Muhajireen Battalions in Syria (Part IV)

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

I have previously documented part/predominantly foreign fighter battalions in Syria here, here and here. Below are a couple more groups as part of this series.

Jaysh Muhammad in Bilad al-Sham

JayshMo
Logo of Jaysh Muhammad in Bilad al-Sham, with motto reading: “We are victorious or we die.” The group’s other main slogan is: “The law of God rules us,” similar to the mentality of other foreign fighter battalions like the Imam Bukhari Battalion of Uzbek fighters.

almiad
Al-Mi’ad Media, the media wing of Jaysh Muhammad.

Jaysh Muhammad is a jihadi faction led by one Abu Obeida al-Muhajir (of Egyptian nationality). The group primarily operates in Aleppo province but has extended operations to other governorates: for example, the group participated in October 2013 with the Green Battalion and the Islamic State (IS), among other “Islamic battalions,” in an offensive on the Sakhna region in Homs province.

In Aleppo province, Jaysh Muhammad worked and co-existed with the Islamic State in some areas prior to and somewhat after the start of wider infighting between IS and other rebels. For instance, in July 2013, a joint operations room as part of “The Battle of True Dawn” was formed in an attempt to capture the two Shi’a localities of Nubl and Zahara’ in Aleppo province, including Jaysh Muhammad, IS, Ahrar al-Sham and a local north Aleppo battalion. As for the aftermath of the beginning of infighting in January 2014, the most notable instance of Jaysh Muhammad-IS cooperation came in the “And Don’t Separate” initiative- an alliance of jihadi factions including Jabhat al-Nusra and independent groups like the Green Battalion- to capture Kweiris military airbase to the east of Aleppo city. It quickly fell apart though as all battalions except IS withdrew.

The most interesting case of IS-Jaysh Muhammad relations was the locality of Azaz, which was seized by IS in autumn 2013 from the FSA-banner brigade Northern Storm. To recap briefly the story of what went on there, IS entered the town of Azaz in the summer of 2013- to the chagrin of some locals- and the group moved into what was a services office to engage in da’wah and social outreach, without initially having a military presence. It was only when IS decided to seize on a pretext to take over the town that fighters and tanks were called in from outside.

That said, in a recent interview with me, a spokesman for Northern Storm- which has since returned to become the sole ruling authority in Azaz following IS’ withdrawal earlier this year and has formally joined the Islamic Front- affirmed that while Northern Storm and IS had worked together in the fall of Mannagh airbase in summer 2013, IS had been stockpiling weapons seized from the base in what was then its da’wah office. In any event, when fighting initially broke out in Azaz in September 2013, a ceasefire agreement was mediated by Liwa al-Tawhid and required both Liwa al-Tawhid and Jaysh Muhammad to implement the agreement.

It turns out that while Liwa al-Tawhid was nowhere to be seen in the face of IS’ subsequent breaking of the ceasefire agreement to expel Northern Storm entirely from Azaz, Jaysh Muhammad had remained in Azaz, having a base there and essentially standing by as IS took over the town. Whereas Liwa al-Tawhid’s inaction at the time appears to have been the result of an informal condemnation of Northern Storm by Aleppo’s Shari’a Committee, Jaysh Muhammad more likely did nothing out of jihadi ideological sympathy for IS.

What happened in the run-up to IS’ strategic abandonment of Azaz at the end of February- considering that the area was cut off from the rest of IS’ contiguous territory in east Aleppo province- is also of interest. If we are to believe the testimony of foreign fighter and Twitter personality “Abu Hamza al-Erhabi”- who at the time claimed affiliation with Jaysh Muhammad- then Jaysh Muhammad planned in advance to abandon Azaz if IS left. According to Northern Storm’s spokesman in an interview with me, Northern Storm imposed an ultimatum on Jaysh Muhammad to leave Azaz, join the fight against IS, or face war.

Despite past events in Azaz and elsewhere suggesting affinity with IS, Jaysh Muhammad actually seems to have been closer to Jabhat al-Nusra all along, even as all three groups of course ultimately have the same goal of a global Caliphate. Indeed, Abu Hamza al-Erhabi had described his group as “sort of” Jabhat al-Nusra. However, in July this year, Jabhat al-Nusra in Aleppo put out a statement disavowing organizational relations with Jaysh Muhammad:

“Jabhat al-Nusra in Aleppo announces that the Jaysh Muhammad battalion under the leadership of the brother Sheikh Abu Obeida the Egyptian- may God protect him- has no organizational connection with Jabhat al-Nusra, for the behavior of the battalion is not considered appropriate in Jabhat al-Nusra’s eyes with the maintenance of a relation of brothers, affection and sincerity between us.”

Jaysh Muhammad then issued a response affirming that it never had allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra in the first place and attempting a further clarification:

“In response to the prevailing view regarding the statement of the Jabhat al-Nusra brothers in Aleppo- may God give them strength- and the clarification of the relationship between Jaysh Muhammad in Bilad al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra, we clarify the confusion that has arisen: Jaysh Muhammad did not pledge allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra from the beginning and Jabhat al-Nusra has no pledge of allegiance on the neck of Jaysh Muhammad for it to be understood that Jaysh Muhammad was expelled from Jabhat al-Nusra.

But the statement was published on account of what is prevalent among the people: that Jaysh Muhammad is under allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra on the basis of coordination and cooperation between Jaysh Muhammad and Jabhat al-Nusra: but this is mistaken, for in reality there is joint cooperation and organization between Jaysh Muhammad and Jabhat al-Nusra; moreover, this has not ceased their continuing to be our brothers and beloved ones, and there continues to be a relationship of being brothers in God, affection and sincerity.”

The current status of the relationship between Jabhat al-Nusra and Jaysh Muhammad is unclear, but arguably as part of the wider trend of non-IS jihadi groups beginning to implement their own state/proto-state legislation projects as territory in Syria is increasingly gobbled up by the regime and IS,[i] Jaysh Muhammad announced in July its intentions of implementing Shari’a and hudud regulations in their entirety in all captured areas. At the moment nothing suggests that Jaysh Muhammad has joined some of the other jihadi groups operating in Aleppo province that formed the Jabhat Ansar al-Din coalition.

Update: It has now emerged that despite the Northern Storm ultimatum, Jaysh Muhammad has retained a base in the wider Azaz area (though not participating in any way in governance of the town of Azaz), as the Islamic Front has just released a statement giving Jaysh Muhammad three days to evacuate the Azaz area in light of the fighting against IS. 

Jund al-Aqsa

jundaqsa
Flag of Jund al-Aqsa

jundaqsamedia
Jund al-Aqsa media committee.

