Friday 24 January 2020

Iraq: We'll never go back, it's a living hell

They are killing us, all of us, they won't stop until we are all dead

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border,
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, ride a truck as they make their way towards the Syrian border. Reuters
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain. Reuters
Flight deck crew member confirms the deck is all clear before a F/A-18C Hornet of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA-87) take offs the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), in the Gulf. Reuters
A displaced woman from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, covers her feet with clothes as she walks towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain. Reuters

Richard Spencer

As they gathered on their holiest shrine yesterday afternoon, Sinjar's surviving Yazidis had one topic of conversation: how to get out of Iraq, leaving their homeland and its temples for ever.

"There are Arabs to the west of us, Arabs to the east and south of us," said Sardar Barpiri (35), a refugee from Islamic State terror, sheltering in the dark halls of the Yazidis' holiest temple, the Shrine of Sheikh Adi.

"They are killing us, all of us. Whether it's Islam or whatever, they just want to kill us. We are never going home," said Firaz Falas.

"Whether it means going to Britain, Germany, America - anywhere, we are not going back. We are a target because of our religion. There's nothing more to be said."

The Yazidis have lived in these rugged, barren hills for generations.

But after their expulsion from Sinjar to the west, their largest centre of population, this is taking on the appearance of a last stand.

A hundred poorly armed members of a local militia guard the Shrine of Sheikh Adi from the marauding jihadists a few miles away, in the plain below.

They swept through Sinjar 10 days ago, driving those they did not kill into the mountains to starve.

Now the Yazidis fear that Lalish, an infidel shrine like so many the Islamic State has already destroyed, is next in their sights. The refugees know from first-hand experience what that means.

Dakhil Sedo Khero (35), fled to his local shrine of Sheikh Amadin with his family when he saw Islamic State jihadists storm through the village.

Through his binoculars, he saw them set up a checkpoint on the road below. "They stopped the families at the checkpoint," he said.

"They put them on the side of the road and shot them, one after the other.

"Then I saw something else. They brought a bulldozer, and dug a grave, and put the bodies in."

Mr Khero hid in the temple, and then fled over the mountain in the opposite direction from the jihadists, skirting their positions for two days.

Later, on his flight, he hid in another temple, until it, too, came under attack from Islamic State.

He, his wife, his seven children, and 40 other members of his extended family, ran again, over the mountain, while Iraqi jets bombed the jihadist positions, until they joined the exodus of thousands of Yazidis through Syria back into "safe" Kurdistan.

Persecuted

Yazidis have been persecuted out of Turkey and Syria, and in Saddam Hussein's Iraq formed an impoverished underclass in one of the most barren parts of the country.

Their faith, which reveres the figure of Malek Tawus, the "Peacock Angel", identified by Muslims with Satan, has made them a bogeyman to their neighbours over the years. Their aggressors now are merely the most ruthless of their enemies.

Lalish lies above the town of Shekhan, the second largest centre of Yazidi population until now after Sinjar. Last week, after Sinjar residents fled, tens of thousands of people flocked to Shekhan, thronging its streets.

Two days later they were gone, along with many of the original residents, after rumours swept the town that Islamic State was on its way. In the event, they stopped, or were held, at the foot of the mountains. Only a few people have crept back.

On top of the mountain, 200 families have taken refuge, the priest in charge, Baba Chawish, said, their colourfully dressed children crowding Lalish village's single street.

Father Chawish said he would never leave.

Weeping

"We are a religion, we don't want to fight anyone," he said. "Why are they killing us? But I will never leave here. This is my home, this is to us what Mecca is to Muslims. Sinjar is far from here, and I am staying put."

In his temple, though, the women were coming and going, weeping and performing the Yazidi rituals: flicking water at the walls, or tying knots in the prayer scarves tied to the columns to bring luck. There were many knots being tied.

"We are a small people," Mr Khero said.

"We have no army to protect us, no weapons. We would like you to protect us, in Britain and America. But we think we want to leave this country," he added. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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