Monday, October 20, 2014

Fighting Isis for Us

From The New Yorker:
The Yazidi resistance, led by a politician in his sixties named Qasim Shasho, has received very little attention outside Iraq. One account, on Medium, describes the group as being made up of just a couple thousand fighters. Few of them have any military training—Karim has never fired a shot at another human being. They are outnumbered and outgunned, with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and a few fifty-calibre guns against ISIS’s artillery and armored vehicles. The Yazidis are capable of hit-and-run ambushes, but they haven’t been able to take and hold territory. Many of their relatives who are now refugees in Kurdistan have abandoned the idea of ever returning to their ancient home.

Around the beginning of this month, ISIS seized the road through Syria to Dohuk, cutting off Karim’s land route back to safety. His father was having heart trouble, and a few days ago the two of them travelled up Mt. Sinjar, a steep and rugged area, holy to Yazidis, that became their sanctuary and their grave when ISIS attacked the towns around it, two months ago. From the top of the mountain, Karim’s father was evacuated to Dohuk on one of the Iraqi Air Force helicopters that make regular flights back and forth, carrying fighters and weapons to the mountain and ailing and elderly refugees to Kurdistan.

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.” The girls had been held in houses, not a prison, and they’d managed to escape through the back door and make contact by phone with people on the mountain. “They were quiet, not crying—even the little girls, they weren’t crying,” Karim said. “It looks like this was the first time they see a human being.”

After talking with the girls, Karim found himself unable to eat his lunch. “I don’t know. I think I’m helping people here,” he said. “I feel good sometimes—but those girls are making me heartbroken. Imagine—I don’t know their names, I don’t know where they’re from—imagine how their father or brother or someone in their family feels.”(Read more.)

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