Jund al-Aqsa (“Soldiers of al-Aqsa”) is a foreign fighter battalion of a variety of nationalities (including some of South Asian origin)- as well as comprising a native Syrian contingent- primarily operating in Idlib and Hama governorates. The group was in January of this year confronted by rebels on the grounds of being an ally of IS, but with IS’ withdrawal from Idlib and Hama provinces, any tensions between Jund al-Aqsa and other rebels have since calmed down, and the group has notably taken part in joint offensives with Ahrar al-Sham of the Islamic Front (e.g. capturing the village of Ma’an in Hama province in February, which culminated in a massacre of local Alawites). More recently, Jund al-Aqsa has been participating with the Islamic Front in an operation to capture Hama military airport: Ghazwa Badr al-Sham al-Kubra, announced last month and ongoing. Indeed, it is notable that even as other jihadi groups have set about working on their own administrative initiatives, it is striking that Jund al-Aqsa still remains focused on advertising military operations.

jundaqsa2
Jund al-Aqsa claiming to fire heavy weaponry at regime aircraft as part of the offensive on Hama military airport.

jundaqsa3
Jund al-Aqsa claiming to target regime positions around Hama military airport as part of the same offensive.

jundaqsa4
Jabhat al-Nusra has also continued to work with Jund al-Aqsa, pointing to Jund al-Aqsa’s closer affinity at the present time to Jabhat al-Nusra than IS, whatever the prior relations were with the latter. In this photo released in June, Jabhat al-Nusra claims coordination with Jund al-Aqsa in targeting a hotel building in Idlib city that members of Hezbollah were supposedly using as a base.

jundaqsa5
Abu Abd al-Aziz al-Qatari, the amir of Jund al-Aqsa killed in fighting with rebels in January. Of Palestinian origin, he was apparently a veteran of the jihad in Iraq for some time before going to Qatar and continuing to support the insurgency against U.S. forces in Iraq.

jundaqsa6
Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Masri: an Egyptian fighter for Jund al-Aqsa whose death was announced on 26 July this year.

jundaqsa7
Muhannad al-Ansari, from Saraqeb (Idlib province), killed in the Ghazwa Badr al-Sham al-Kubra. Death announced on 30 July.

 

 

Notes

[i] Though Jabhat al-Nusra has tried to backtrack in its public rhetoric on the leaked ‘emirate’ announcement by leader Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani, its recent record on the ground of seizing territory from one-time allies of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front in Idlib in particular and the announcement of economic and societal regulations therein undermine its attempts at ‘clarification.’

Undoubtedly too the behavior by Jabhat al-Nusra is partly explained as the result of a perception that some rebels are receiving Western arms on the condition of not cooperating with Jabhat al-Nusra and therefore constitute a threat in the long-run as territory available for control- particularly crucial border areas- becomes increasingly scarce.

The Unintended Consequences of Closing and Restricting Jordan-Syria Border Crossings—by Justin Schon

Justinby Justin Schon

“In the interest of our national security, we are prepared to close the border if — God forbid — anarchy breaks out in Syria or we see an unprecedented humanitarian crisis,” Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications and Government Spokesperson Samih Maaytah said in January 2013. This statement may not seem noteworthy for one of Syria’s neighbors, but it did signal increasing concern from the Jordanian government about the growing influx of Syrian refugees. These security fears have only grown over time.

In response to civil conflict in a neighboring state, it is not uncommon for states to close their borders. Border closures are commonly seen as one method to reduce the likelihood of conflict spreading from neighboring countries. In theory, border closures should prevent weapons, supplies, armed groups, and civilians from flowing through the country. For example, Kenya has attempted to close its border with Somalia. However, just as Kenya has proven unable to stem the flows of weapons, Al Shabaab fighters, and Somali refugees, Jordan’s attempts to restrict movement across its border with Syria have achieved little success. Arguably, they have even made Jordan less safe.

Ultimately, it is not possible to completely control a border. Over 600,000 Syrians have entered Jordan since the start of Syria’s conflict in 2011, with several hundred thousand of them having arrived since Jordan began to seriously restrict entry. This seems to have begun around March 2013, when Jordan was accused of closing the crossing at Nassib. Jordan finally admitted in June 2013 that it had closed several illegal crossing points and limited the entry of refugees through other border crossings.

These restrictions did not stop the flow of refugees into Jordan. Even by early 2012, it had already become more difficult for Syrians to enter Jordan. This simply prompted many Syrians to cross illegally into Jordan. These crossings occurred along at least 45 illegal crossing points. With a 231 mile border, much of it located in harsh desert, the Jordan-Syria border is very difficult to secure.

Yet, by May 2013, the Jordanian government had managed to shut down most of these crossings. Now, the best hope for Syrians to cross into Jordan lies in travelling to the East, where Syrians must endure the harsh desert, government checkpoints, bombings, pro-government militias, and Bedouins who often demand bribes to allow fleeing civilians to pass. As one refugee told me, “From Deraa, it can take about 15 days to travel to the desert border crossing near Ruwayshid [city in eastern Jordan]. When people arrive there, they are almost always out of food and water. Many need medical care. But then they have to wait for Jordan to let them enter. This can take one week, one month, or more.”

These controls have prevented many Syrians from being able to leave Syria at all. Those unfortunate enough to be in this position are often forced to live in large displaced persons camps around Nassib, Tel Shihab, and other border towns. This problem is aggravated by the inability of many Syrians living north of Deraa to find out about the border restrictions. Thus, many Syrians go to Deraa, only to learn that they cannot cross into Jordan from there. Instead, they have to go back north to Damascus, then to Sweidah, and then east to the desert border crossing from which they can reach Ruwayshid in Jordan. People without the money to pay for this trip are often left with no options other than staying in the displaced persons camps.

These camps host thousands of people, and sadly have not been safe from bombing by the Syrian government, including barrel bombs. As fighting moves closer to the border, there is an increased likelihood for violence to cross into Jordan. On Monday, August 11, a rocket fired from Syria reportedly landed a few hundred meters from Zaatari. Jordanians have also been hit by stray bullets from fighting along the border. Bold attempts to cross have even forced the Jordanian military to take lethal action, such as when it destroyed trucks with Syrian rebels attempting to enter Jordan in April 2014.

This situation leads to the Jordanian military intercepting as many refugees as they can when they cross the border. Thousands of refugees have been sent directly to the Zaatari refugee camp. Now, with the opening of the Azraq refugee camp, all refugees are sent to Azraq except refugees for whom UNHCR determines there are protection concerns. Regardless, most refugees, understandably, strongly dislike the camps.

Hence, there are many attempts to leave them. The main system that the Jordanian government has implemented to allow people to leave is known as the bail-out system. This system, which I briefly discussed in my previous post, was originally meant to be a compromise between UNHCR and the Jordanian government. For UNHCR, it is a way to give people some freedom to leave the camps. For Jordan, it is a way to facilitate effective monitoring of refugees when they leave the camps.

