The Islamic State (IS) attacked the Sinjar area early on the morning of August 3, 2014. The Kurdish peshmerga withdrew without telling the local Yazidis, leaving them to fend for themselves.
Immediately after the fall of the area, word spread that IS was carrying out massacres and kidnapping Yazidi women. Amnesty’s paper has documented many of these murders and abductions, which highlight the Islamic State’s attempt to wipe out the Yazidis of northern Iraq.
The Islamic State began carrying out its mass murder soon as the Islamic State entered the Sinjar area on August 3. Amnesty interviewed survivors and witnesses to massacres at Qiniyah, Qahtanya, Solagh, and Kojo.
In each village the routine was the same, suggesting the insurgents followed a coordinated plan for exterminating the area’s Yazidis. IS fighters would pull up in vehicles, divide the men from the women and girls, and then shoot the males.
In Solagh they took the women and children away and then killed 20 men. Qiniyah took in refugees who were fleeing the town of Tal Qasab who were heading for Mount Sinjar. Militants caught them, carried off the women, and then killed 85-90 men.
IS fighters were also able to catch up with people trying to get to Mount Sinjar at the crossroads between Qahtanya and Sinjar. The militants opened fire on the fleeing crowds before they were subdued. Afterward, 50-60 men were executed.
Finally on August 15 the town of Kojo fell and 90 more were shot. There the males were taken to different locations and killed at different times. Many more men and boys were captured and placed in unknown locations in Ninewa province.
It was originally believed that these people were shot as well. But then on August 21, IS released a video showing Yazidi men converting to Islam, raising hope that some of these disappeared are still alive.
It’s likely that even more have been killed in the weeks since Sinjar was taken. Their fate will not be known until more people are able to escape from IS controlled territory or the insurgents are pushed out of the area.
As the Yazidi men were being murdered, the women and girls were being taken to several locations throughout the province. Some were placed in Badush Prison outside of Mosul, while others were brought to public buildings in Tal Afar, and still more to Mosul, Biaj and west of Tal Afar.
One report Amnesty heard had up to 2,000 women being held at the village west of Tal Afar. Some still posses cell phones and are in contact with their families.
The Telegraph, for example, interviewed the family of a 17-year-old Yazidi girl being held with 40 others in a town south of Mosul who was able to keep her phone. She claimed that IS fighters were raping their prisoners. The Washington Post reported that Yazidi women were being forced to convert to Islam and some were married off to insurgents.
There have been other stories that females were being sold as well, but Amnesty could not confirm them.
They talked with families who said their relatives had not been turned into slaves, but were afraid that this had happened to at least some of the women who were taken away.
Some women who escaped the militants said that they were told they would be sold into slavery if they did not marry IS men.
Again, this points to a systematic policy by the Islamic State to break up families, and then enslave, convert, and sexually abuse Yazidi females.
This is another move to destroy the community. It’s unknown how many women are being held and if they will ever be able to escape their current circumstances.
In the territory captured by the Islamic State in central and northern Iraq, the Yazidis are the only targets of this kind of calculated and violent campaign.
Other minorities ike Christians have been told to convert to Islam as well, but have not faced the massacres and the taking of their women. Shiites have been killed too, but not in such a systematic fashion.
The Islamic State hates Shiites and Christians, but Yazidis seem to be placed in a completely different category.
They are considered devil worshipers, which is probably the reason why they are going through such harsh treatment. It is no surprise then that many from the community who escaped do not want to return to their homes because they feel like they will never be safe again.
Yazidis have gone through years of terrorist attacks, but the wholesale capture of land is leading to the destruction and displacement of much of the community, which may never be able to recover. The result is that Iraq is losing part of its great diversity.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces say they have retaken oilfields near Mosul in north Iraq from Islamic State (IS) militants.
The attack on the three Ain Zalah installations began on Thursday morning, they said, but the militants blew them all up as they retreated.
The area is part of a large swathe of territory in northern Iraq overrun by Islamic State in recent weeks.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces backed by US air strikes have regained some ground, including the vital Mosul dam.
