and was killed. My father, Elias, and my four brothers, Faysal, Ma’amun, Sa’id and Sofian, were all killed. Most of the other men and boys were also killed, including more than 43 of my relatives. After the IS men left I waited and then ran away to the mountain. I only know four others who survived: my neighbour Fawas, Khalaf Mirze and his son ‘Ayad (Khalaf had been shot in the back, shoulder and leg, and ‘Ayad in the shoulder) and another man called Ziad. I don’t know if any others survived.”
As well, IS killed at least a hundred (or more) men and boys in the village of Kocho/Kuju (population 1200) on August 15, 2014 and then abducted the village's women and children. After assembling at the local secondary school, the men and boys were loaded into six pick-up trucks, taken to nearby locations and shot. Because the killings took place at different locations and times and there have been very few survivors, it is difficult to ascertain how many boys and men were killed although it appears that up to 400 males in the village were taken.
Here is an excerpt from the testimony of a witness, a 59 year old nurse:
"At 11-11.30am [on Friday 15 August] IS militants called all the residents to the secondary school, which has been their headquarters since they came to the village two weeks ago. There they asked that we hand over our money and our mobile phones, and that the women hand over their jewellery.
After about 15 minutes they brought vehicles and started to fill them up with men and boys. They pushed about 20 of us onto the back of a Kia pick-up vehicle and drove us about one kilometre east of the village. They got us off the vehicle by the pool and made us crouch on the ground in a tight cluster and one of them photographed us. I thought then they’d let us go after that, but they opened fire at us from behind. I was hit in the left knee, but the bullet only grazed my knee. I let myself fall forward, as if I were dead, and I stayed there face down without moving. When the shooting stopped I kept still and after they left, I ran away."
Here is an excerpt from another survivor, a 32 year old shop owner:
"I was still thinking that they were going to take us to the mountain as had been promised. About four vehicles left, two at a time. Then I was put in a vehicle with about 20 other men. We stopped near the last house on the edge of the village and they got us off the vehicle, I knew that they were going to kill us as this was not the way to the mountain. We were on the edge of a hill and as I looked down I saw a group of bodies below by the wadi.
“They told us to stand in line and one of the men in our group, the son of the Sheikh, told them ‘this is not what was agreed; you were going to take us to the mountain’. They shot him multiple times. We threw ourselves to the ground and they shot at us for several minutes and then they left. I was shot three times, twice in the left arm and once in the left hip. After they left, another man, Nadir Ibrahim and I got up. All the others were dead or dying.
This survivor has been unable to locate seven of his brothers, aged between 22 and 41, since the day of the shooting.
Many of the men and boys taken to be shot were only wounded during the IS-led violence and lay suffering after being left for dead as described here:
“Some could not move and could not save themselves; they lay in agony waiting to die. They died a horrible death. I managed to drag myself away and was saved by a Muslim neighbour; he risked his life to save me; he is more than a brother to me. For 12 days he brought me food and water every night. I could not walk and had no hope of getting away and it was becoming increasingly dangerous for him to continue to keep me there. He gave me a phone so that I could speak with my relatives (in the mountain and in Kurdistan) and after 12 days he managed to get me a donkey so that I could ride to the mountain, and from there I was evacuated through Syria and on to Kurdistan.”
In addition to the massacres in Qiniyeh and Kocho/Kuju, IS fighters are believed to have killed additional families in Jdali.
On top of the massacres/ethnic cleansing, IS has undertaken mass abductions of Yezedi women and children. In one case, 18 women and children from four generations of a family were abducted on August 3, 2014 and their whereabouts is unknown. Hundreds of the abducted women and children have been relocated to Tal 'Afar where they are being held in houses that were abandoned by their Shi'a owners. There are also allegations that many of the women and girls who have been abducted by IS fighters have been subjected to sexual abuse including rape and that some have been sold as slaves or forced to marry IS fighters.
While there is no doubt that the Islamic State is doing all that it can to terrorize the United States and Europe through the release of their execution videos, the impact of their version of ethnic cleansing on innocent Iraqi minorities is just as horrifying and impacts tens of thousands of lives.