In practice, refugees have often avoided this system, choosing instead to bribe Jordanian military officers for the opportunity to leave the camps. These refugees do not get registered with the Jordanian Ministry of Interior, and only sometimes register with UNHCR. Therefore, large numbers of people are outside the official system, making them extremely challenging to monitor. It is therefore unlikely that Jordan would be hosting an estimated 100,000 unregistered Syrian refugees, as it currently is, if it were not for the border closures and restrictions. Now that there are so many unregistered refugees, officials fear that there is a serious risk that these unregistered Syrians will become involved in radical groups.

Through its own attempts to maintain its security, Jordan is creating security challenges for itself. Its decision to close and/or restrict entry at its border crossings with Syria has contributed to a situation where there is insecurity along the border and a growing number of unregistered, poorly monitored Syrians. Without such controls, there would surely be more Syrians in Jordan, but they would be easier to monitor. It is also likely that border areas would be more secure. Jordan would be safer as a result.

“10 Things to Know About Refugees in Jordan,” by Justin Schon

Justin10 Things to Know About Refugees in Jordan
by Justin Schon, a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at Indiana University Bloomington. His research focuses on insurgency and population displacement during conflict. He can be followed on twitter @goliathSchon

This post is the first of two posts I will be writing for this blog. It is based on the observations I have made and conversations I have had during my fieldwork in Jordan. This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but they are all points that are important to know about the refugee situation in Jordan.

1)     Syrians are not the only refugees in Jordan

Although Syrians have stolen much of the attention in recent years, Jordan is actually home to many groups of refugees. The largest of these groups is Palestinian refugees. However, Jordan also hosts large and growing numbers of Iraqi refugees. Then there are many other smaller groups of refugees, such as Sudanese and Somali refugees, as is discussed here. All of these groups face serious challenges in Jordan.

At the same time, the types of challenges these groups face can be very different. Syrians are currently the high profile group, so there are a lot more aid organizations focusing their efforts on them. At the same time, they may also be more likely to be the victims of backlash against refugees than other refugee groups because of that high profile. On the other hand, Sudanese and Somali refugees are a small and often ignored group. These groups even have difficulty acquiring refugee status.

Thus, when thinking about responses to refugee influxes in Jordan, it is a mistake to lump all refugees in Jordan into one category. Their needs are different, and they can require very different responses.

2)     Most Syrians are not living in the refugee camps

Currently, more than 80% of Syrian refugees in Jordan do not live in a refugee camp. Zaatari may capture a lot of the public interest and media headlines, but the refugee camps only contain a small portion of the total Syrian refugee population in Jordan.

This means that the focus of the response to Syrian refugees needs to be on urban refugees. The Jordanian government has stressed, justifiably, that aid programs should target geographic areas, rather than refugees specifically, so that Jordanians can benefit from these programs as well. UNHCR and the broader INGO and NGO community generally agree with this goal, so it should not be seen as controversial.

3)     Refugees strongly support the Free Syrian Army

Many refugees in Jordan have friends or family that fought with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and the FSA is instrumental in helping many people leave Syria. So, it should come as no surprise that many of the refugees in Jordan support the Free Syrian Army. There is speculation about how much support IS/ISIL/ISIS has among Syrian refugees in Jordan, but my own work has made me skeptical of this claim. Some Syrian refugees are even convinced that the Assad government and ISIS are in an alliance, making it even more unlikely that they would be willing to support ISIS.

4)     It is unlikely that there would be a large voluntary repatriation of Syrian refugees if Assad were allowed to take control of southern Syria.

One of the arguments for allowing Assad to win the war is that it would at least be a way to bring stability to Syria and provide a way for Syrian refugees to return to Syria. There is some logic in this, but the conversations I have had with refugees in Jordan do not support the argument.

For many refugees in Jordan, they were specifically fleeing from government troops and pro-government militias. Even if Assad were to create stability in Syria, many Syrians would be unlikely to return voluntarily because the source of their fear would remain in power.

The word voluntary is important because the Jordanian government is showing a desire to encourage Syrian refugees to return to Syria, even at the cost of suffering protests from UNHCR and numerous NGOs. If Syria becomes stable, then Jordan could use the norm of safe return, rather than non-refoulement, as its rationale for repatriating Syrian refugees. In short, safe return is the idea that refugee return is facilitated by host governments when the origin country becomes safe. It does not have to be a voluntary return. Non-refoulement means that refugees should not return to their origin countries unless the decision has been made voluntarily and without coercion. This legal distinction between safe return and non-refoulement is important to consider, and could become relevant in the case of Syrian refugees.

5)     Refugees often pay close attention to what is happening back in Syria.

Every refugee that I have spoken with has told me that they regularly call friends and family that are still in Syria. They even frequently watch television and surf the internet. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are also used by many people. So, the Syrian refugee community in Jordan is very engaged in following and discussing the events taking place inside Syria.

6)     Syrians in Jordan know more about the conflict in some ways than Syrians in Syria.

Consuming so much information does often mean that Syrian refugees are consuming more information than they were when they were back in Syria. In addition, many people that primarily watched movies and television series before the war switched to watching the news during the war. Meanwhile, many television channels and internet websites have gotten blocked by the Syrian government. Television channels can change their broadcast frequency, but this is still an impediment for those attempting to get their news from watching television.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is actually consistent with some recent work published by Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre. Refugees often consume more information than other civilians.

7)     Syrian refugees are not welcome in Jordan long-term.

Syrians currently make up about 10% of the population inside Jordan. This influx has strained Jordan’s economic resources, security services, and environmental resources. Thus, Jordan has made it very clear that aid organizations should avoid livelihoods programs or any measures that would encourage Syrians to stay long-term. For example, Syrians cannot obtain work permits, and Syrians caught working without a permit risk serious harassment or punishment from the Jordanian government. There is even a possibility of deportation back to Syria in some of these cases.

While it would be preferable for Jordan to welcome Syrians for as long as they should choose to stay, the government’s response must be taken in context. It is facing security challenges in both Iraq and Syria, high unemployment domestically, water shortages, and rising discontent among its domestic population with the Syrians. One could even argue that it is amazing that Jordan has not struggled even more with the strain of hosting so many refugees.

8)     There is disagreement about whether Syrians that want to return to Syria should be encouraged to do so.

This is related to the previous point. UNHCR considers Syria unsafe for refugee repatriation, even if it is voluntary. However, the Jordanian government encourages refugees to return to Syria if they are willing. Therefore, UNHCR has chosen to monitor these returns to ensure that they are least voluntary. As time passes, this dynamic is important to watch.

9)     The bail-out system is flawed.

