Kurdish forces celebrated in the battle-ravaged streets of Sinjar on Friday evening after retaking the northern Iraqi town from Islamic State (IS) jihadists and ending 15 months of vicious occupation.
Fighters from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), known as peshmerga, had reached the central square by mid-morning on the second day of a major offensive that apparently encountered little resistance. A few hours later, a group of young gunmen shuddered past the remains of abandoned houses and shops in a captured IS suicide bomb truck — a large American-made pickup clad in makeshift armor and still carrying remnants of its intended explosive cargo — on an impromptu victory parade.
The vehicle would have been designed to blast through Kurdish lines, but instead, two peshmerga stood up in the bed as it drove, yelling jubilantly as one fired his Kalashnikov into the air. The surrounding streets were strewn with burnt-out, bullet-riddled vehicles and draped in fallen phone lines and electricity cables. An unexploded mortar shell was lodged in the concrete of a side road and another lay on a nearby pavement.
A Kurdish fighter atop a ruined building in Sinjar. (Photo by John Beck)
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Syrian People’s Protection Units also took part in the offensive, as did militias drawn from members of the Yazidi religious minority, which made up of much of Sinjar’s population before IS overran it in August 2015. The extremist militants regard Yazidis as apostates and “devil worshippers,” and massacred hundreds of men and took women as sex slaves when they seized the town.
Tens of thousands of people fled. Many were trapped up Mount Sinjar — which rises from the town’s outskirts — creating a desperate humanitarian crisis that eventually prompted international intervention in the form of US airstrikes on IS and supply drops of food and water.
On the roof of an abandoned school, one Yazidi peshmerga member prayed as the sun set and then playfully kicked a soccer ball around with a comrade. Watching, another described the recent fighting. “At night there were bombs here, here, and here,” he said, gesturing to ruined buildings. “But that’s over now,” he added with a smile.
A Yazidi peshmerga fighter prays on the rooftop of a Sinjar school. (Photo by John Beck)
Signs of IS brutality remained in Sinjar even after their retreat. Yazidi members of the Iraqi police pointed out sites such as the residency office and former hospital where they said female slaves had been held. They refrained from entering buildings for fear that they were rigged with explosives. The jihadists likely left behind booby traps and IEDs when they pulled back, so the Kurdish fighters picked their way around the town, keeping to the center of roads.
The cleanup operation was well underway by Friday evening, and a crudely equipped bomb squad wielding a mine detector and pliers strode down a street newly cleared of rubble by a procession of bulldozers.
Peshmerga fighters brew tea in Sinjar. (Photo by John Beck)
A few civilians had already returned in order to find out what was left of their homes, but few had been left intact. Lines of vehicles had already begun to form at the outside of the perimeter zone set up by peshmerga before the offensive began. Further up the mountain, children cheered as convoys of Kurdish and Yazidi fighters passed. A group of armed Westerners wearing insignia-less combat looked on. US spec ops personnel provided tactical support to the peshmerga during the offensive and helped direct airstrikes, the Pentagon said Thursday.
The offensive began on Wednesday night, and involved 7,500 peshmerga fighters affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), along with the PKK, YPG, and Yazidi units. The US-led anti-IS coalition provided air support, and victory came fast, with IS seemingly withdrawing southwards without putting up any meaningful defense, leading to suspicions that the group had pulled out the bulk of its forces some time previously.
KRG president Masoud Barzani speaking on Mount Sinjar. (Photo by John Beck)
It was a dramatic change of fortune. In August 2014, the peshmerga retreated in disarray when IS moved on Sinjar, leaving the PKK and YPG to help thousands of Yazidis escape.
This rout was a major embarrassment that the KRG have been keen to redress, but a December assault only retook around a quarter of the town, then stalled. Coalition airstrikes have continued on IS positions there though, and the peshmerga had been moving to block the group’s access routes.
Taking control of Sinjar will have significant strategic value, commanders say, cutting IS supply lines between Iraq’s second city of Mosul, which it overran in June 2014, and Raqqa in Syria, the capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate.
