Conflict & Justice

The situation in Iraq is 'a humanitarian crisis that could turn into a genocide'

Yazidi.jpg

Displaced people, who fled from the violence in the province of Nineveh, arrive at Sulaimaniya province August 8, 2014. The United States began to drop relief supplies to beleaguered Yazidi refugees fleeing Islamist militants in Iraq, but there was no immediate sign on Friday of U.S. air strikes to halt the sweeping advance of Islamic State fighters.

Credit:

Stringer/ Reuters

Tens of thousands of Yazidi refugees fleeing ISIS remain stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. The one access road in and out of the mountain is being blocked by ISIS militants leaving refugees stuck without food and water.

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Yazidis are a small, insular Iraqi minority. They adhere to a pre-Islamic faith, a combination of Zoroastrian, Christian and Islamic traditions. They speak a Kurdish dialect .

"I'm really scared for my own family. We have not heard from our uncle or aunts. It’s been a lot of sleepless nights. A lot of us are not participating in school or our jobs because we cannot focus. We cannot focus on anything else," said Gulie Khalaf, a Yazidi who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska. She spoke with the Takeaway on Friday.

Khalaf is part of the small Yazidi community in Nebraska. She and her family fled Iraq for Syria and ultimately the United States in the mid-90s, leaving extended family behind. There are a lot of sleepless nights for many members of Nebraska’s Yazidi community said Khalaf, many of whom have family still in Iraq and have been anxious for any news out of Iraq.

New Yorker staff writer George Packer has been in contact with one member of the Yazidi community inside Iraq.

Karim is from the city Sinjar, which was taken over by ISIS. He worked as a translator for the US forces during the occupation.

“Thankfully he had escaped to Dohuk (in Kurdistan) with his family,” said Packer, who spoke with Karim via phone and email.

But even Dohuk feels far from safe, Karim told Packer.

“He told me that people in Dohuk who probably never even imagined that ISIS would be a threat to them are stocking up on supplies in fear of an attack. So the unthinkable keeps happening with ISIS,” Packer said.

Karim was lucky enough to escape by car, driving through a part of Syria where Kurdish rebels in the Syrian Civil War have control. From there they drove over roads and through the desert back into Iraq to the Kurdish city of Dohuk. Karim told Packer that though his situation is unstable, he worries more about the conditions for the tens of thousands of Yazidis who fled on foot through the mountains.

“Their situation is fairly dire but not nearly so much, he emphasized to me, as the situation of Yazidis hiding on Mount Sinjar with almost nothing. They just ran for their lives with the clothes on their backs,” Packer said.

In Packer’s essay on the New Yorker he wrote that this was “a humanitarian crisis that could turn into a genocide."

John Kerry has also used the word “genocide,” saying that the US has intervened with these air strikes to prevent what looks increasingly like genocide.

But many atrocities in Iraq have piled up without raising the specter threat of genocide. A month ago it was Shia who were escaping to Baghdad for protection, huddling in fear of ISIS. Why wasn't that a moment when genocide became a cause for war?

“You could also point to the Iraqi Christians around Mosul who have bee driven out of Mosul, which is their ancient home,” said Packer. “I think it’s because there’s so few Yazidi and their situation was so concentrated and so in peril, sitting on that mountain with one access road and that road controlled by ISIS. ISIS was going to wait them out until they starved to death or died of thirst. So I think it was the sheer, vivid, dramatic nature of that situation.”

Packer came under a lot of criticism for being a supporter of the invasion in 2003 when the US went into Iraq under the false pretext of looking for non-existent WMDs.

So what goes through his mind now when there seems to be a legitimate cause for war — as opposed to a false one?

“I think any American, but especially Americans who supported the war, should be very humble about this, should really not assume that we have any moral high ground or any answers," Packer said. "I really think that anti-war people shouldn’t assume that they have the moral high ground, because what is the moral high ground in the case of people who are in danger of being eliminated."