One quirk of the Jordanian system of hosting refugees is that Syrians can leave the refugee camps if a Jordanian pays 300 JD and agrees to take responsibility for the refugee. This system was meant to be a way to allow Syrians to leave the refugee camps while providing a way for Jordan to continue monitoring the movements of Syrian refugees.

Officially, the Jordanian is supposed to be of a certain age, be married, have no criminal background, and satisfy several other characteristics. Unofficially, additional money can be paid to get around these requirements. Fake papers are used in some circumstances. These issues have meant that the bail-out system, which was originally meant to be a compromise with good intentions, has now become a system that encourages bribery and pushes many refugees under the radar once they leave the refugee camps.

10)  Border closures have many negative effects upon civilians.

Jordan’s decision to close border crossings from Syria has produced many additional hardships for displaced Syrians. Syrians unable to cross at the border crossings near Deraa often have to find an illegal border crossing. Much of the crossing happens in the eastern part of Jordan, where there is little but desert. Making this trip takes much more time, costs a lot of money, and exposes fleeing Syrians to the risk of more checkpoints. This is not to mention the large displaced persons camps that have emerged along the border due to being forced to wait for permission to cross the border.

In my second post, I will discuss these challenges in greater detail. I will be focusing on this point because border closures do involve tremendous costs for displaced Syrians. These costs merit additional discussion.

* This work was supported by a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) scholarship and a grant from the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis.
my website: http://justinschon.yolasite.com/

Sinjar Was Only the Beginning—by Matthew Barber

Sinjar Was Only the Beginning

 

Matthew Barber 3by Matthew Barber

The calm is slowly unraveling in Kurdistan, and a growing, pervasive anxiety is beginning to afflict us all.

We know that the fighting between the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the Islamic State jihadis continues to develop and move from place to place, but we’re never exactly sure what’s happening, where the fighting is occurring, or who has the upper hand. News—both local and international—has proved highly unreliable since this crisis began on Sunday.

If it’s not happening on your block, you probably don’t really know what’s going on.

 

The Case of Shariya

The Yazidi town of Shariya, located a few miles south of Dohuk, is a “collective village” created by Saddam Hussein during his Arabization program in the 1970s. Saddam bulldozed countless Yazidi towns until there was nothing left but gravel, and then forcibly moved their former inhabitants into collectives situated in locations that served his strategic interests. Shariya lies in the center of a valley ringed by hills, along the bases of which were originally a number of Yazidi villages. Saddam destroyed all of these villages (fearing that their proximity to the mountains would facilitate the harboring of Peshmerga fighters) and huddled all the villagers together in the center of the open plain between the mountains, where they would be much easier to keep an eye on.

A view of Shariya with hills behind—photo: Matthew Barber/Syria Comment

A view of Shariya with hills behind—photo: Matthew Barber/Syria Comment

 

Shariya had a population of 17,000 until Sunday’s crisis in Sinjar began compelling families to flee for the Dohuk governorate. By Wednesday, Shariya had a population of over 80,000 people.

When I visited the community on Monday, it was already bursting at the seams, and it wasn’t even close to the peak it reached on Wednesday.

The road leading into Shariya was a non-stop caravan of vehicles transporting more passengers than one would have thought possible: small trucks carrying dozens, packed into the truck beds like livestock; small cars with 3, 4, 5 people crammed into the trunks—all having traveled like this for hours, or even overnight due to the bottlenecking effect that the sudden flight of more than 200,000 (perhaps closer to 300,000) had on the road from Sinjar.

Yazidis flee Sinjar in overcrowded car, barefoot—photo: Matthew Barber, Syria Comment

Yazidis flee Sinjar in overcrowded car, barefoot—photo: Matthew Barber/Syria Comment

 

Yazidis flee Sinjar in overcrowded car, barefoot—photo: Matthew Barber/Syria Comment

Yazidis flee Sinjar in overcrowded car, barefoot—photo: Matthew Barber/Syria Comment

 

On our way to the village, a friend and I stopped and helped transport Yazidis from Sinjar that we noticed were just sitting on the side of the road, unsure how to reach Shariya.

Inside the little town, thousands thronged about, trying to secure food, water, and shelter. I saw entire families sleeping on the floors of stores, offices, school buildings, a hospital-cum-motel, and the roofs of houses. The local residents worked like bees to coordinate aid to all of the families. The KRG (Kurdish Regional Government) sent in trucks loaded with food and water, and Muslim families from neighboring communities brought deliveries of food to distribute among the displaced Yazidis.

People began to come up to me, wanting to talk about what had happened. Uncertainty and bewilderment clouded each face. (I was told only yesterday that no foreign journalists visited Shariya; aside from some observers with Amnesty International and HRW, I was the only foreigner to visit the community.)

 

A man approached me and asked if I worked with the UN. “No, I don’t, but I may write some reports about the situation here,” I replied. “Can I talk to you?” he asked. “Certainly,” I said.

“Well, if you don’t mind, I would like to tell you about what happened to me—”

As he finished his sentence, his voice broke and he burst into tears. Unable to suppress a brief wail, he buried his face in the crook of his arm and, seemingly ashamed, quickly walked a few paces away, put his face against the wall of a nearby building, and stood sobbing. I walked over, put my hand on his shoulder, and stood by silently while his grief found its much-needed release. When he had regained his composure, a Kurdish friend and I brought some chairs and sat to listen to his story.

His name was Osman. He recounted how the day before, when IS jihadists attacked his home village in the Sinjar mountains, he was out working. “My two daughters were our relatives’ home. I couldn’t get to them and they left by a different way.”

In the moment of crisis, when Peshmerga lines broke, people fled in all different directions. There was no time to coordinate an escape; in this way many families became separated from each other.

Devastated at not knowing what transpired for his two girls, ages 3 and 7, Osman continued: “I don’t think they made it out of Sinjar; I think they are trapped there with the others. I don’t know if they are alive or not.”

While fleeing, Osman saw bodies along the road that had been shot by IS fighters. People recounted seeing the corpses of women shot on the roadside, and one even described coming upon a stranded vehicle containing the dead bodies of a mother and her children, shot to death inside it.

In my conversation with Osman, it struck me that I was encountering the pain of just one man among several hundred thousand new refugees in the Dohuk governorate, each with a unique story.

When our conversation ended, Osman said, “I ask the world for help, not for myself, but for those still stuck in Sinjar.”

 

For a few years, the Yazidis of Shariya have been working to rebuild their nearby destroyed villages. The partially-completed houses are often just cement shells without windows or doors, but the residents of Shariya tried to settle the fleeing families inside of them, after the homes of Shariya itself were overwhelmed by the new guests.

