drinking from springs, hunting animals…..families
scattered across Mount Sinjar, a barren range stretching 35 miles
near the border with Syria….there are fears aid will not reach them all……One pershmerga fighter said: “There’s
not enough for everyone….It’s five people to one bottle”…..
There seems to be no hope left for the Yazidis dying in droves from thirst (and pain). Just like that, a community will vanish from the face of the Earth, while the world watches (mostly) in silence.
Mount Sinjar stinks of death. The few Yazidis who have managed to escape its
clutches can tell you why. “Dogs were eating the bodies of the dead,” said
Haji Khedev Haydev, 65, who ran through the lines of Islamic State jihadists
On Sunday night, I became the first western journalist to reach the mountains
where tens of thousands of Yazidis,
a previously obscure Middle Eastern sect, have been taking refuge from the
Islamic State forces that seized their largest town, Sinjar.
I was on board an Iraqi Army helicopter, and watched as hundreds of refugees
ran towards it to receive one of the few deliveries of aid to make it to the
mountain. The helicopter dropped water and food from its open gun bays to
them as they waited below. General Ahmed Ithwany, who led the mission, told
me: “It is death valley. Up to 70 per cent of them are dead.”
Two American aid flights have also made it to the mountain, where they have
dropped off more than 36,000 meals and 7,000 gallons of drinking water to
help the refugees, and last night two RAF C-130 transport planes were also
on the way.
However, Iraqi officials said that much of the US aid had been “useless”
because it was dropped from 15,000ft without parachutes and exploded on
Handfuls of refugees have managed to escape on the helicopters but many are
being left behind because the craft are unable to land on the rocky
mountainside. There, they face thirst and starvation, as well as the
crippling heat of midsummer.
Hundreds, if not more, have already died, including scores of children. A
Yazidi Iraqi MP, Vian Dakhil, told reporters in Baghdad: “We have one or two days left to help these people. After that they will
start dying en masse.”
The Iraqi Army is running several aid missions every day, bringing supplies
including water, flour, bread and shoes. The helicopter flights aim to airlift out refugees on each flight, but the
mountains are sometimes too rocky to land on, meaning they return empty.
Even when it can land, the single helicopter can take just over a dozen
refugees at a time, and then only from the highest point of the mountain
where it is out of range of jihadist missiles. Barely 100 have been rescued
in this way.
The flights have also dropped off at least 50 armed Peshmerga, Kurdish forces,
on the mountain, according to Captain Ahmed Jabar.
Other refugees have made their way through Islamic State lines, evading the
jihadists to reach safety, or travelling through Kurdish-controlled sections of Syria to reach the town of Dohuk.
So far the
Yazidi refugees left behind have survived by hiding in old cave dwellings,
drinking from natural springs and hunting small animals, but with families
scattered across Mount Sinjar, a barren range stretching for around 35 miles
near the border with Syria, there are fears aid will not reach them all
unless the humanitarian relief operation is significantly stepped up .
Hundreds can now be seen making their way slowly across its expanse, carrying
what few possessions they managed to flee with on their backs. Exhausted
children lie listlessly in the arms of their parents, older ones trudging
disconsolately alongside while the sun beats down overhead.
The small amount of relief the peshmerga militia can bring up into the
mountain is not simply enough.
One pershmerga fighter, Faisal Elas Hasso, 40, said: “To be honest, there’s
not enough for everyone,” he said. “It’s five people to one bottle.”
The refugees who made it out described desperate scenes as they awaited help
from the outside world. “There were about 200 of us, and about 20 of that number have died,” said
Saydo Haji, 28. “We can live for two days, not more.”
Emad Edo, 27, who was rescued in an airlift on Friday at the mountain’s
highest point explains how he had to leave his niece, who barely had enough
strength to keep her eyes open, to her fate. “She was about to die, so we left her there and she died,” he said.
Others shared similar stories. “Even the caves smell very bad,” Mr Edo added.
According to several of the airlifted refugees, the Geliaji cave alone has
become home to 50 dead bodies. Saydo Kuti Naner, 35, who was one of 13 Yazidis who snuck through Islamic
State lines on Thursday morning, said he travelled through
Kurdish-controlled Syria to get to Kurdistan.
He left behind his mother and father, too old to make the rough trip, as well
as 200 sheep. “We got lucky,” he said. “A girl was running [with us] and she
got shot.” He added that this gave enough cover for the rest of them to get
Mikey Hassan said he, his two brothers and their families fled up into Mount
Sinjar and then managed to escape to the Kurdish city of Dohuk after two
days, by shooting their way past the jihadists. Mr Hassan said he and his
family went for 17 hours with no food before getting their hands on some
The Yazidis, an ethnically Kurdish community that has kept its religion alive
for centuries in the face of persecution, are at particular threat from the
Islamists, who regard them as ‘devil worshippers’, and drove them from their
homes as the peshmerga fighters withdrew.
There have been repeated stories that the jihadists have seized hundreds of
Yazidi women and are holding them in Mosul, either in schools or the prison.
These cannot be confirmed, though they are widely believed and several
Yazidi refugees said they had been unable to contact Yazidi women relatives
who were living behind Islamic State lines.
Kamil Amin, of the Iraqi human rights ministry, said: “We think that the
terrorists by now consider them slaves and they have vicious plans for them.”
Tens of thousands of Christians have also been forced to flee in the face of
the advancing IS fighters, many cramming the roads east and north to Erbil
and Dohuk. On Thursday alone, up to 100,000 Iraqi Christians fled their
homes in the Plain of Ninevah around Mosul.
Refugees said the American air strikes on IS positions outside Erbil were too
little, too late. They said they felt abandoned by everyone – the central
government in Baghdad, the Americans and British, who invaded in 2003, and
now the Kurds, who had promised to protect them.
“When the Americans withdrew from Iraq they didn’t protect the Christians,”
said Jenan Yousef, an Assyrian Catholic who fled Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest
Christian town, in the early hours of Thursday. “The Christians became the scapegoats. Everyone has been killing us.”
The situation in Sinjar has irreparably damaged the notion of home for the
Yazidis. For a large portion of them, the unique culture of the area will
never return, and they will therefore have nothing to go back for.
“We can’t go back to Sinjar mountain because Sinjar is surrounded by Arabs,”
said Aydo Khudida Qasim, 34, who said that Sunni Arab villagers around
Sinjar helped Islamic State take the area. Now he as well as many of his
friends and relatives want to get out of Iraq altogether. “We want to be refugees in other countries, not our own,” he said.