IS-led violence has driven an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis from their homes.
Whole communities of minority Yazidis and Christians have been forced to flee in the north, along with Shia Iraqis, whom IS do not regard as true Muslims.
At the scene. Gabriel Gatehouse, BBC News, from the Iraqi-Syrian border
In the scorching midday heat, Kurdish fighters loose off a few rounds of anti-aircraft fire towards the positions of Islamic State just a few hundred metres away.
“We want to make sure they know we’re here,” says Agid Gabar, a 21-year-old fighter.
Some are Kurds from Turkey, members of the PKK, which the US and the EU have labelled a terrorist organisation. Most are Syrian Kurds, who have been battling Islamic State for more than two years now.
We meet in the no-man’s land that was once the border between Syria and Iraq. Now, IS has erased the frontier.
People on both sides are forced to make almost impossible decisions. In a nearby camp for Yazidi refugees, we meet Jalal Badr Piso. This month he and his wife were forced to abandon their disabled four-year-old son, Aziz, on Sinjar mountain as they fled the IS advance in Iraq.
For nearly two weeks, Aziz became “the boy with no name”, after Kurdish fighters rescued him from the mountainside and took him to a hospital in Kurdish-controlled Syria to be treated for extreme dehydration and sunburn to the eyes.
When Aziz’s photo appeared on Facebook and the BBC, relatives alerted the father. Jalal made the journey to Syria on Thursday, hoping to be reunited with his son. But he arrived too late. Aziz died early that morning.
Peshmerga sources said they had advanced in the Zumar area at 04:00 local time on Thursday (01:00 GMT), capturing several villages.
But as they advanced towards the oil installations the militants put explosives inside them and blew them up.
Eyewitnesses saw huge columns of black smoke rising from the oilfields on Thursday morning.
Correspondents say IS still controls a large area to the west of Mosul lake.
The advances came as IS released a video appearing to show a beheading of a Kurdish man, meant as a warning to Peshmerga forces.
The victim is seen kneeling near a mosque in the city of Mosul before he is beheaded. The jihadists warn that others will be killed if Kurdish leaders continue to back the US.
Last week, IS drew worldwide condemnation after releasing a video showing the beheading of US journalist James Foley.
IS also controls large parts of Syria, where recently it has seized several government bases in north-eastern Raqqa province.
As many as 670 prisoners thought killed in Mosul with other abuses reported in Iraq amounting to ‘crimes against humanity’
GENEVA: United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay Monday condemned “appalling, widespread” crimes being committed by ISIS forces in Iraq, including mass executions of prisoners and “ethnic and religious cleansing.”
The persecution of entire communities and systematic violations, documented by U.N. human rights investigators, would amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes under international law, she said in a statement.
“Grave, horrific human rights violations are being committed daily by [ISIS] and associated armed groups,” Pillay said, citing targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, slavery, sex crimes, forced recruitment and destruction of places of worship.
“They are systematically targeting men, women and children based on their ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation and are ruthlessly carrying out widespread ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control.”
Christians, Yazidis and Turkmen were among the minorities targeted by the militant group, she said.
After the Al-Qaeda splinter group seized control of Mosul on June 10, it loaded up to 1,500 prisoners from the city’s Badush prison onto trucks and took them to a vacant area for screening, Pillay said. Sunni inmates were taken away again on the trucks.
“[ISIS] gunmen then yelled insults at the remaining prisoners, lined them up in four rows, ordered them to kneel and opened fire,” she said, adding that up to 670 inmates lost their lives.
“Such cold-blooded, systematic and intentional killings of civilians, after singling them out for their religious affiliation, may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Pillay, who steps down on Aug. 31 after serving six years as U.N. rights boss.
In Nineveh province, hundreds of Yazidis were killed and up to 2,500 kidnapped in early August, Pillay said, citing testimony from victims and witnesses.
Those who agreed to convert are being held by ISIS but witnesses report that among those who refused, “men were executed while the women and their children were taken as slaves and either handed over to [ISIS] fighters as slaves or threatened with being sold,” the U.N. said.