Walking down the center of the road for safety. (Photo by John Beck)
KRG president Masoud Barzani held a press conference on Friday afternoon, in which he announced a successful conclusion to the offensive and thanked the coalition for its air support. He went on to say that the peshmerga were responsible for the victory and had been the only force involved and added that he hoped Sinjar could become its own province within the KRG, a proposition unlikely to be be popular with the central government in Baghdad.
But the PKK disputed his version of events. Sarhad, the group’s commander in Sinjar told VICE News that his fighters had been first to enter Sinjar during the attack and that the peshmerga had only joined later. PKK fighters made similar claims when peshmerga retook ground from IS last year.
A peshmerga fighter plays soccer in Sinjar. (Photo by John Beck)
“We had already gone inside the the city, but the peshmerga came after us and they want their flag to be in the city again,” he said, adding that IS had been driven out of the area between Sinjar and Syria purely by the YPG and PKK — which is designated a terrorist group by Turkey and the US — and that it remains under their control.
He dismissed the KRG president’s claims as politics. “Barzani is saying what he wants for his party,” he added. “[But] the Yazidis were left by peshmerga [in August 2015] then killed and captured by IS. It was those same peshmerga who are in the city today.”
Kurdish fighters in Sinjar. (Photo by John Beck)
The Kurds are also Islamists who will kill and expropriate Christians
By Theodore Shoebat
Five Muslim Kurds, all members of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces (YPG), attacked two major Christian militia leaders, David Antar Gindo and Elias Naser. They first used trickery. They arrived unexpectedly to David’s home, having friendly conversation over tea. The Kurds then invited the two Christian commanders to a secret location. The Christians agreed and in the middle of the journey the Kurds said that the place is so secretive that they would have to be blind folded. They blind folded them.
As they were traveling, the Kurds ambushed them, tied them with rope and commenced torturing them. They executed David at point blank range and shot Elias in the throat. The bullet did not hit a vital area, and Elias didn’t die. The Kurds left him for dead and he was eventually discovered by some good samaritans as he was crawling for dear life.
Assyrian Federation of Germany and the Assyrian Federation of Sweden released this statement on the murder:
On the night of April 22 two local Assyrian leaders from the Khabur area in Syria were taken from their homes and attacked by members of the Kurdish militia known as YPG.
David Gindo and Elias Naser were important leaders for the Assyrians of Khabur with Naser being the leader of the Assyrian militia in the area. It is through his miraculous survival from the attack the perpetrators of the heinous act have been identified.
On the morning of Wednesday April 22nd YPG gunmen ambushed David Antar Gindo and Elias Naser. Tragically, David was killed in the attack, and Elias was in critical condition in hospital at Qameshli, Syria. Days after he was admitted to hospital, Elias Naser wrote out the details of the attack (he was wounded in the throat and unable to speak). From Elias Naser’s testimony, the attack occurred as follows:
On April 22nd, shortly after 23:00, Mr. Elias Naser and Mr. David Gindo arrived at Mr. Naser’s home where they were confronted by five individuals from YPG demanding to speak with them. All five used pseudonyms, three of which were Kamal, Hamza and Dlovan.
The uninvited Kurdish guests sat with the two Assyrian leaders and drank tea, informing them that YPG leaders wished to speak with them about the looting, and that their colleague Riadh Gabriel was already at a secret location for a meeting concerning the matter. Trusting in what they were told, Mr. Elias Naser and Mr. David Gindo agreed to go with the YPG men. On route to the destination they were told that they must be blindfolded because the location of the meeting must remain a secret.
Once they arrived at the location they were tied with ropes and David Antar Gindo was tortured and beaten. The YPG men falsely accused Mr. Elias Naser and Mr. David Gindo of collaborating with ISIS and the Assad regime. These baseless accusations were a pretext to take control of the Khabour Assyrian Council of Guardians, starting with the elimination of its leadership.
After the YPG gunmen badly beat David Gindo, they took him and Elias Naser to an off road spot near the village of Jumayla, adjacent to the Euphrates damn (also called the Assad damn). The YPG men first executed point blank and in cold blood, David Antar Gindo, and then they turned their guns on Elias Naser. The time was, recalls Elias, around 2:30 am.
