FISHKHABUR, Iraq: Yezidis fleeing a jihadist onslaught in northern Iraq say neighbors took up arms alongside their attackers, informing on members of the religious minority and helping the militants take over.
“The [non-Iraqi] jihadists were Afghans, Bosnians, Arabs and even Americans and British fighters,” said Sabah Hajji Hassan, a 68-year-old Yezidi who managed to flee the bloody offensive by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.
“But the worst killings came from the people living among us, our [Sunni] Muslim neighbors.”
“The Metwet, Khawata and Kejala tribes – they were all our neighbors. But they joined ISIS, took heavy weapons from them, and informed on who was Yezidi and who was not. Our neighbors made the ISIS takeover possible,” the distraught white-bearded Hassan said.
“The Sunni tribes in our area were given a choice by [ISIS]: either they collaborate or they get killed. So they joined them,” said Mahmud Haidar, a 24-year-old Yezidi who managed to flee and a former member of Iraq’s security forces.
“Every Iraqi knows how to handle a weapon, so the tribesmen did not need training. ISIS gave them heavy weapons, armored vehicles, AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades that they had captured from the Iraqi army,” said the gaunt young man, puffing nervously on a cigarette.
Speaking to AFP in a transit camp run by the local Kurdish authorities for the displaced, Haidar said his childhood friend was among those who joined ISIS.
“I was shocked. ISIS brainwashed him, and he started informing on who was Yezidi,” he said. “I would have been executed immediately had they found me.”
Several of the displaced gave harrowing accounts of how ISIS chased Yezidis fleeing through the streets, gunning some people down and kidnapping others.
“They took all the women in my family, and even little girls,” said Hamid Kurdo.
“There were corpses everywhere in my village,” said Khodaida Hussein, a 46-year-old man.
“They were telling people that either they join Islam – their Islam – or they die,” he said, adding that they were given a 72-hour ultimatum that kickstarted the mass uprooting.
One 18-year-old with thick curls was extremely distressed as he spoke of his father, his brother and his two uncles’ disappearance. “They had rifles, and they decided to fight ISIS so long as they had ammunition, knowing they would lose, but hoping that it could buy others time to help them escape,” said Sibashe Khodr.
“I tried to reach them by phone. Someone answered and said they were in ISIS hands. Now, their phones still ring, but no one answers,” Khodr said.
Tens of thousands of Yezidis have managed to reach the relative safety of Kurdish-controlled territory in northern Iraq, but the ISIS onslaught and their dramatic displacement has been a major blow.
“They kidnapped the women, including two of my nieces. They did everything they could to put an end to our community in Iraq,” said Khodaida Bakr, 35. “They say we are heretics. But look at how they act. They are the real heretics.”