Pillay called on the Iraqi government and international community to protect vulnerable ethnic and religious groups.
These included at least 13,000 Shiite Turkmen in Salahuddin province besieged by ISIS forces since mid-June amid “fear of a possible, imminent massacre” and Yazidis in besieged villages of Sinjar who remain at “serious risk,” she said.
Journalist James Foley in Tripoli after being released by the Libyan government in May 18, 2011.
Obama Calls for Excising ‘Cancer’ from Middle East as Officials Reveal Failed Raid to Free Hostages
U.S. Special Operations forces mounted an unsuccessful mission inside Syria earlier this summer to try to rescue several Americans held by Islamic extremists, including the journalist who was beheaded this week, senior Obama administration officials said.
President Barack Obama ordered the secret operation, the first of its kind by the U.S. inside Syrian territory since the start of the civil war, after the U.S. received intelligence the Americans were being held by the extremist group known as Islamic State at a specific facility in a sparsely populated area inside Syria. Among the group, intelligence agencies believed at the time, was James Foley, the U.S. journalist whose beheading was shown in a grisly video released Tuesday.
The officials declined to say precisely where and when the operation took place. But its disclosure was just the latest of several signs of a toughening American posture toward the extremist forces of Islamic State, a group that Mr. Obama Wednesday labeled a “cancer” on the Middle East.
Officials said that several dozen Special Operations forces took part in the helicopter-borne operation as drones and fighter aircraft circled overhead. After landing nearby and approaching the facility by foot, the force came under small-arms fire, to which it responded, the officials said. Several fighters of the Islamic State were killed in the exchange of fire. One member of the special operations forces team was shot and slightly injured, the officials said.
But the U.S. forces didn’t find any of the Americans in the facility and pulled out of the area. “When the opportunity presented itself, the president authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens,
“Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present.”
The U.S. rescue mission wasn’t coordinated with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a senior U.S. official said.
As the details of the attempted rescue suggest, Mr. Foley wasn’t the only Westerner being held by Islamic State operatives. Approximately 20 journalists are believed to be missing in Syria, with many held by the Islamic State, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Philip Balboni, the president and chief executive of GlobalPost, an online news site Mr. Foley worked for, said Mr. Foley’s captors originally demanded a ransom sum from both the family and GlobalPost of €100 million ($132.5 million). He declined to discuss their reply to the demand. He said all communication was shared with appropriate government authorities.
The disclosure of the dramatic rescue operation came on a day of stern public responses from the Obama administration to the videotaped beheading of Mr. Foley, which Islamic State said was its first answer to recent American bombing runs in Iraq to drive the extremist group’s forces away from a key dam in Mosul.
In a somber public statement, President Obama denounced the beheading of Mr. Foley as the work of “nihilistic” Islamic extremists and called Wednesday for a broadened international campaign to eradicate the group from the Middle East.
He also vowed to continue the U.S. air war against them in Iraq, despite threats by the group, commonly known by the acronyms ISIL and ISIS, to behead more Americans if the strikes continue.
The U.S. would be relentless, he said, in pursuing those who killed Mr. Foley.
“One thing we can all agree on is a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century,” Mr. Obama said from his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. “From governments and people across the Middle East, there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so that it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of these kind of nihilistic ideologies.”
The president urged allies and partners to join forces to defeat Islamic State fighters who have established a quasi-state that controls large swaths of Iraq and Syria.
Mr. Obama’s comments followed release of the video showing an Islamic State militant killing Mr. Foley, who was captured in Syria nearly two years ago, and threatening to kill another U.S. reporter in the group’s hands.
Mr. Obama’s language was much sharper than comments he made in an interview in January, when he compared the group to a high-school basketball team that had neither the talent nor the wherewithal to pose a major global threat.
While Mr. Foley’s killing isn’t expected to lead to an immediate shift in U.S. policy in the Middle East, it creates new pressure on Mr. Obama to authorize a wider military campaign to directly confront the Islamic State.