This is photo of one of the rebuilt villages in-progress, taken some time before this crisis. Many families have taken shelter inside such structures:

A Yazidi village, previously destroyed by Saddam Hussein, in the process of being rebuilt

A Yazidi village, previously destroyed by Saddam Hussein, in the process of being rebuilt—Photo: Matthew Barber/Syria Comment

 

To transport large numbers of people amidst this chaos, creative means was employed, such as carrying them in dump trucks:

Yazidi refugees from Sinjar riding in dumptruck in Shariya

Photo: Matthew Barber/Syria Comment

 

The New Crisis

When I visited Shariya on Monday, it looked like this:

Yazidi IDPs from Sinjar in Shariya, Dohuk

Photo: Matthew Barber/Syria Comment

 

By Wednesday, volunteers had registered over 63,000 displaced individuals (more had arrived and not registered). This was just one of several primary destinations for Sinjar’s refugees. I was informed by local relief coordinators that the needs of the refugees were beginning to exceed what the KRG and NGOs were able to provide.

But when I returned yesterday, something unbelievable had happened. Shariya was almost a ghost town… as silent as the grave.

Photo: Matthew Barber/Syria Comment

Photo: Matthew Barber/Syria Comment

 

I found a few lingering volunteers and asked, “What happened here?” They replied, “Everyone fled this morning—the refugees as well as the local population of Shariya. Of approximately 80,000 people living here yesterday, only a couple hundred remain.”

This unbelievable second exodus is the result of a sense of panic that is washing across the Dohuk governorate. I had begun to sense it on Tuesday, while receiving panicked calls from Yazidis fleeing to Turkey. What initially prompted the stampede was the decision of many Yazidis in villages near Mosul—close to the further limit of Peshmerga-controlled territory—to leave and move northward, anticipating IS attacks in their area. Though IS hadn’t broken through Kurdish lines and no Yazidi villages had been infiltrated, fighting was taking place (and continues until now) between the Peshmerga and IS near the Mosul Dam and along the “border” with Mosul, and many Yazidis in those locations became fearful that what had just taken place in Sinjar might transpire in their areas as well.

Witnessing the ethnic cleansing of Sinjar, and sensing that an intentional campaign of extermination was being directed against them, Yazidis no longer felt secure about Peshmerga defensive capabilities and decided not to take any chances.

As waves of people from the southernmost villages began to arrive in villages a little closer to Dohuk (including Shariya), rumors began to circulate that Kurdish defenses had already been breached. I witnessed what verged upon mass hysteria as the local residents of villages near Dohuk decided to flee to Turkey. Those with passports and visas left; others tried to go as far north as possible, if they knew people who would take them in.

Map of Yazidi villages by Bluebird ResearchThis helpful map image, created several years ago by “Bluebird Research,” shows the Yazidi villages of Sheikhan & Dohuk (in blue) and of Sinjar (in red—“Sincar” on the map). It is useful to see these communities in relation to each other, Erbil, Mosul, Dohuk, and the Syrian border. Access the map directly to zoom and see the location of individual villages (including Shariya).

 

Families prioritized the departure of their female members, with some men staying behind in case the need to defend arose. A number of reports have emerged of IS fighters kidnapping large groups of women and carting them off in trucks. On Tuesday I encountered one woman in tears after her friend received a call that a kidnapped woman in Sinjar managed to make from inside one of the trucks. She was able to keep her phone with her and apprised her family of what was happening. Throughout the course of the Syrian conflict and its recent expansion into Iraq, accusations have frequently surfaced regarding women taken as a kind of religiously-sanctioned booty. Jihadists deny this, claiming women are taken prisoner as bargaining chips. Regardless, documentation exists of the occurrence, during the Iraq War period of al-Qaida violence targeting Yazidis, of Yazidi women being kidnapped, forced to convert, and forced into marriages with Muslims. That this precedent exists obviously makes the community very sensitive to the current situation.

The panic was unsettling, but I couldn’t confirm any reports of IS incursions into Kurdistan. But the Yazidi rationale was: We need to get out now before something bad happens and people storm the border, prompting the Turks to close it. These fears were justified: the Turks have allegedly closed the border crossing near Zakho at 8:00 pm last night after receiving a huge influx of fleeing people.

But few of the many thousands of refugees from Sinjar have the means to travel abroad.

Last night, sitting in the quiet dark of Shariya, I asked community leaders where all the refugees—plus the town’s own population—could have disappeared to. “Into the mountains, north to Amadiya, to Zakho, to Erbil, to anywhere.” Nobody really knows. But the humanitarian crises that engulfed Shariya for several days will merely be transplanted elsewhere. When the people were concentrated in one place, it was possible to coordinate relief efforts. Now that people are spreading across the governorate and beyond in panic, it will be even more difficult to meet the humanitarian need.

Dohuk

USAID being distributed in Shariya, Kurdistan—Photo: Matthew Barber/Syria Comment

 

Dohuk Yezidis

Water bottles discarded in Shariya in the wake of Sinjar IDPs’ second flight, Aug 7, 2014—Photo: Matthew Barber/Syria Comment

 

Though you could hear a pin drop in Shariya last night, I had a nagging feeling that the exit of refugees wouldn’t work. Where else would they be able to find the same kind of organized relief efforts that were performed in Shariya? Sure enough, beginning this morning, the same refugees that fled Shariya yesterday have started to stream back in. What we’re seeing now is the frantic movement of people from one place to the next, running in circles like a panicked hiker lost in the woods.

This fear is affecting more than the Yazidi community; many Christians are also trying to leave the country. Since the first day ISIS entered Mosul, refugee movement into Kurdistan has not ceased, and eventually all of Mosul’s Christians fled here after being expelled. Compounding the tragedy for Christians, IS yesterday attacked the Christian town of Qaraqosh, leading to another mass-displacement of many thousands. Add to this the displacement of Sinjar’s population, and increased fighting in Tel Kayf near Mosul: It’s understandable why I’m hearing Christians echo one consistent sentiment: “I don’t want to live here anymore.”

I’ve followed terrorism-related issues for years, but this environment has schooled me anew in the realities of terror. The local contagion of fear demonstrates what a potent weapon terror is, when instrumentalized by an entity like IS.

However, the current attitude of many Muslims here differs significantly from that of the minorities. In fact, it amazes me the degree to which separate communities here, living side by side, can exist in such strikingly different mental space. I have found that my own mental reality here is greatly determined by those with whom I spend time. After half an hour chatting with Muslims, I’m comfortably convinced that Dohuk is safe, Erbil will remain impenetrable, Peshmerga are making advances by the hour, and overall there’s nothing to worry about. After a half hour chatting with Yazidis or Christians, I find myself furtively glancing up and down the streets expecting IS jeeps to appear, planning my escape route out of the country, and generally anticipating the imminent end of the world.

