Some 40,000 Iraqi Yazidis, whose hometown of Sinjar was overwhelmed by ISIS militants on Saturday, are stranded on a mountain with little food or water after fleeing the city and being trapped there by the jihadists below, who consider them heretics:
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.”
The Yazidis, Bobby Ghosh explains, are one of several Iraqi minority groups in danger of persecution and genocide by the murderous “caliphate”:
Many Shi’ites can flee—some already have—southward, and find refuge among family and those of their own sect; many of my Shi’ite friends in Baghdad are currently sheltering northerners sent to them by religious organizations. Kurds, likewise, have been streaming into the Kurdish-dominated areas to the north and west of ISIL-controlled territory. Yet another minority, the Assyrians, most whom are Christians, have also fled south, and now await succor from the West, especially from groups of well-established Iraqi Christians in the US, who themselves fled previous spasms of persecution. But other minorities, just as vulnerable to the wrath of ISIL, have neither international support nor nearby refuge. And ISIL seems to have identified them for special persecution.
ISIS has also captured the largest Christian town in Iraq. Razib Khan argues that these minorities’ days are numbered. To him, “the rise of the Islamic State, and the past 10 years of chaos and violence, suggest that this is the end of the persistence of ethno-religious sects such as the Yezidi across most of the Fertile Crescent”:
The Jacobites Christians, Assyrians, and Yezidi, lack powerful patrons and protectors. Though most Sunni and Shia would not countenance genocide, they are focused more on the exigencies of their own internecine conflicts. Many minorities already have large Diaspora populations Europe. Tens of thousands of Yezidi live in Germany, and tens of thousands of Assyrians live in Sweden. The most practical short term solution would be extend refugee status selectively to ethno-religious minorities to prevent them from being eliminated by genocide. …
Of course a final irony is that the migration of the ancient Middle Eastern minorities to the West will likely result in their diminishing over the generations. The corporatist straight-jacket of the Middle Eastern milieu was constricting, but it allowed for a communal identity to maintain itself. In the individualist West these small communities are unlikely to be able to self segregate in large enough ghettos where their cultural norms are dominant. This means that identity will become a choice, and over time intermarriage will likely result in a decrease in numbers. Though the Yezidi are rightly objects of sympathy, their cultural norms are quite retrograde in many ways. These folkways were adaptive in the circumstances of Kurdistan, a persecuted minority which had to maintain a high level of group cohesion. But in the West they are often impediments to full flourishing, and produce inter-generational conflicts.
Jacob Seigel notes that “Kurdish forces from Syria and Turkey have crossed the border, forming a rare alliance with the Peshmerga inside Iraq that has already begun clashing with ISIS to recapture the ground lost over the weekend”:
Tens of thousands of Iraqis now stranded in the mountains are awaiting the outcome of those battles. As for the United States, it is “working urgently and directly with officials in Baghdad and Erbil to coordinate Iraqi airdrops to people in need,” the Defense Department said. On Wednesday, it was 106 degrees in Mosul. There may be 25,000 children trapped in the mountains, according to the United Nations’ children’s relief agency. Forty of them have died already.
George Packer discusses what we might do to help the Yazidis:
Yesterday, a senior U.S. official told me that the Obama Administration is contemplating an airlift, coördinated with the United Nations, of humanitarian supplies by C-130 transport planes to the Yazidis hiding in the Sinjar mountains. There are at least twenty thousand and perhaps as many as a hundred thousand of them, including some peshmerga militiamen providing a thin cover of protection. The U.N. has reported that dozens of children have died of thirst in the heat. ISIS controls the entrance to the mountains. Iraqi helicopters have dropped some supplies, including food and water, but the refugees are hard to find and hard to reach.
It was encouraging to learn that humanitarian supplies might be on the way, but we always seem to be at least a step behind as ISIS rolls over local forces and consolidates power. ISIS is not Al Qaeda. It operates like an army, taking territory, creating a state. The aim of the Sinjar operation seems to be control of the Mosul Dam, the largest dam in Iraq, which provides electricity to Mosul, Baghdad, and much of the country. According to one expert, if ISIS takes the dam, which is located on the Tigris River, it would have the means to put Mosul under thirty metres of water, and Baghdad under five.
But Morrissey wants more than that:
ISIS has purged Christians from their ancient communities in Mosul and the Nineveh province over the last several months. The war in Gaza has distracted the West for the last few weeks, but with that war now paused at the very least, perhaps it’s time to start shifting our gaze back to the much more dangerous situation in Iraq and Syria, where the death tolls already dwarf what has been seen in Gaza. We’ve spent a lot of time intervening in the Gaza war. What has the US done about ISIS, which poses much more of a threat to the US and the West, in a country where our presence might have made a difference?