Fortunately for Elias Naser, the fatal shot intended to kill him struck him in the throat, and he fell forward as if dead. Though the YPG gunmen shot and kicked him in the body, Elias Naser remained motionless and was left for dead. Passing in and out of consciousness, Elias Naser waited until his attackers had left, freed his hands from the cords that bound him and crawled a distance of 500 meters to a main road where he was taken by a passing car to hospital.
The YPG gunmen also stole a sum of 750,000 Syrian Pounds, 35 AK47s and few PKC machine guns from Mr. Naser’s home.
Presently, Elias Naser is recuperating in a secret location, thankful to be alive but nonetheless mourning the loss of his friend David Antar Gindo.
The Assyrian Federation of Sweden and the Assyrian Federation of Germany condemn the heinous act by the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) which is the Syrian arm of the PKK. The decision to eliminate the two Assyrians is political and aimed at further weakening the Assyrian presence in the area.
It is becoming evident that the Assyrians are squeezed between ISIL and Kurdish political groups eager to occupy Assyrian villages and land. We also call upon Western governments to send direct aid and support to Assyrians in Syria and Iraq.
Assyrian Federation of Germany
Assyrian Federation of Sweden
The Kurds stole 750,000 Syrian pounds, 35 AK47s and several machine guns from David’s home. Why are they stealing the guns of Christians? Because the Kurdish Peshmerga does not want the Christians to be armed. They are using the Christians to help fight ISIS, but once ISIS’ domination is gone, and Syria and Iraq are under the power of Turkey and Iran, the Kurds will side with both of these Muslim powers and conduct a holocaust on the Christian population.
Before Cain killed Abel, “Cain talked with Abel his brother” “in the field” (Genesis 4:8). And thats exactly what these Kurds did before ambushing these two Christian commanders. They came in peaceably, and with false peace deceived the Christians to come with them so that they could kill him. And thats exactly what the Kurds are doing to the Christian people, by making them think that they are their friends, when they are just using the Christians.
The problem with the people in the West who are trusting the Kurds is that they ignore history; they ignore the historical fact that the Kurds were instrumental in the Genocide of the Armenians, the Assyrians, and the Syriac Christians under the Ottoman Empire. They were worked with the Turks to butcher millions of Christians. Never forget what the Kurds did to the Christians.
A missionary eyewitness to the atrocity laments:
the slaughter of the Armenians was a joy to the Turks, a massacre was heralded by the blowing of trumpets and concluded by a procession. Accompanied by the prayers of the mullahs and muezzins, who from the minarets implored the blessings of Allah, the slaughter was accomplished in admirable order according to a well arranged plan. The crowd, supplied with arms by the authorities, joined most amicably with the soldiers and the Kurdish Hamidieh on these festive occa- sions. The Turkish women stimulated their heroes by raising a gutteral shriek of their war cry, the Zilghit, and deafening the hopeless despair of their victims by singing their nuptial songs. A kind of wild cannibal humour seized the crowd…the savage crew did not even spare the children.
The Kurds will commit the same massacres again.
NEXT. The Assyrians are a Christian sect of North eastern Iraq who are starting to fight back.
At a covert training camp just north of Mosul, ten miles from the front lines with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the first wave of Assyrian Christian volunteers for the Nineveh Protection Unit (NPU) have just completed boot camp. Funded in part by an Assyrian-American telethon campaign and trained by a handful of freelance U.S. military veterans, around 500 men are set to deploy next week as part of an unorthodox — and unproven — project.
But as ISIL pillages what’s left of their ancestral homeland, and Iraqi government forces prove incapable of stopping them, some among the region’s dwindling Assyrian Christian minority have placed their hopes for self-preservation in the NPU, which plans to grow by the thousands in the coming months.
“Their morale and capabilities are higher than almost anything I’ve seen,” said Matthew VanDyke, an American filmmaker and former rebel fighter in Libya who organized training sessions over the past two months to whip the NPU into fighting shape. “The kidnapping of their people, the loss of their homeland, the use of their women as sex slaves — it’s really put a fire in them.”