Administration officials said the U.S. wouldn’t be deterred by the group’s threats.
“Make no mistake: We will continue to confront ISIL wherever it tries to spread its despicable hatred,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. “The world must know that the United States of America will never back down in the face of such evil. ISIL and the wickedness it represents must be destroyed, and those responsible for this heinous, vicious atrocity will be held accountable.”
Soon after Mr. Obama spoke, the U.S. military announced a new series of airstrikes that hit Islamic State forces near Mosul Dam, Iraq’s largest. On Monday, with critical help from American airstrikes, Kurdish and other Iraqi forces routed Islamic State fighters holding the dam.
On Wednesday, U.S. jet fighters and armed drones carried out 14 airstrikes that destroyed Islamic State armored vehicles, hidden bombs and other targets, the military said.
For now, the U.S. is hewing to a narrow set of objectives in Iraq: to protect American military and diplomatic personnel working in the country, and to offer selective help for vulnerable Iraqi communities.
Those elastic goals give the U.S. military considerable leeway to carry out airstrikes across the country. Military officials say the strikes so far have succeeded in blunting the group’s attacks, demoralized the fighters and led some to leave the group. But they have done little to damage the group’s overall danger to the region, military officials said.
That is leading to growing pressure—within the military and in Congress—for the president to authorize a broader fight against the Islamic State.
For weeks, the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees Middle East operations, has advocated a more expansive, near-term air campaign targeting Islamic State commanders, equipment and military positions that U.S. intelligence has pinpointed in Iraq, defense officials said.
“Hunt while the hunting’s good,” one senior defense official said of Central Command’s message to White House and Pentagon policy makers.
Other officials want to limit the strikes until a new Iraqi government is formed in the coming weeks. For now, that view appears to be winning the debate.
Advocates of a more immediately aggressive U.S. approach say targets of opportunity today may no longer be reachable by the time a new government in Baghdad is formed.
The U.S. currently has about 900 military personnel working in Iraq. They are providing security for the U.S. Embassy, helping the Iraqi and Kurdish forces plan their military operations against the Islamic State, and looking at other ways America can help Iraq combat the militant threats.
U.S. officials said on Wednesday that the State Department asked the Pentagon to dispatch 300 more military personnel to the Baghdad area to protect Americans working there, defense officials said.
Mr. Obama’s current airstrike strategy is also geographically limited. The U.S. has no intentions of launching airstrikes in Syria, where the Islamic State controls large parts of the country and has established a de facto capital, U.S. officials say. For now, Syria provides a safe haven for Islamic State forces who are able to return from fighting in Iraq without fear of being hit by U.S. airstrikes. U.S. intelligence has detected some fighters flowing back into Syria after the recent U.S. air attacks.
The president has authorized a new $500 million program to arm and train pro-American Syrian forces that could confront the Islamic State, but that proposal has yet to be approved by Congress, and it isn’t clear if or when lawmakers will back the proposal.
For part of his time in captivity, Mr. Foley was held along with at least two French journalists who were freed in April. One of them, Nicolas Hénin, told Europe 1 radio on Wednesday that Mr. Foley was singled out for particularly brutal treatment because he was American.
As the Obama administration considers how to respond to the brutal murder of an American, the president must balance deep public reluctance to plunge back into Iraq against new calls to launch a broader offensive against extremists.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Democrats support the president, but are concerned about backing military action with poorly defined objectives.
“It’s going to require vigorous oversight by the Congress to make sure that the administration, despite its best efforts, doesn’t get sucked into a level of commitment that the country isn’t willing to support,” he said.
Mr. Schiff said the military targeting in Iraq is “rapidly getting beyond the narrowly defined mission of protecting Americans and preventing genocide of the Yazidis,” an ethnic group that came under attack this month.
Like Mr. Schiff, Sen. Angus King (I., Maine), said the president should consider asking Congress for specific authorization under the War Powers Act if he plans to expand military attacks in Iraq. Mr. King said the U.S. has to avoid being dragged into a costly confrontation in the Middle East.
