ISIS Advances, Kurds Fall Back

Refugees flee as militants capture towns


The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militant group is on the move along Iraq’s northern front. Kurdish forces have withdrawn from the Christian town of Hamdaniyah—a.k.a., Qaraqosh. ISIS seized the town, where until recent days Kurdish Zeravani troops had maintained a defensive line.

This is bad for refugees. Many Christians had fled ISIS-controlled Mosul after the militants demanded they pay a tax or convert to Islam. Hundreds of them sought refuge in Hamdaniyah. Most have now fled that town—many bound for the Christian quarter of the Kurdish capital Erbil.

Meanwhile, ISIS has driven members of the Kurdish Yezidi minority from the town of Sinjar. As many as 200,000 Yezidi have fled. Several thousand are hiding out on Sinjar Mountain.

The Yezidi on the mountain are critically low on supplies. Now they face an terrible choice—starvation and dehydration on the mountain or ISIS death squads down below.

Militants have promised to kill as many Yezidi as possible. ISIS and other radical Islamic groups consider the Yezidi to be devil-worshipers. This is the gravest threat the Yezidi have faced since Saddam Hussein’s brutal Anfal genocide in the 1980s.

An Iraqi refugee at a refugee camp at the Kalak checkpoint near Erbil. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

The Kurds have been dealing with one of the world’s worst refugee crises ever since Mosul fell in June. Some Kurdish communities have opened up their homes and spent their own money to help the hundreds of thousands of displaced.

Now Kurdish authorities are begging the U.S. and U.N. to do something for the Yezidis on Sinjar. Supply airdrops could keep them alive. But the airdrops would have to start soon.

The Kurdish Peshmerga militia had fought ISIS to a standstill in small towns east of Mosul. Unlike the Iraqi army, which has gotten weapons and advice from the U.S., Iran and Russia, the Kurds are all alone. They’ve repeatedly warned that ISIS has heavier weaponry than the Kurds’ own troops and could break through the Kurds’ defenses.

You can follow Kevin Knodell on twitter at @KJKnodell and photographer Matt Cetti-Roberts at @unknownsnapper. Sign up for a daily War is Boring email update here. Subscribe to WIB’s RSS feed here and follow the main page here.

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