The story of Karim

….Karim’s father refused to go along…“Let them
kill me in my town, but I will never leave it.” Fortunately, the
father’s paralyzed cousin, pleaded with him, and at the last minute the two old men joined the
exodus….Thousands of other Yazidi families had to flee on foot into the
mountains: “They couldn’t leave. They didn’t know how to leave. They
waited too long to leave,” Karim said….

For the Yazidis in Iraq, things are right now in extremis.

Similar brutalities happened during Partition (I) in South Asia (first Bengal and then Punjab), indeed some of our own family members were affected. There
is a hill-top temple near Chittagong (also called Chattagram or Chatga
in short, now Bangladesh). During Siva-ratri night (February), thousands
of pilgrims were visiting. The extremists closed off the hill and
massacred everyone within. Almost everyone. Our grand-uncle survived by
being buried under corpses. He was a very talented young man and never
quite recovered for the rest of his life.
Stranded on a barren mountaintop, thousands of minority Iraqis are
faced with a bleak choice: descend and risk slaughter at the hands of
the encircled Sunni extremists or sit tight and risk dying of thirst.


Humanitarian agencies said Tuesday that between 10,000 and 40,000 civilians remain trapped on Mount Sinjar since being driven out
of surrounding villages and the town of Sinjar two days earlier. But
the mountain that had looked like a refuge is becoming a graveyard for
their children.

Unable to dig deep into the rocky mountainside,
displaced families said they have buried young and elderly victims of
the harsh conditions in shallow graves, their bodies covered with
stones. Iraqi government planes attempted to airdrop bottled water to
the mountain on Monday night but reached few of those marooned.

are children dying on the mountain, on the roads,” said Marzio Babille,
the Iraq representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund
(UNICEF). “There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are
completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State. It’s a disaster, a
total disaster.”

Most of those who fled Sinjar are from the
minority Yazidi sect, which melds parts of ancient Zoroastrianism with
Christianity and Islam. They are considered by the al-Qaeda-inspired
Islamic State to be devil worshippers and apostates.

A humanitarian crisis that could turn into a genocide is taking place
right now in the mountains of northwestern Iraq. It hasn’t made the
front page, because the place and the people are obscure, and there’s a
lot of other horrible news to compete with. I’ve learned about it mainly
because the crisis has upended the life of someone I wrote about in the magazine several weeks ago.

Last Sunday, Karim woke up around 7:30 A.M.,
after coming home late the night before. He was about to have breakfast
when his phone rang—a friend was calling to see how he was doing. Karim
is a Yazidi, a member of an ancient religious minority in Iraq.
Ethnically, he’s Kurdish. An engineer and a father of three young
children, Karim spent years working for the U.S. Army in his area, then
for an American medical charity. He’s been waiting for months to find
out whether the U.S. government will grant him a Special Immigrant Visa
because of his service, and because of the danger he currently faces.

is from a small town north of the district center, Sinjar, between
Mosul and the Syrian border. Sinjar is a historic Yazidi area with an
Arab minority. Depending on who’s drawing the map, Sinjar belongs to
either the northernmost part of Iraq or the westernmost part of
Kurdistan. Since June, when extremist fighters from the Islamic State in
Iraq and al-Sham captured Mosul, they’ve been on the outskirts of
Sinjar, facing off against a small number of Kurdish peshmerga
militiamen. ISIS regards Yazidis as devil worshippers,
and its fighters have been executing Yazidi men who won’t convert to
Islam on the spot, taking away the women as jihadi brides. So there were
many reasons why a friend might worry about Karim.

“I don’t know,” Karim said. “My situation is O.K.” “No, it’s not O.K.!” his friend said. “Sinjar is under the control of ISIS.”

Karim had not yet heard this calamitous news. “I’ll call some friends and get back to you,” he said.

the cell network was jammed, so Karim walked to his father’s house. His
father told him that thousands of people from Sinjar were headed their
way, fleeing north through the mountains to get out of Iraq and into
Kurdistan. It suddenly became clear that Karim would have to abandon his
home and escape with his family.

ISIS had
launched its attack on Sinjar during the night. Peshmerga militiamen
were outgunned—their assault rifles against the extremists’ captured
fifty-caliber guns, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, anti-aircraft
weapons, and armored vehicles. The Kurds began to run out of ammunition,
and those who could retreated north toward Kurdistan. By dawn, the
extremists were pouring into town. Later, ISIS posted triumphant photos on Twitter: bullet-riddled corpses of peshmerga in the streets and dirt fields; an ISIS
fighter aiming his pistol at the heads of five men lying face down on
the ground; Arab locals who stayed in Sinjar jubilantly greeting the new

Karim had time to do just one thing: burn all the
documents that connected him to America—photos of him posing with Army
officers, a CD from the medical charity—in case he was stopped on the
road by militants or his house was searched. He watched the record of
his experience during the period of the Americans in Iraq turn to ash,
and felt nothing except the urge to get to safety.

By 9:30 A.M.,
Karim and his extended family were crowded into his brother’s car and
his father’s pickup truck. They’d had no time to pack, and for the drive
through the heat of the desert they took nothing but water, bread,
canned milk for Karim’s two-year-old son, and their AK-47s. At first,
Karim’s father refused to go along. A stubborn man, he said, “Let them
kill me in my town, but I will never leave it.” Fortunately, the
father’s paralyzed cousin, who had been left behind by his family,
pleaded with him, and at the last minute the two old men joined the
exodus. Karim’s twenty or so family members were the last to get out of
the area by car, and they joined a massive traffic jam headed northwest.
Thousands of other Yazidi families had to flee on foot into the
mountains: “They couldn’t leave. They didn’t know how to leave. They
waited too long to leave,” Karim said.

