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ISIS genocide survivor begs US to help Yazidis – before it's too late

Banner yazidi children at a refugee camp credit answer5 cnajpg

Yazidi children at a refugee camp (Credit: answer5/CNA)

A Yazidi survivor of the ISIS genocide urged members of Congress on Tuesday to help recover young girls and boys who were enslaved and sold by ISIS.  

Shireen Jerdo Ibrahim, a Yazidi girl from northern Iraq who was captured and enslaved by ISIS forces in 2014 before escaping from captivity in Mosul, told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Tuesday that there remain “thousands of Yazidi women and boys in captivity.” “Help us free those in captivity, our family members,” she pleaded with members of Congress present at the hearing.

Ibrahim testified on Tuesday before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations at a hearing on “Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability.”

Yazidis are a small ethnic-religious minority of Iraq who mostly lived in the Nineveh province in the north of the country, near Sinjar. They are of Kurdish descent, and their religion combines elements of Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. They are considered by ISIS to be “devil worshippers.”

In 2014, ISIS swept through northern Iraq, killing or enslaving many Yazidis, and surrounding a large Yazidi contingent taking refuge on Mount Sinjar. The Yazidi began to die from starvation or dehydration, until U.S.-led humanitarian airdrops provided them with needed supplies, and airstrikes in the surrounding area drove away ISIS forces.

The goal of ISIS was to “eradicate Yazidis and Christians from Iraq,” Ibrahim said. “They displaced all of us,” she said, and minorities in the region “will not be able to live there in the same environment.” “What ISIS did to us is out there. It’s known to everyone,” she said. “They enslaved thousands, they killed thousands of Yazidis,” she said. “We see mass graves almost every week,” she continued, reporting that there are almost 40 mass graves in the area.

Ibrahim shared with members of Congress her own experience of the ISIS attack. On Aug. 3, 2014, her uncle called her from a village in the area and told her that the Kurdish Peshmerga forces protecting the region had retreated, and ISIS had attacked. She fled with others to Mount Sinjar, but their truck broke down. Trying to make their way to safety on foot, the group was captured by ISIS forces at the base of the mountain. They were taken back to their village and unloaded from the trucks.

ISIS separated families and men from women. Ibrahim was forcibly separated from her younger sister, taken to a prison in Badoosh, moved to the Tal-Afar district when coalition airstrikes targeted the area, and then sold to someone in Raqqa, Syria. There she was tortured, brought to Mosul, and sold five times in captivity.

In Mosul, there were “hundreds and thousands of Yazidi girls there being sold as sex slaves,” she said. Her nine months in ISIS captivity, “was like hell,” she said in a written statement. ISIS performed abdominal surgery on her without explaining why, and “committed all kinds of atrocious crimes against us including mass killing, sexual enslavement, and forced conversion.” Nineteen members of her family are missing. She has no knowledge of their whereabouts, she said.

“Almost all of Iraq has been liberated” but Yazidis are still missing. She has heard reports of Yazidi boys in Saudi Arabia, she said, where they have been sold and brainwashed. She asked the U.S. to help Yazidis locate and rescue their loved ones in captivity, to help those who have been recovered from ISIS captivity, and to assist Yazidis in rebuilding their homeland. And young people recovered from ISIS captivity need support and psycho-social care, she added, since they have been traumatized.

In March of 2016, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that “in my judgment, Daesh [ISIS] is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims.”

“Our hope was that this would be followed by action,” Ibrahim said, like helping rebuild the area, providing security for religious and ethnic minorities against reprisals or extremists attacking them, and bringing the ISIS perpetrators to justice. “Our hope is that Yazidis will be assured that they will be able to go back to their homes,” she said, or that they will be able to “emigrate somewhere else.”

Although ISIS militants have largely been cleared out of Iraq, their ideology remains, she said. “Under the same ideology, a different group may attack us,” she said.

Former congressman Frank Wolf, a distinguished senior fellow of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, also testified that while he visited communities in the region, locals expressed concern about various military and militia groups taking a commanding role in the towns. The Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces, were one militia group in particular “largely backed by Iran” and “filling the vacuum left post-liberation,” Wolf said. In the Sinjar region, the control by the militia units has scared off many Yazidis from returning to their homes, he said.

Unless countries like the U.S. take further action to help the displaced minorities in northern Iraq by the end of the year, they could depart for good, Wolf said. “I am sad to say that if bold action is not taken by the end of the year, I believe a tipping point will be reached and we will see the end of Christianity in Iraq in a few short years and a loss of religious and ethnic diversity throughout the region,” he said. This “could result in further destabilization, violent extremism and terrorism across the Middle East,” he said. “In other words, ISIS will have been victorious in their genocidal rampage unless concrete action is taken.”

Lauren Ashburn, anchor and managing editor of EWTN News Nightly, told the subcommittee of her reporting trip to the region in April. “Christians in Iraq are on the brink of extinction,” she said. The village of Batnaya, which she visited, had been nearly destroyed entirely by ISIS, she said. ISIS fighters decapitated a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the church, defaced pictures of Christ, and “bullet holes mark the place where a cross once hung,” Ashburn said. “Every Christian symbol I could see had been defaced or obliterated. I could not hold back my tears.”  

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