The idea for a professionalized Assyrian army was first conceived last summer, when ISIL mounted its infamous surge across northwestern Iraq’s Nineveh plains, slaughtering or enslaving hundreds of Assyrians and other religious minorities who stood in its path. Their supposed protectors, the U.S.-backed Iraqi army, wilted before the onslaught, with many soldiers reportedly abandoning their posts and stripping off their uniforms to avoid detection.
The lesson, said Kaldo Oghana, an Iraqi Assyrian official and NPU spokesman, was that “no one protected minorities then, and no one ever will.”
So in early December, political leaders for the 400,000-member Assyrian community in Iraq, working alongside an Assyrian-American political action group, the American Mesopotamian Organization (AMO), vetted and enlisted the first tranche of displaced volunteers from among 2,500 applicants to compose the NPU’s inaugural battalion. As part of the AMO’s Restore Nineveh Now campaign, the goal is to build a force from the ground up that will earn the respect of the Iraqi government and perhaps the anti-ISIL coalition led by Washington. Ultimately, the NPU says, they hope to prove themselves worthy of Iraqi or Western arms.
Though it has not seen action yet, the NPU has already attracted considerable attention in the West, in part due to VanDyke’s involvement. Through a project he calls Sons of Liberty International, VanDyke has crowdfunded online and tapped $12,000 of his savings to train local Christian forces against ISIL — starting with the NPU. At the NPU camp last month, VanDyke recruited five U.S. combat veterans to run a training course — involving simulated battles and physical training — at an Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga facility.
“The world has been slow to act,” against ISIL, said VanDyke, who spoke from the Kurdish city of Erbil. “We don’t have to seek approval from Congress. We just step in and help.”
The urgency of their mission was underlined in tragic fashion this week, when ISIL stormed over 30 Assyrian villages along the Khabour River in Syria. In a pattern that has become all too familiar, ISIL quickly overpowered a smattering of local Assyrian and other militia fighters, burning homes to the ground, abducting up to 300 men, women and children, and scattering thousands more from their now mostly overrun homeland.
“We refuse to be just another militia,” said Oghana. “We are working to build security and defense systems for our homeland, the Nineveh plains.”
At the heart of the NPU, and the Restore Nineveh Now campaign more generally, is a nationalist ambition for a semi-autonomous subdivision of Iraq’s Nineveh province, where threatened religious minorities like the Assyrians, who have lived in the region for nearly 7,000 years, as well as Yazidis and Shabaks can take shelter. Assyrians in Iraq — backed by a vocal diaspora centered in the U.S. and Sweden — have argued that their country’s constitution provides for the creation of such an entity.
Jeff Gardner, the AMO’s U.S.-based spokesman, said Baghdad’s Council of Ministers provisionally voted in favor of the plan back in 2014, though it has been in discussion among Assyrian circles for decades. “Everybody recognizes this need, but unfortunately ISIS is sitting right on top of this area,” Gardner said, using another acronym for ISIL.
Funding has come from near and far for the Assyrians’ various political, military, and humanitarian efforts in Iraq. Around $250,000 has been raised, mainly through two telethons organized by the Southern California-based Assyrian Broadcasting Network, a 24-hour Assyrian language news channel that reaches the diaspora in the U.S. and Canada. The AMO is also lobbying the U.S. Congress for a wider intervention in Iraq, beyond the current coalition airstrikes.
The U.S. Department of Justice did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on the legality of fundraising for a foreign army, though the Assyrian community says its efforts to “support” their troops are completely legal so long as the money does not go to weapons.
VanDyke has said he has even met with State Department officials about his efforts. In an email to Al Jazeera, the State Department said it could not comment on such a meeting, saying that any American civilians who “may have traveled to Iraq to take part in military activities are not part of the United States government effort in Iraq.”
Regardless, AMO said this week that the NPU was not currently working with VanDyke. It said the fighting force was graduating to a second phase, which involves creating an officer corps and specialty training. For that, it has reached out to another private U.S. contractor, who it would not name.