Today I spoke via telephone with Christians who are so terrified that they will not leave their houses to even move about Dohuk. I later went out and interacted with Muslims, who were nonchalantly conducting business as usual, and who were happy to discuss the day’s news with me, emphasizing the imperviousness of our location.

The divergence of perspectives between the communities is striking. How can Kurdish Muslims feel so at ease while Christians and Yazidis tremble with so much fear, the same place? It can be explained as the intimate knowledge of a kind of virulent personal enmity intent upon erasing one’s kind from the planet. When you know that an enemy’s sworn purpose is to kill you and wipe out yours—not merely over profit or resources, but because you are inherently wrong—a sense of vulnerability develops that others, who do not share the experience, cannot relate to.

Though the safety of Dohuk has remained integral until now, it wouldn’t be correct to frame minorities as those who are the most disconnected from reality. That Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian city, was taken over by IS yesterday (or at least attacked, if not fully occupied—conflicting reports), displacing another 50,000 – 100,000 Christians (reported numbers conflict), this time to Erbil, fully validates the kind of infectious trepidation that’s afflicting the minorities. And yet, for some Muslims I’ve spoken to in the city, it seems like a non-item. I don’t mean there’s a lack of compassion—we’ve seen plenty toward Yazidis, and perhaps these kinds of events are by now just too ordinary for some—but this is a significant event. Qaraqosh is southeast of Mosul, inside Kurdish-controlled territory, in the direction of Erbil. As in Sinjar, IS again broke through Peshmerga defenses and displaced a minority. It’s no surprise that Christians and Yazidis can now be frequently heard saying “I no longer have confidence in the Peshmerga.” Not only is that kind of breach scary and serious, the number of new refugees (going with the higher estimate) is close to half of those displaced in Sinjar. For residents to shrug this off as irrelevant to Dohuk is to disengage from reality to at least the same degree as those running wild with exaggerated fears.

Final stragglers flee Shariya at night, Aug 7, 2014—Photo: Matthew Barber/Syria Comment

Final stragglers flee Shariya at night, Aug 7, 2014—Photo: Matthew Barber/Syria Comment

 

What Comes Next?

At dusk in Shariya last night, while discussing rumors that Obama would take action to save those stranded for days without food or water in Sinjar, I glimpsed two military helicopters some distance away flying south. When I pointed them out to my Kurdish companions, there were reactions of elation. “They are taking supplies to Sinjar! And maybe bombing Da’esh too!” It’s interesting to be in the Middle East and witness a joyful reaction to the prospect of US action—not a typical experience.

But this morning, hopes do not seem to have improved among Yazidis. Rather, many reports have apparently come in overnight of people dying in large numbers in Sinjar. The entrapment of the populations there, without foodstuffs or hydration, began on Sunday, and it is no surprise that many would be dying four days later. Though action on the 5th day was welcomed, some fear it is too late, and I am hearing expressions of anger toward Obama from some Yazidis. There may have been some supply drops earlier, but it is not clear how many people were able to be reached with aid.

Others are encouraged by Obama’s decision to carry out airstrikes against jihadists attempting to invade Kurdish-controlled areas, though reports have varied—and conflicted—about exactly what places have seen US airstrikes today, aside from Sinjar.

Regardless of whatever progress the airstrikes in Sinjar can accomplish, the battle has heated up in areas north of Mosul, east of Mosul, the area between Mosul and Erbil, and areas between Erbil and Kirkuk, in addition to ongoing fighting over the dam.

The problem for all of us here is the inability to receive timely, accurate notification about developments in the fighting, even within areas not too far from us. The poor quality of reporting (by both Kurdish and international media) in this situation has been surprising. On Monday, all major international media were reporting that the Mosul Dam had been taken by IS. I sat with a friend who called dam employees—working on site at the dam—who told us “We are here, working at the dam right now, and the Peshmerga are in control of it.” It never fell out of Peshmerga hands, even though IS has been battling them in the town of Wana, 7km south of the dam, to gain control of it. Yesterday morning, new reports that the dam had fallen (presented as a “first-time event,” not acknowledging the same reporting a few days earlier) began appearing again. We called again and were told that the dam was under Peshmerga control. Today there are—once again—fresh reports that IS has taken the Mosul Dam. I haven’t called anyone yet; maybe they finally did take it after all. Local people are as in the dark as anyone else, unless they can make a call to someone at the locus of activity.

I will venture to say that it is very unlikely that IS has the dam.

Compounding the problem is that Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have been blocked in Kurdistan since yesterday afternoon. The sense is that this was a measure to prevent Peshmerga positions from being given away ahead of a major military response to IS, presumably underway now with the aid of the American air force. Unfortunately, this makes it very difficult for us to know what is happening here, because we cannot share information with each other easily, nor can we inform people outside as to what is taking place. Though unable to tweet since yesterday, this post will—hopefully—convey a sense of what the atmosphere in the Dohuk governorate has been like.

How good or bad is the situation? As bad as the minorities fear or as good as the majority maintains? The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. One thing is certain: Sunday’s events in Sinjar now mark the beginning of an unfolding saga, leading toward an unknown conclusion.

IS Routs Peshmerga, Takes Control of Sinjar Mountains, Jeopardizes Yazidi Homeland

Summary: IS scores major victory today, breaks Peshmerga forces, conquers strategic Kurdish area and displaces hundreds of thousands of Yazidi Kurds. The expulsion of Mosul’s Christians was devastating, but today’s expulsion of Yazidis is much bigger. This raises the question of whether the Kurds can hold out against IS in Iraq, as well as in Syria. It appears that IS’ next major front, in both countries, could be against the Kurds.

Yazidis flee the IS invasion on foot, through Sinjar's desert mountains. Photo was tweeted by Sinjar locals today.

Yazidis flee the IS invasion on foot, through Sinjar’s desert mountains. Photo was tweeted by Sinjar locals today.

 

IS Routs Peshmerga, Takes Control of Sinjar Mountains, Jeopardizes Yazidi Homeland

by Matthew BarberMatthew Barber 3

(thanks to Christine Allison for input)

Beginning in the early hours of the morning, IS forces attacked the Sinjar Mountains. The Kurdish Peshmerga defended the area for two hours before being overcome and retreating.

The Kurdish loss of this strategic territory resulted in the flight of hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees.

Sinjar lies west of Mosul and Tel ‘Afar, both under IS control. Though a disputed territory not officially part of Kurdistan Province, and somewhat disconnected from Dohuk, the nearest Kurdish governorate, it has nonetheless been an island of Peshmerga control on the Syrian border. The Kurdish role in administering and protecting the area, as well as the claim that this disputed territory should belong to a future Kurdistan, stem from the Kurdish-speaking population of Sinjar. Located near the Kurdish part of Syria, Sinjar is also surrounded by areas inhabited by Arab tribes that have often been in competition with Kurds. Some of these tribes worked with al-Qaida during the War in Iraq, and yesterday they aided IS in preparing for today’s takeover of Sinjar.