“We have to be careful,” he said. “We can’t let it intimidate us and we can’t let it provoke us.”
Kurdish forces backed by US warplanes battled Saturday to retake Iraq’s largest dam from the Islamic State Organisation (formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS), whose latest atrocity was a massacre in a Yazidi village.
Two months of violence have brought Iraq to the brink of breakup, and world powers relieved by the exit of long-time premier Nuri al-Maliki were flying aid to the displaced and arms to the Kurds.
Kurdish forces attacked the IS fighters who wrested the Mosul dam from them a week earlier, a general told AFP.
“Kurdish peshmerga, with US air support, have seized control of the eastern side of the dam” complex, Major General Abdelrahman Korini told AFP, saying several jihadists had been killed.
Buoyed by the air strikes US President Barack Obama ordered last week, the peshmerga have tried to claw back the ground they lost since the start of August.
The dam on the Tigris provides electricity to much of the region and is crucial to irrigation in vast farming areas in Nineveh province.
The recapture of Mosul dam would be one of the most significant achievements in a fightback that is also getting international material support.
A day after the European Union foreign ministers encouraged the bloc’s member countries to send arms to the Kurds, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Iraq.
Steinmeier, whose country hosts the largest Yazidi diaspora in the West, visited the autonomous region to assess the needs of the displaced and the peshmerga.
Jihadists ‘took their revenge’
Fear of an impending genocide against the Yazidi minority, whose faith is anathema to the Sunni Muslim extremists, was one reason Washington cited for air strikes it began on August 8.
In Kocho, senior Kurdish official Hoshyar Zebari said the jihadists “took their revenge on its inhabitants, who happened to be mostly Yazidis who did not flee their homes”.
Human rights groups and residents say IS fighters have demanded that villagers in the Sinjar area convert or leave, unleashing violent reprisals on any who refused.
A senior official of one of Iraq’s main Kurdish parties said 81 people had lost their lives in the Friday attack, while a Yazidi activist said the death toll could be even higher.
The village lies near the northwestern town of Sinjar, which the jihadists stormed on August 3 sending tens of thousands of civilians, many of them Yazidi Kurds, fleeing into the mountains to the north.
They hid there for days with little food or water.
Mohsen Tawwal, a Yazidi fighter, said he saw a large number of bodies in Kocho on Friday.
“We made it into a part of Kocho village, where residents were under siege, but we were too late,” he told AFP by telephone.
“There were corpses everywhere. We only managed to get two people out alive. The rest had all been killed.”
The Pentagon announced that US drones had struck an IS convoy leaving the village on Friday after receiving reports that residents were under attack.
The outcome of the latest US strike was not immediately clear.
Thousands kidnapped, says Amnesty
Amnesty International, which has been documenting mass abductions in the Sinjar area, says IS has kidnapped thousands of Yazidis since it launched its offensive in the region on August 3.
Members of the Christian, Turkmen and other minorities have also been affected by the violence.
In New York, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution aimed at weakening the jihadists, who control large areas of neighbouring Syria as well as of Iraq.
The resolution “calls on all member states to take national measures to suppress the flow of foreign terrorist fighters”, and threatens sanctions against anyone involved in their recruitment.
When jihadist forces began their Iraq offensive on June 9, Kurdish peshmerga forces initially fared better than retreating federal soldiers, but the US-made weaponry abandoned by government troops turned IS into an even more formidable foe.
They were able to sweep through the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad in early June, encountering little effective resistance.
Many in and outside Iraq say the Shiite-led government was partly to blame by pushing sectarian policies that have marginalised and radicalised the Sunni minority.
Outgoing premier Nuri al-Maliki was seen as an obstacle to any progress, and his announcement on Thursday that he was abandoning his efforts to cling to power was welcomed with a sigh of relief at home and abroad.
In another potentially game-changing development, 25 Sunni tribes in the western province of Anbar, including some that had previously been on the fence, announced on Friday that they were launching a coordinated effort to oust IS fighters.