“But our biggest struggle is gaining the acceptance of the Iraqi government,” Oghana said. Acknowledgement could open the door to heavier equipment and munitions — machine-guns and shoulder-mounted rocket launchers — needed to roll back ISIL and defend more villages from falling.
The NPU has its skeptics, however. The Restore Nineveh Project, and particularly VanDyke’s involvement, have drawn criticism that adding another sectarian militia to the Iraqi battlefield will only serve to further splinter the anti-ISIL movement, which includes the Western-backed Iraqi government, independence-minded Kurds, and hardline Shia militias. ISIL propaganda has already seized upon Christian efforts at self-defense to brand the conflict a new “crusade.”
All involved with the NPU, including its American backers, dismissed those concerns. “To say this is a religious war is to say ISIS represents Islam,” said VanDyke. “There are no crosses or religious markings on their insignia, nobody’s marching behind a cross. This is a nationalist cause.”
“Christianity is our creed, but there’s something more important than that,” said Oghana. “For us, this is our historical land, not a matter of faith.” In fact, he said, anybody is free to join, especially Yazidis and Shabaks.
From a constitutional perspective, experts said there was cause to doubt the viability of an independent Nineveh Plains Province, however dire Assyrians’ plight. “The problem is that the Iraqi constitution works on a system of governorates, but what they’re asking for is the subdivision of an existing governorate,” said Djene Rhys Bajalan, a lecturer at the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani. “I’m not sure there’s a provision for that.”
Still, the Assyrian Democratic Movement, an Iraqi political body that oversees the NPU, says it is not interested in compromising. The NPU, Oghana said, turned down an offer to be absorbed into the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga, a Western-backed force that has proven effective on the ground against ISIL. “We will work with everyone to cleanse Nineveh of ISIL, but we refuse to be loyal to anyone else,” he said. After years of political marginalization and massacre, “our people lack confidence in the whole process, in both the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga.”
Not all Assyrians agree with that assessment. Their people have a history of bad blood with the Kurds — most infamously, Kurdish involvement in the 1915 Armenian genocide in Turkey that saw almost 300,000 Assyrians slaughtered. But many point out that today, the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq is secular and largely welcoming of ethnic minorities. If helping the Kurds defeat ISIL leads to Kurdish expansion in Nineveh, that might not be the worst outcome for the Assyrian people.
According to Bajalan, “The Assyrian diaspora in the West, in some ways, is still living in the 1920s,” when a mass exodus of Assyrians fleeing the genocide settled in places like California and Sweden. “They have a negative image of the Kurds, and for good reason, but the realities on the ground are more nuanced.”
And Iraq’s Assyrian community, which has shrunk from about 1.4 million in 1987 to just 400,000 at last count, represents just two percent of the population. Even taken together with the Yazidis and Shabaks, religious minorities in Iraq have extremely limited political clout. “I don’t know how far banding together is going to get them, unfortunately,” Bajalan said. “These small minorities are in a tough position, squeezed not just physically and culturally, but politically, too.”
Iraqi Kurdistan No Longer Refuge for Christians
Many Christian leaders and activists, as well as Kurdish and Arab leaders, once believed that Iraqi Kurdistan would serve as a temporary safe haven for Christians. Christians could reside there until Iraq’s political and security situations stabilize.
According to reports, the number of Christian families who fled to cities in Iraqi Kurdistan and the Ninevah Plains is estimated at more than 65,000. These people, including civil rights activist Sadi Kiryakos, were correct in their assessment — Kurdistan was in fact a safe haven for Christians, but it was only seen as a “last stop” before the final migration out of Iraq.
Christians living in Iraqi Kurdistan do not usually confront risks such as kidnapping or murder. They do not often fall victim to car bombs and improvised explosive devices. The most serious risk they face is traffic accidents, according to Kiryakos. Still, emigration via Iraqi Kurdistan is ongoing, sometimes accelerating or decelerating, but “it never stops.”