Source: NYT

Source: NYT

Sinjar (“Shingal” in Kurdish) is one of a few key areas that constitute the homeland of the Yazidi religious minority. One of the few remaining non-Abrahamic religions of the Middle-East, the Yazidis are a particularly vulnerable group lacking advocacy in the region. Not belonging to the small set of religions carrying the Islamic label “People of the Book,” Yazidis are branded mushrikiin (polytheists) by Salafis/jihadists and became targets of high levels of terrorist attacks and mass killing orchestrated by al-Qaida-affiliated jihadists, following the instability brought about by the War in Iraq.

Sinjar map bigger

Today’s IS assault is already bringing about devastating consequences for Yazidis, who make up about 340,000 of Sinjar’s 400,000 inhabitants (this is a high estimate). Many have fled on foot through the desert, without food or water.

Others fleeing in cars for Dohuk have been unable to make a clean escape, due to the inability of the roads to accommodate such a large flux of people. Thousands of cars are currently stranded west of the Tigris River.

Cars fleeing Sinjar jammed as capacity of roads exceeded. Photo tweeted by Kurdish sources today.

Cars fleeing Sinjar traffic-jammed as capacity of roads exceeded. Photo tweeted by Kurdish sources today.

As I write this, the fight has moved to the Wana District south of the Mosul Dam Lake, where ISIS is trying to gain control of the Mosul Dam. The fight in that area is about 7km from where today’s Sinjar refugees are trying to cross the Tigris to reach Dohuk.

The mountain stronghold of Sinjar is a special center of Yazidi tradition that has long offered its people refuge from waves of religious persecution, including Ottoman attempts to wipe out all Yazidis who refused to convert to Islam. Modern warfare has made the community’s position more precarious, and today’s IS offensive has the potential to do irreparable damage to the stability of this Middle Eastern minority.

Yazidi religious practice is connected to a network of sacred places within the essential areas of the homeland; if contact with Sinjar’s holy places is severed and its population dispersed, the religious tradition will be further endangered as Yezidism moves a step closer to extinction.

Just over two weeks ago, another ancient religious community was eliminated, en masse, from its homeland, when Christians were expelled from Mosul. Prior to this, IS engaged in high levels of violence against the Shabak minority that inhabits villages just outside of Mosul. Many Shabak, as well as Shiite Turkomen, fled IS violence for the relative safety of Sinjar, and today are being made to flee again, joined this time by the indigenous Yazidi population.

No sooner did IS takeover Sinjar when they immediately began destroying religious sites. A Shiite holy place is shown below, before destruction:

Sinjar shrine

And the same site after being blown up today:

Sinjar shrine destroyed

The burden of the refugee crisis on Kurdistan Province is difficult to calculate. Many Iraqi Arabs have taken refuge here since the beginning of the War in Iraq. Afterwards, Kurdistan became inundated with thousands of Syrian refugees during the last several years of conflict in Syria. Then it received Arabs from Mosul when ISIS took over the city. When Mosul’s Christians were expelled two weeks ago, they all fled to Kurdistan, as some Shabak that didn’t flee to Sinjar had done. Now everyone in Sinjar is coming as well (those who fled Mosul plus Sinjar’s Yazidis), except for those in Sinjar’s western areas that have headed for Syria. (Syria a destination for refugees… who would have thought?)

Photo: Rudaw - Yezidi IDPs (internally displaced persons) arrive in Lalish

Photo: Rudaw – Yezidi IDPs (internally displaced persons) arrive in Lalish

Though a number of outstanding issues regarding territory, sovereignty, and borders (involving Baghdad, Kurdistan, Assyrians, Yazidis, etc.) remain unresolved, if the Peshmerga fails to stand, there won’t be much left to resolve. Commitment to a united Iraq notwithstanding, the US must seriously consider the possible outcome of what is transpiring now. A few days ago, everyone in Kurdistan was confident that all areas under Peshmerga control would remain impervious to jihadi incursions. The collapse of the Peshmerga—who had the advantage of the mountain’s higher ground—in the face of the IS onslaught, came as a surprise. Many are voicing concerns about just how resilient Kurdish forces can remain in the long-term, and whether they will maintain a weapons advantage.

Widespread pleas for support of various kinds—humanitarian and weapons—have intensified in Kurdistan, coming from the recently expelled Chaldean and Assyrian Christians, as well as from majority Kurds concerned about defensive capabilities. Amidst these cries, Yazidi religious figures met with US embassy officials today and requested help in the aftermath of the Sinjar disaster.

The question now is: what kind of action can make a difference?

 

Round-Up

A number of sites have reported on today’s events:

IS terrorists take over Yezidi villages: A short chronicleEzidi Press – Ezidi Press

+++01:30 am+++ Terrorists of the Islamic State (IS) attack the Yezidi village Siba Sheikh Khidir and the surrounding villages. Armed Yezidi civilians and Peshmerga fighters stationed on site resist for several hours

+++05:30 am+++ The IS terrorists are gaining the upper hand. The much-needed help by Peshmerga backup remains off

+++07:30 am+++ Peshmerga units withdraw from the disputed areas. Only armed Yezidi civilians continue to resist. Panic spreads over the affected villages, it is certain that the Yezidis will not be able to put up further resistance by their own

+++09:00 am+++ IS terrorists take over the villages Til Benat, Siba Sheikh Khidir, Til Keseb and Til Aziz. Thousands Yezidis flee from their villages to the north of Shingal and try to seek shelter in the mountains. Yezidi civilians provide the refugee flows fire cover

+++10:00 am+++ The IS marches towards the city of Shingal, Yezidi civilians skirmish with them. Desperately, women, children and old men are trying to escape. Yezidi men bring their families to safety and return to the fightings. In the north, YPG and Peshmerga units mobilize in order to go to the rescue

+++10:30 am+++ First major units of YPG and Peshmerga arrive at the disputed territories in the south of Shingal.   More fighters are on the way. Battles now take place on several fronts

+++11:10 am+++ IS terrorists begin to destroy holy pilgrimage sites of Shiites and Yezidis

+++11:25 am+++ There is already a shortage of drinking water and food for toddlers. Because they were forced to leave their homes on the spur of the moment, the Yezidi refugees from Shingal had no way to carry food

+++11:55 am+++ Heavy fightings take place in the border town of Rabia, where YPG and Peshmerga forces fight together against IS terrorists. Shingal is now attacked from both the north and south. As a result Rabia´s residents flee to areas of Shingal which are not occupied yet

Iraq jihadists seize another town from Kurdish forces – AFP

Jihadists raised their black flag in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar on Sunday in a second straight day of advances against Kurdish forces, forcing thousands of displaced people back on the road.

