Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The killing fields of Iraq

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Untold atrocities have been carried out by the Islamic state against non-Sunnis. How long will the international community take to act against them?

By Shashikumar Velath


The Islamic State (formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), an armed group, has launched a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing in northern Iraq, carrying out war crimes, including mass summary killings and abductions, against ethnic and religious minorities.

Following the advance of IS fighters into towns and villages in northern Iraq since June 2014, hundreds of thousands of people belonging to religious and ethnic minorities have been forced to leave their homes. Among those being targeted in northern Iraq are: Assyrian Christians, Turkmen Shia, Shabak Shia, members of the Yazidi faith, Kakai and Sabean Mandaeans. Many Arabs and Sunni Muslims, known or believed to oppose the IS, have also been targeted in apparent reprisal attacks.

Systematic targeting

On July 18, a mass exodus of Christian families took place in Mosul after the IS gave them an ultimatum to convert, pay a tax, leave or be killed. Since taking control of Mosul on June 10, IS militants have also systematically destroyed and damaged places of worship of non-Sunni Muslim communities, including Shia mosques and shrines.


On August 3, the IS took over Sinjar in north-west Iraq. Since then, thousands of civilians there and its environs, mainly belonging to the Yazidi community, have fled their homes and have been seeking refuge in other areas, especially the Kurdistan region of Iraq and Syria, after having been stranded for days in the mountains with limited food and water. As part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing against religious and ethnic minorities, hundreds, possibly thousands, of Yazidi men and boys have been summarily killed by IS fighters and thousands of women and children have been abducted and are still currently being held.

While many minority groups have been forced to flee, more than a million Sunni Muslims living in Mosul and other IS-controlled areas cannot because of ongoing fighting between the IS fighters and the Iraqi central government and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) forces. Some Sunni Muslims have been killed in air strikes by the Iraqi central government forces.

(Top) Families displaced by IS violence in Iraq receive aid; (above) a mother and a daughter take stock of the aid they have received; (facing page) Yazidi families fleeing IS violence


Brutal regime

Amnesty International has published a new briefing—“Ethnic cleansing on historic scale: the Islamic State’s systematic targeting of minorities in northern Iraq”—detailing a series of hair-raising accounts from survivors of massacres. It describes how dozens of men and boys in Sinjar region were rounded up by IS fighters, bundled into pick-up trucks and taken to the village outskirts to be massacred in groups or shot individually.


“The massacres and abductions provide harrowing new evidence that a wave of ethnic cleansing against minorities is sweeping across northern Iraq,” says Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s senior crisis res-ponse adviser, currently in northern Iraq. “The Islamic State is carrying out despicable crimes and has transformed rural areas of Sinjar into blood-soaked killing fields in its brutal campaign to obliterate all trace of non-Arabs and non-Sunni Muslims.” Two of the deadliest incidents took place when IS fighters raided the villages of Qiniyeh on August 3 and Kocho on August 15, killing hundreds of people. Groups of men and boys, including children as young as 12, from both villages were seized by these militants, taken away and shot dead.
“There was no order, they (IS fighters) just filled up vehicles indiscriminately,” one survivor of the massacre in Kocho told Amnesty International.

Said, who narrowly escaped death with his brother, Khaled, was shot five times; three times in his left knee and once in the hip and shoulder. They lost seven brothers in the massacre.

Gruesome death

Another survivor, Salem, who managed to survive because he hid near the massacre site for 12 days, describes the horror of hearing others who had been injured cry out in pain. “Some could not move and could not save themselves; they lay there in agony, waiting to die. They died a horrible death. I managed to drag myself away and was saved by a Muslim neighbor; 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 says.

(Top) IS fighters stand guard at a checkpoint in the northern Iraq city of Mosul; (above) Displaced Iraqi Christians, who fled from IS militants in Mosul, pray at a school which was turned into a refugee camp in Erbil

Salem was later able to escape to the mountains and then on into the areas controlled by the KRG. The mass killings and abductions have succeeded in terrorizing the entire population in northern Iraq, leading thousands to flee in fear.
The fate of most of the Yazidis abducted by the IS remains unknown. Many have been threatened with rape, sexual assault or pressured to convert to Islam. In some cases, entire families have been abducted.

Meanwhile, the US has initiated military action in Iraq against the IS, which includes air strikes. Other countries have announced military support to Iraq and KRG for their operations against the IS.

It is essential that the international community, the Iraqi government and KRG take assistance and concerted action to meet the needs of displaced persons. Humanitarian aid started arriving after mid-July, and it has reached some in need. But new attacks on civilians continue to be reported, displacing more people every day.

The writer is Deputy CEO of Amnesty International in India.

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