Violence is not always the cause behind emigration
This means, according to Rev. Peter Hajji, that violence was by no means the reason behind the exodus of Christians from Iraqi Kurdistan out of Iraq.
Hajji believes that Christians who come from communities like Baghdad and Ninevah that are relatively open and mixed find themselves forced to live in a conservative tribal society. According to Hajji, this has triggered a “sense of alienation” among Christians who face difficulties adapting to a society whose language they do not even understand.
According to the Christian researcher Fabien Naoum, migration is also triggered by problems such as the employment system, which grants jobs to Kurds before other minorities, and cultural problems related to language and lifestyle.
Naoum says that the violence in Zakho and Dahuk in 2011 that impacted the Christians is the main cause behind migration from Iraqi Kurdistan. According to him, this violence was a natural consequence of rising religious extremism in the Kurdish community. This community produced one of the first militant organizations in Iraq, Ansar al-Islam, which preceded al-Qaeda’s violent attacks in Iraq.
Naoum recalls that Christian families used to consider Iraqi Kurdistan an ideal place to live. This, however, is no longer the case following the events of Zakho, which resulted in a local struggle between Kurdish parties and eventually led to operations that targeted Christians.
Pascal Wardeh, a former minister in the central government, mentions another factor: lack of interest in finding a haven for all those targeted Christians.
Diaa Boutros, secretary of the National Chaldean Council, believes that most Christians who had taken refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan were downtrodden workers and ordinary employees. As far as the capitalists are concerned, the situation has improved for some here, but the economic conditions of most have deteriorated because they left all their possessions in Baghdad or other provinces. These individuals, according to Boutros, are the ones to worry about because their desire to emigrate will increase amid current difficulties.
Journalist Namik Rayfan says that Christians who have sought refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan usually face major problems at work, especially hard-working ordinary people. They suffer from competition with Asian labor in the restaurants and stores, knowing that the public jobs are often granted to Kurds before Christians.
The desire to travel is not limited to low-income Christians; it affects even the rich who own huge capital ventures in the region.
Fares Hanna, a contractor in his 40s, lives in Iraqi Kurdistan and is very concerned about the political situation and its potential to degrade further. The situation “does not bode well,” says Fares, especially after the escalation of the conflict between the two ruling parties and the opposition forces, which drove their supporters to the streets in the spring of 2011. Fares says that the overall situation could lead to a repeat of the civil war that broke out between the two main parties in Iraqi Kurdistan between 1994 and 1998.
Francis Zia, an Iraqi trader, mentions another source of concern, namely some cases of extortion suffered by prominent Christian traders at the hands of a number of greedy and influential politicians. Zia was repeatedly forced to enter into partnerships with some of these politicians, whereby Zia would have to provide the money. The officials’ mission would be limited to providing protection for Zia and the project.
For his part, Aboulhed Afram blamed the Iraqi political blocs for the marginalization of Christian citizens and for making them feel like second-class citizens. In most cases, Christians do not receive high-status public positions, instead these positions are reserved for dominant Iraqi political parties.
Politicians, clergymen and Christians who were interviewed by the author of this investigation all agree that a large part of the operation to convince Christians to stay in Iraq depends on the Iraqis themselves, and that the major part of the responsibility must be assumed by the governments of Baghdad and Erbil.
The two governments must work to provide enough jobs for Christians, stop the abuses, facilitate internal resettlement, overcome educational difficulties and issue laws to protect them from attacks and accusations of blasphemy. Failure to do this makes it more difficult to convince Christians to stay in Iraq.
Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako made a speech in which he called on the Muslims of Iraq to be more compassionate toward their Christian brothers. “We Christians are your partners in humanity. We share the same homeland. We were here before the advent of Islam, and we have stayed by you in sickness and in health. Keep us here for your own good. Our emigration from Iraq harms you more than it harms us.”
Rafael Aichoa, who is in his 40s, has lived in Baghdad his whole life. He knows that his culture and sense of belonging to Iraq and the East will completely disappear after a few years in exile, but he will never be able to forget his parents and his brother, Edmond.
TAP – seems like the Christians always end up being killed or driven out in all Moslem countries in the end.