The Islamic State’s capture of Sinjar raised fears for minority groups that had found refuge there and further blurs the border between the Syrian and Iraqi parts of the “caliphate” which the IS declared in June.

“The (Kurdish) peshmerga have withdrawn from Sinjar, Daash has entered the city,” Kurdish official Kheiri Sinjari told AFP, using the former Arabic acronym for the IS. …

… Sinjar had sheltered thousands of people who were displaced by the huge offensive IS launched in the region nearly two months ago.

Among them are many of Iraq’s minorities, such as Turkmen Shiites who fled the city of Tal Afar, about half-way between Sinjar and Mosul, when jihadist fighters swept in.

Sinjar is also a historical home for the Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking minority which follows a pre-Islamic faith derived in part from Zoroastrianism.

IS militants refer to them as devil worshippers and they have been repeatedly targeted.

“Thousands of people have already fled, some to nearby mountains still under Kurdish control and also towards Dohuk,” in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, another PUK official said.

He also said that IS fighters had destroyed the small Shiite shrine of Sayyeda Zeinab shortly after taking control of Sinjar.

“The number of displaced people is not known. However, initial reports range from the thousands of families to a figure of 200,000 people,” said Brendan McDonald, a senior officer of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“Based on reports we are receiving, there is an immediate need for water, food, shelter and health services,” he told AFP. …

… The peshmerga are widely perceived as Iraq’s best organised and most efficient military force but the autonomous Kurdish region has been cash-strapped and its troops stretched.

Its regional government has not been receiving the 17 percent share of national oil revenues it is owed by Baghdad and is struggling to sell its own, smaller production independently.

According to a senior official, a Kurdish delegation is currently in the United States to demand military equipment. …

 

Jihadists enter Sinjar - photo taken from Ezidi Press

Jihadists enter Sinjar – photo taken from Ezidi Press

 

Aftermath of IS invasion of Sinjar - Photo: al-Arabiya

Aftermath of IS invasion of Sinjar – Photo: al-Arabiya

 

U.N.: jihadist takeover of Iraq town sparks ‘humanitarian tragedy’ – al-Arabiya

UN Calls for Urgent Cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil in the wake of Sinjar tragedyUNIraq

Baghdad, 3 August 2014 – The United Nations in Iraq has confirmed reports that ISIL and associated armed groups have seized control of nearly all of Sinjar and Tal Afar districts in Ninewa Province, including the oil fields of Ain Zala and Batma, bordering the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

According to reports, as many as 200,000 civilians, most of them from the Yezidi community, have fled to Jabal Sinjar.  The humanitarian situation of these civilians is reported as dire, and they are in urgent need of basic items including food, water and medicine.  An unknown number of civilians are also reported to have moved towards Dahuk and Zako in the Kurdistan Region.

The United Nations has grave concerns for the physical safety of these civilians – particularly those now trapped in Jabal Sinjar area, as it is now surrounded by ISIL militants.

The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, stated “A humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Sinjar.  The Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government should urgently restore their security cooperation in dealing with the crisis.  I call on all Iraqi authorities, civil society and international partners to work with the United Nations to ensure the delivery of life saving humanitarian assistance”.  “I also call on the Kurdistan Regional Government to ensure that those civilians fleeing the violence are facilitated entry to the Kurdistan Region in order to receive protection and humanitarian assistance,” he added. …

Peshmerga Forces Prepare for Major Offensive Against ISIL – Rudaw

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Ali Awni, an official from Kurdistan Democratic Party reveals to Rudaw that despite claims to the contrary, not all of Sinjar is under the effective control of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). He said, “Peshmerga forces are stationed in one part of Sinjar, and are waiting for reinforcements to arrive”. He also added,”A heavy force from Peshmerga under the leadership of Mansoor Barzani has arrived in the area, and in the next few hours will conduct a major offensive operation against ISIL to get rid of them in the area”. Anwar Haji Osman from the Ministry of Peshmerga briefly commented saying, “Peshmerga are planning an operating, and will have a big victory in the area soon. ISIL will have no choice but to leave this country, and they know this very well”. – See more at: http://old.rudaw.net/news/Live-Blog/#sthash.l8U334xt.dpuf
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Ali Awni, an official from Kurdistan Democratic Party reveals to Rudaw that despite claims to the contrary, not all of Sinjar is under the effective control of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). He said, “Peshmerga forces are stationed in one part of Sinjar, and are waiting for reinforcements to arrive”. He also added,”A heavy force from Peshmerga under the leadership of Mansoor Barzani has arrived in the area, and in the next few hours will conduct a major offensive operation against ISIL to get rid of them in the area”. Anwar Haji Osman from the Ministry of Peshmerga briefly commented saying, “Peshmerga are planning an operating, and will have a big victory in the area soon. ISIL will have no choice but to leave this country, and they know this very well”. – See more at: http://old.rudaw.net/news/Live-Blog/#sthash.l8U334xt.dpuf
Peshmerga Forces Prepare for Major Offensive Against ISIL – See more at: http://old.rudaw.net/news/Live-Blog/#sthash.l8U334xt.dpuf
Peshmerga Forces Prepare for Major Offensive Against ISIL – See more at: http://old.rudaw.net/news/Live-Blog/#sthash.l8U334xt.dpuf
Peshmerga Forces Prepare for Major Offensive Against ISIL – See more at: http://old.rudaw.net/news/Live-Blog/#sthash.l8U334xt.dpuf

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Ali Awni, an official from Kurdistan Democratic Party reveals to Rudaw that despite claims to the contrary, not all of Sinjar is under the effective control of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). He said, “Peshmerga forces are stationed in one part of Sinjar, and are waiting for reinforcements to arrive”. He also added,”A heavy force from Peshmerga under the leadership of Mansoor Barzani has arrived in the area, and in the next few hours will conduct a major offensive operation against ISIL to get rid of them in the area”. Anwar Haji Osman from the Ministry of Peshmerga briefly commented saying, “Peshmerga are planning an operating, and will have a big victory in the area soon. ISIL will have no choice but to leave this country, and they know this very well”.

Yazidis flee westward from Sinjar to Syria – from @ArjDnn

 

An IS jihadist makes himself at home inside Peshmerga headquarters in Sinjar

An IS jihadist makes himself at home inside Peshmerga headquarters in Sinjar

Added August 4, 2014:

Yazidi refugees from Sinjar sleep on the ground, first night after fleeing - Photo: EzidiPress

Yazidi refugees from Sinjar sleep on the ground, first night after fleeing – Photo: EzidiPress