Baghdad – One day after Pres. Barack Obama said U.S. airstrikes and humanitarian aid in Iraq had ended, sources told Fox News Friday that Islamic militants killed 90 members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority in a northern Iraqi village.
The latest report of an Islamic slaughter of Iraqi minorities highlights the impotence of Mr. Obama’s air war against Islamic State militants said to have killed at least 500 Iraqis prior to Friday’s massacre.
After seizing control of Iraqi cities, including Mosul, the second-largest city in the country, IS militants have relentlessly persecuted Kurdish-speaking ethnic and religious groups, which numbers in the hundreds of thousands in Iraq. Hundreds of young women have been taken hostage by the Islamic extremists and turned into sex slaves or forced to marry IS militants.
In June, after Islamic extremists had taken over large swaths of Iraq, Mr. Obama publicly declared there would be no boots on the ground in Iraq.
However, Mr. Obama – who withdrew all American troops in 2011 and declared he had ended the war in Iraq – has deployed over 750 U.S. troops to Iraq and ordered a slew of airstrikes, effectively involving the US in a new Iraqi war.
After news of the civilian deaths on Friday, U.S. forces conducted more airstrikes against Islamic State vehicles near Sinjar.
Democrats fear the administration will be dragged into Iraq with just over 80 days remaining before midterm elections. Republicans have criticized the White House for not having a plan before or after IS militants were embedded in Iraq.
For his part, Mr. Obama pledged in June there would be no U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq, a promise he will likely regret if the administration decides that saving Iraq from the abyss of radical extremism is a U.S. interest.
Democrats are in political disarray over the Iraqi crisis as the political implications of another Iraqi war begin to sink in.
“[Militants] arrived in vehicles and they started their killing this afternoon,” senior Kurdish official Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters. “We believe it’s because of their creed: convert or be killed.”A Yazidi lawmaker and another senior Kurdish official confirmed the killings had taken place and said militants kidnapped the younger women in the village.
Iraqi and Yazidi leaders say Islamic State fighters have buried Yazidi men alive, killed children and kidnapped women to be slaves.
“We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic States have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar,” Sudani told Reuters Sunday.
Meanwhile, Pres. Obama has not built a significant coalition of nations to fight in Iraq, instead opting to react in what some describe as ad hoc fashion.
While American pilots are considered the best in the world according to most sources, military analysts say limited airstrikes without a ground operation cannot turn the tide of battle in Iraq.
With midterm elections looming, Democrats are afraid that the administration’s belated response to the potential fall of Baghdad will hurt their chances of hanging onto the U.S. Senate in November.
For their part, Republicans have criticized Mr. Obama for sitting on the sidelines after he withdrew all U.S. forces from Iraq while Islamic extremists spilled across the border from neighboring Syria and seized control of much of the country.
Members of minority Yazidi sect face slaughter if they go down and dehydration if they stay, while 130,000 fled to Kurdish north
Tens of thousands of members of one of Iraq’s oldest minorities have been stranded on a mountain in the country’s north-west, facing slaughter at the hands of jihadists surrounding them below if they flee or death by dehydration if they stay.
UN groups say at least 40,000 members of the Yazidi sect, many of them women and children, have taken refuge in nine locations on Mount Sinjar, a craggy mile-high ridge identified in local legend as the final resting place of Noah’s ark.
At least 130,000 more people, many from the Yazidi stronghold of Sinjar, have fled to Dohuk, in the Kurdish north, or to Irbil, where regional authorities have been struggling since June to deal with one of the biggest and most rapid refugee movements in decades.
Sinjar itself has been all but emptied of its 300,000 residents since jihadists stormed the city late on Saturday, but an estimated 25,000 people remain. “We are being told to convert or to lose our heads,” said Khuldoon Atyas, who has stayed behind to guard his family’s crops. “There is no one coming to help.”
Another man, who is hiding in the mountains and identified himself as Nafi’ee, said: “Food is low, ammunition is low and so is water. We have one piece of bread to share between 10 people. We have to walk 2km to get water. There were some air strikes yesterday [against the jihadists], but they have made no difference.”
