George Packer checks in with his Yazidi contact “Karim” in northern Iraq, who reports that his community remains on the brink of a humanitarian disaster two months after a much-heralded rescue effort:
Yesterday, I spoke on the phone with Karim. He’s still at the top of Mt. Sinjar, living in a military camp with around a hundred fighters, the majority of them Kurdish, the rest Yazidis. They sleep in United Nations tents and eat canned food brought in by humanitarian airdrops. There is no real way out except by airlift—in the past ten or twelve days, according to Karim, ISIS has pushed Yazidi fighters out of villages north and west of Mt. Sinjar, and they now surround the mountain. Karim told me that there are still about a thousand civilians around the mountain, also living in tents. The humanitarian airdrops are not enough, food is running low, and the past few nights have been cold with the approach of winter. The Yazidi resistance fighters want an international ground force to liberate Sinjar—something that they are unlikely to get.
A few hours before we spoke, Karim said, five Yazidi girls arrived at the mountaintop camp. The youngest was nine, the oldest twenty. They had walked several dozen miles from their town to the south of the mountain. They carried nothing with them and were barefoot. The girls said that they had been held prisoner for weeks by ISIS fighters, and were badly beaten, according to Karim. Other Yazidi girls and women have been distributed in slave markets to ISIS fighters, and when I asked Karim if the girls had also been raped, he told me, “I couldn’t bear to ask that question, to be honest.”
Ralf Hoppe interviews a Yazidi woman who was kidnapped by ISIS but managed to escape after nine days in captivity:
Their captors beat them, sometimes several times in a single day, for no apparent reason. There was a man with a beard who used an electric cable, while two others preferred wooden switches. Sometimes they were also punched and kicked, and they were repeatedly sexually abused.
Nadia doesn’t give a literal account of these rapes. It is virtually impossible for her to talk about them, and it contravenes the conventions of her culture. She merely says: “We were taken individually to another room, to one of the men.” Then she lowers her head, in silence, awash with shame. “What else could we do?” she says after a while, now speaking very quietly. She says the men were merciless. Some women threw themselves at their tormentors’ feet, kissed their knees and hands, and — eyes filled with tears — pleaded for mercy. It was no use. The men remained unmoved. It only entertained them.
The jihadists are claiming a theological justification for enslaving the Yazidis in their English-language propaganda newsletter Dabiq:
The Islamic State newsletter, released online at the weekend, also contains an article by John Cantlie, a British journalist being held hostage, in which he says he fears he will soon be killed like his four fellow hostages, James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines and Alan Henning. But most of it is devoted to theological justifications for Islamic State behaviour, citing early clerics and the practices of the Prophet Mohammed and his Companions during the early years of Islamic expansion.
“The enslaved Yazidi families are now sold by the Islamic State soldiers as the mushrikin were sold by the Companions before them,” the article, entitled “The Revival of Slavery before the Hour”, says. It says that “well-known” rules are observed, including not separating mothers from their children – something which may account for the number of teenage girls being used in this way, according to their families. It says that 20 per cent of women are being taken in this way, in accordance with rules demanding a fifth of property captured in war to be handed over as tax.