Today at 10AM a group of about forty Iraqi immigrants belonging to the Yezidi religious minority protested in front of the United Nations building in Manhattan. Among them was my friend Dakheel who I worked with when he was my interpreter in Iraq back in 2009. At the time, I remember hanging around the camp fire at night with Dakheel talking about the future of Iraq. We both agreed that after the United States pulled out of the country that things would get pretty bad. We were already dealing with what was then called ISI, the Islamic State of Iraq, which was a group of hard core terrorists. Dakheel told me at the time that there was no future for Iraq and that he was starting the process to immigrate to America with his wife and children. He got his visa and I’m glad he did.
Neither of us could have predicted just how bad things would get in the coming years. The stories he told me were nothing short of horrifying.
When ISIS surrounded the Yezidi home city of Sinjar, the only place for them to escape to was Sinjar mountain. He told me stories of parents who had four children but could only carry two up the mountain. The other two had to be left to die. When ISIS took the city they wanted the Yezidi to convert to Islam. Even if they did, they would be murdered afterwards, or worse be forced to turn and kill their own people. As the Dakheel told me, the Yezidi were given two options: “Die or die.” Women and children were executed by the dozens. ISIS terrorists covered Dakheel’s sister and her children in gasoline and was about to set them on fire. Another terrorist stopped the act, only because letting them starve to death would be more painful. They then took his sister’s ten year old daughter to be used for sexual slavery.
A few hundred thousand Yezidi climbed Sinjar mountain. Without food or water, the newborns and children were the first to die. Dakheel’s mother and father literally walked off the side of the mountain and all the way to Dohuk in Kurdistan to survive. When I asked how many died in Sinjar and on Sinjar mountain, the Yezidi protestors informed me that it was impossible to know, but that the number was easily in the thousands. Their families said you could smell the rotting bodies everywhere. Even those who escaped the mountain to Kurdistan are now living as homeless refugees; their struggle is far from over.
Even with President Obama openly calling the slaughter of the Yezidi people a genocide, American airstrikes have been extremely limited to the point of being deceive to nothing on the battlefield. The real saving grace for the Yezidi has been the PKK. Officially listed as a terrorist organization by many, the PKK is a Kurdish socialist/communist organization that has long fought with the Turkish government. Despite what one’s feelings may be about the PKK, this is the armed group that has been fighting ISIS and has saved a lot of innocent lives on the ground.
The United States military, the Iraqi Army, and even the much lauded Peshmerga did basically nothing to save Sinjar. My own sources on the ground indicated that the PKK has been fighting for six months straight at this point, are exhausted, and extremely resource-poor. Another factor holding back the PKK is that their officers are not selected based upon their successes in combat, but rather promotions are dependent on them going back up into the mountains to study Marxist ideology. Whatever their failings, the PKK should be recognized for the good they have done in helping the Yezidi. However, we must also acknowledge that this force will not be able to defeat ISIS alone. At best, they are acting as a spoiler force that stalls and delays the advance of the ISIS virus.
At the protest I also met Ali, another interpreter who worked with US forces in Iraq prior to the withdrawal. He is also devastated by the ISIS atrocities against his people. He said that there were Muslims living side by side them in Sinjar that they grew up with and went to school with. When ISIS rolled into town, those Muslims sided with ISIS and began slaughtering their neighbors. He pointed out that the problem is not simply the political leadership of Kurdistan, Iraq, or Syria, but the problem is the people. Brother turns against brother as ISIS employs the grim tactics of Genghis Khan. Sinjar is now completely lost to ISIS, as is Tal Afar.
I’m proud of the Iraqis I trained in the Tal Afar SWAT team, they never stopped fighting, but they were not enough to stand against the ISIS onslaught. Currently, they are elsewhere in Iraq being deployed by the government to fight ISIS. They fought hard, but without the government giving them any support, they could only hold out for so long. The Iraqi government fucked them along with so many others. Hopefully those boys can get back to Tal Afar to settle the score soon.
Meanwhile, the Yezidi people are being killed worse than animals. Another village south of Sinjar that I went to in 2009 has also been overrun. The women and children were lined up and executed. Dakheel told me that what is happening over there isn’t a genocide, it is like multiple genocides, with cities and villages being massacred, women and girls auctioned off into sexual slavery, and war crimes of the type that most of us think only exist in black and white photos from World War Two are committed on a daily basis. The Yezidi people are simply asking the UN to support their own doctrine, to pursue the Right to Protect which they instituted after the Rwandan genocide. The Yezidi need humanitarian relief such as food and water. They also need refugee camps in Kurdistan so that they don’t die of exposure.
According to one individual whom I spoke to a few days ago, the worst part is that the UN saw this coming. He told them about the conflict that was about to spill across the border from Syria, about how the Kurdish checkpoints were only manned by a couple guys with one machine gun, and how Sinjar was about to become a major humanitarian disaster. His words were ignored.
Dakheel shook his head and looked up at the United Nations building.
“This place is a joke.”
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