Posted on November 17, 2016 by Editorial Staff in Mosul, Yazidis
Most of the Yazidis freed were elderly, disabled or unwell, January 17, 2015 Photo: Reuters
BASHIQA, Iraq,— For the first time since Islamic State militants swept into Bashiqa two years ago forcing him to flee, 61-year-old Barakat has finally found work – on Sunday he will coming back to help clear debris from the destruction wrought upon his home town.
He and others who have been living in exile gathered in the town on Wednesday, just over a week after Kurdish peshmerga forces drove the jihadists out.
Yazidi Kurds, Christian and Muslim former neighbours and old friends kissed and greeted each other. But it will be a long time before they can move back for good.
Homes have been flattened by bombardment, shopfronts and garages gutted, burnt and looted, and black patches from mortar explosions scorch the ground along the main road.
Bashiqa’s residents fled in different directions and at different speeds when the militants took over in 2014 after sweeping into Iraq from Syria.
“We left immediately,” said Bakarat, a Yazidi like most people from the town.
Islamic State has killed Muslims and non-Muslims alike, but has been particularly brutal with the Yazidi minority, whose beliefs combine elements of several religions. Thousands have been killed, captured and enslaved by the group in what the United Nations says is genocide.
Bakarat said some Muslim inhabitants had stayed on for a while, but Christians and Yazidis knew exactly what their fate would be if they did not get out straight away.
Those who were better off rented homes in other towns, and those without the means went to camps.
Bakarat and his family still live in the northern city of Duhok. With most of Bashiqa destroyed and no services or supplies, they expect it will be a long exile.
“We can begin to clean up this mess, but there’s no point returning to live until there’s electricity, water, and most importantly full security,” he said on his first trip back, declining to give his full name in a sign of lingering concern.
“NOT SCARED ANYMORE”
A U.S.-backed offensive to drive Islamic State out of Mosul, its last major stronghold in Iraq, has recaptured many towns and villages around the city since it began in earnest last month. The operation involves some 100,000 government troops, Kurdish security forces and Shi’ite militiamen.
Raghid Rashid, a local Yazidi policeman, returned this month and fought alongside the peshmerga to recapture the town, 7 miles northeast of Mosul.
“The fight to get Bashiqa back was tough. Daesh (Islamic State) used suicide bombers, tunnels, snipers. When we got here half the town was destroyed – including my home,” he said, adding that Yazidi shrines had also been desecrated.
On the steel shutters of several local businesses, the words “Sunni Muslim” have been scrawled by Islamic State militants, to distinguish the owners from locals of other faiths, or from those they consider apostates – both punishable by death under their rule.
Rashid, Bakarat and other men had come to listen to an address by Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani.
Nominally under the jurisdiction of Baghdad, the area is controlled by the KRG and Barzani spoke only Kurdish.
Speaking from a podium and flanked by Kurdish flags and banners proclaiming religious and ethnic coexistence, he said the peshmerga, the KRG’s armed forces, would not withdraw from areas they had seized from IS, and vowed to protect minorities living in areas under Kurdish control.
Many Yazidis lost faith in Barzani when his Kurdish Peshmerga forces failed to protect them from Islamic State militants who attacked Sinjar in August 2014 and systematically slaughtered, enslaved and raped thousands of them.
Kurdish fighters were recently accused by a human rights group of unlawfully destroying Arab homes in areas they captured from Islamic State between 2014 and May 2016, a charge the KRG denies.
It was not possible to stray too far from the main road to visit abandoned homes because the area was not yet fully cleared of IEDs and booby traps.
As Barzani spoke, two distant but large explosions were heard, apparently from the ongoing fight inside Mosul.
“Daesh is gone. But even if they came back I’d stay put, and I’d fight to the death if necessary,” Rashid said, dressed in combat fatigues and a black cap.
“We know their tactics now and we’re not scared anymore.”
Islamic State group has captured most parts of the Yazidi Sinjar district in northwest Iraq on August 3, 2014 after Massoud Barzani’s KDP Peshmerga forces withdrew from Sinjar without a fight, leaving behind the Kurdish Yazidi civilians which led thousands of Kurdish families to flee to Mount Sinjar, where they were trapped in it and suffered from significant lack of water and food, killing and abduction of thousands of Yazidis as well as rape and captivity of thousands of women.
The Yazidis beg the Barzani’s forces to at least leave them their weapons so as to give them a chance at defending themselves against IS militants, but the Kurdish Peshmerga refused, Yazidi refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan said.
Those who stay behind are subjected to brutal, genocidal acts: thousands killed, hundreds buried alive, and countless acts of rape, kidnapping and enslavement are perpetuated against Yazidi women. To add insult to injury, IS fighters ransack and destroy ancient Yazidi holy sites.
According to Human Rights organizations, thousands of Yazidi women and girls have been forced to marry or been sold into sexual slavery by the IS jihadists.
A Yazidi member of Iraqi parliament Vian Dakhil, said in August that 3,770 Kurdish Yazidi women and children still in Islamic State captivity.