‘Abandoned’ Yazidis seek U.S. action from White House trip

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect walk towards the Syrian border.

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect walk towards the Syrian border.

With Yazidis held hostage by jihadists in northern Iraq, members of the minority group say they feel abandoned by all sides, including the central government in Baghdad and Kurdish forces.

A Yazidi delegation met with U.S. officials in late October to seek arms and more humanitarian aid, and to put forth ideas and solutions.

The delegation comprised members of the Yazidi high spiritual council, tribal leaders and cultural representatives. They met State Department officials, congressional staff and ambassadors to various human rights commissions.

In the White House, the delegation met Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, who meets with President Barack Obama daily to discuss Middle East policy.

This was “the first visit in history of the Yazidi religious and tribal leadership to Washington and the United States,” Matthew Barber, a history scholar at the University of Chicago and the only non-Yazidi in the delegation, told Al Arabiya News.

Delegation member Murad Ismael told Al Arabiya News that Yazidis “feel abandoned in our own country. We saw how the Iraqi government intervened to free people in Amerli [a Turkmen Shiite-majority town]. We saw how the Kurdistan Regional Government continues to control its oil-rich territories.”

In August between 6,000 and 7,000 Yazidis, mostly women and children, were kidnapped by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria after it overran Sinjar, a town in the northern province of Mosul where most of the minority group lives.

However, “it’s not only the crimes committed by ISIS, but the failure of Iraq and the KRG to treat Yazidis the way they treat their own people,” Ismael said.

“There are no serious plans to free Yazidi hostages from any side, whether the Iraqis or the international community,” he added. “The world chooses to let [Yazidi] women be brutalized and traumatized.”

Ismael said the delegation “agreed with officials at the White House and State Department to continue our dialogue to deal with the current and long-term issues facing the Yazidi minority in Iraq.”

He added: “On the ground in Sinjar, we’ve seen more airstrikes since our visit, and Yazidi defenders have been taking advantage of that,” and “have made some advances on Sinjar’s front.”

‘No strategy’

However, Ismael said Washington and the international community so far do not have a strategy to protect Yazidis, Christians and other minorities.

“They continue to put the small fish in the same place with the three giant sharks: the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds,” he said.

“The result clearly is massive ethnic cleansing, the killing of thousands of Yazidis, kidnapping… and destroying homes and holy sites.”

The United Nations “has to intervene to establish a safe zone for Yazidis and other minorities,” he added.

Otherwise, Ismael said the delegation “demands” that the West “accept the vast majority of the Yazidi population as asylum-seekers.”

Local force

While about 3,000 Yazidis from Sinjar have volunteered to defend the area, the delegation seeks the arming and training of a Yazidi force of “several thousand… to ensure it will be capable of defending our people against ISIS and any future jihadists,” Ismael said.

Barber said while the current force has been “successful” in curtailing ISIS advances, it needs more support as it is “vulnerable.”

Arming the force “should be viewed as part of an effective counter-terrorism policy, just as support is being offered to Syrian Kurds defending their homelands against ISIS,” he added.

Ismael, who described the Iraq army as “broken and dysfunctional since 2003,” said: “There’s no real military in Iraq. In another words, everyone is a militia.”

Barber said throughout the delegation’s meetings in Washington, “officials and others seemed unaware of the Yazidi distrust of the KRG.”

He added: “Though they had the high-ground advantage and superior numbers,” Kurdish forces “fled the ISIS attack on Sinjar without a fight. As one member of our delegation frequently put it, ‘they abandoned us without firing a single bullet’.”

An Iraqi Yazidi family that fled the violence in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, sit at a school.

An Iraqi Yazidi family that fled the violence in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, sit at a school.

 
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