Karim drove in a convoy of
two hundred and fifty or three hundred cars. They stuck together for
safety. The group decided against taking the most direct route to
Kurdistan, which would have taken them through the Arab border town of
Rabiya. ISIS wasn’t the only danger—Yazidi Kurds have
come to regard Sunni Arabs generally as a threat. So they drove across
the border at an unmarked point into Syria, where Kurdish rebels—who
form one side in the complex Syrian civil war—were in control of the

The rebels waved the convoy on, while Syrian Arab villagers stared
or took videos with their mobile phones. A relative of Karim’s happened
to be a cigarette smuggler and knew the way across the desert once the
roads disappeared. (“Everyone and everything has his day,” Karim told
me.) The undercarriage of Karim’s car began to break off in pieces. They
drove for hours through Syria, crossed back into Iraq, and shortly
afterward reached a checkpoint into Kurdistan, where the line of cars
was so long that they had to wait for hours more. It wasn’t until
nightfall, nearly twelve hours after they had fled their home, that
Karim and his family reached the Kurdish town of Dohuk, where he
happened to have a brother who gave them shelter in his small apartment.

with other people here, I’m in heaven,” Karim said by phone from Dohuk.
“Some are in camps for refugees. It’s very hot and very hard. We are
safe, but thousands of families are in the mountains. Thousands.”

Karim heard that one young man had been executed by ISIS
for no reason other than being Yazidi. A friend of Karim’s was hiding
in the mountains, running low on supplies, and out of battery power in
his phone. Another friend, an Arab (“He is not a religion guy, he’s
open-minded, it doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or Yazidi,” Karim
said), had stayed in Sinjar and was trapped in his home. Now ISIS
was going house to house, with information provided by locals, looking
for Iraqi soldiers and police, for people with money, for Kurds. They
had already taken away the friend’s brother, a police officer. No one
knows for sure how many people ISIS has killed since the attack on Sinjar. Karim heard that it is many hundreds.

Prince Tahseen Said, “the world leader of the Yazidis,” has issued an appeal
to Kurdish, Iraqi, Arab, and European leaders, as well as to Ban
Ki-moon and Barack Obama. It reads: “I ask for aid and to lend a hand
and help the people of Sinjar areas and its affiliates and villages and
complexes which are home to the people of the Yazidi religion. I invite
[you] to assume [your] humanitarian and nationalistic responsibilities
towards them and help them in their plight and the difficult conditions
in which they live today.”

It’s hard to know what, if anything,
is left of the humanitarian responsibilities of the international
community. The age of intervention is over, killed in large part by the
Iraq war. But justifiable skepticism about the use of military force
seems also to have killed off the impulse to show solidarity with the
helpless victims of atrocities in faraway places. 

There’s barely any
public awareness of the unfolding disaster in northwestern Iraq, let
alone a campaign of international support for the Yazidis—or for the
Christians who have been driven out of Mosul or the Sunni Arabs who
don’t want to live under the tyranny of ISIS. The
front-page news continues to be the war in Gaza, a particular Western
obsession whether one’s views are pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian,
pro-peace, or pro-plague-on-both-houses. Nothing that either side has
done in that terrible conflict comes close to the routine brutality of ISIS.

couldn’t help expressing bitterness about this. “I don’t see any
attention from the rest of the world,” he said. “In one day, they killed
more than two thousand Yazidi in Sinjar, and the whole world says,
‘Save Gaza, save Gaza.’ ”

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.
Other nearby targets could include the Kurdish cities of Erbil and
Dohuk. Karim reported that residents of Dohuk, inundated with refugees,
felt not just a sense of responsibility for Sinjar but also alarm, and
that they were stocking up on supplies in case of an attack.

One way to protect the innocent and hurt those who are terrorizing them would be for the U.S. to launch air strikes on ISIS
positions. That option has been discussed within the administration
since the fall of Mosul, in June, but it runs against President Obama’s
foreign-policy tendencies. “The President’s first instinct is, ‘Let’s
help them to do it,’ ” the official told me. “The minute we do
something, it changes the game.” 

This time, unlike in Syria, it isn’t
hard to figure out how to “help them to do it”: send arms to the Kurds,
America’s only secular-minded, pluralistic Muslim allies in the region,
and the only force in the area with the means and the will to protect
thousands of lives. (Dexter Filkins wrote, on Monday, about the possibility of American military aid to the Kurds.)
Perhaps the U.S., Europe, and the U.N. can’t or won’t prevent genocide
in northwestern Iraq, but the Kurds can. The fact that the peshmerga
were outgunned by ISIS and ran out of ammunition in Sinjar says that we are a step behind on this front, too. According to the Times,
Washington has turned down Kurdish requests for American weapons for
fear of alienating and undermining Iraq’s central government in Baghdad.

The official said that peshmerga forces are organizing
to retake Sinjar. Karim heard the same thing in Dohuk, and he said that
he wants to be in the first group that returns to his hometown.
Meanwhile, he’s volunteering with the American medical charity he used
to work for, helping other refugees in Dohuk. He told his children that
they’re on an extended vacation in Kurdistan.


Link (1): http://iraqi-yazidis-stranded-on-isolated-mountaintop-begin-to-die-of-thirst/

Link (2):



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