At least 500 Yazidis, including 40 children, have been killed in the past week, local officials say. Many more have received direct threats, either from the advancing militants or members of nearby Sunni communities allied with them. “They were our neighbours and now they are our killers,” said Atyas.
“It’s not like this is a one-off incident,” said the Unicef spokeswoman Juliette Touma. “We are almost back to square zero in terms of the preparedness and the supplies. Enormous numbers of people have been crossing the border since June.
“The stresses are enormous; dehydration, fatigue, people sometimes having to walk for days. The impact on kids is very physical, let alone the psychological impact.”
The Kurdish minority Yazidis have long been regarded as devil worshippers by Sunni jihadists who have targeted them since the US invasion. As the extremists’ latest and most potent incarnation, the Islamic State (Isis), has steadily conquered Iraq’s north, the small, self-contained community has been especially vulnerable.
Isis forces advanced across north-western Iraq almost unchecked since a small band of hardliners stormed Iraq’s second city Mosul on 10 June, sending the Iraqi army fleeing and crumbling the central government’s control.
Flush with weapons looted from Iraqi arsenals, Isis sacked Tikrit and advanced on Kirkuk. With new recruits lured or pressganged along the way, it has captured five oilfields and three cities, an 800-mile stretch of border with Syria. It has menaced Baghdad and is now within striking distance of Iraq’s two largest dams.
“The situation is slowly tipping in their favour,” said Dr Hisham al-Hashimi, Iraq’s leading expert on Isis. “They won’t take the dam near Mosul, but Haditha [at the centre of Iraq’s water and energy supply grid] will be very hard to defend.
“They are very close to Baghdad airport. If they breached the perimeter, even with a symbolic attack, it would be enormous propaganda value for them.”
Iraq’s beleaguered military has been unable to muster a meaningful push-back against the jihadists and is under intense pressure to support the Yazidis with air strikes and food drops. A series of spectacular defeats has seriously eroded its credibility. Baghdad claimed on Wednesday that its military had carried out an air strike on a Mosul prison which killed scores of jihadists and freed an unknown number of prisoners.
The area was impossible to access and the numbers of fatalities could not be verified. However, witnesses reported damage to the prison and relatives rushed to the gates in the hope of rescuing detained family members.
Kurdish Peshmurga troops, long regarded as a more formidable fighting force, had been defending Sinjar, but they too were forced to withdraw as Isis advanced. Kurdish officials say their forces were seriously outgunned by the jihadists, who were using heavy weapons looted from Iraqi bases.
The same weapons are being used to consolidate Isis’s hold on much of western Iraq. The group has significantly boosted its numbers by tapping into Iraq’s estranged Sunni population, which has been marginalised by the Shia majority government since the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein more than 11 years ago.
“I would say there are now between 30,000 and 50,000 of them,” Hashimi said. “Of those, I would say 30% are ideologues. The others have joined out of fear or coercion.”
The once dominant US military and powerful embassy now play next to no role in Iraq, with Iraqi militias reporting to Iranian generals increasingly taking the lead in the fight against the jihadists.
“Iraq is spiralling out of control,” said Ali Khedery, the former longest-serving US official in Baghdad. “The centrifugal forces are spinning so quickly. They are on one timeline and Washington is on another. I am beyond concerned.”
Khedery, who reported to five US ambassadors and three US central command generals and is now chairman of the Dubai-based consultancy Dragoman Partners, said: “Everybody is retreating to their corners. And there is no credible international actor that I can see that is trying to bring it together again.
“It definitely is an existential threat to the Iraqi government and I think it represents yet another manifestation of the disintegration of Iraq as we know it.
“Iranian overreach, the genocide in Syria, [Nouri] al-Maliki’s consolidation of power in a very sectarian way have all led to the disillusionment, thedisenfranchisement of the Sunni Arabs who have fatally, but perhaps understandably, chosen to consummate a deal with the devil. Now we are locked in a race to the bottom.”