Syrian-Kurdish militias fight IS after Peshmerga fighters’ retreat

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Displaced Iraqis from the northern town of Sinjar head towards the autonomous Kurdistan region on August 4, 2014, as they seek refuge after Islamic State (IS) Sunni militants took control of their hometown. (Photo: AFP-STR)

By: Ayham Merhi

Published Friday, August 8, 2014

More than 8,000 Iraqi families have crossed the border with Syria to escape the massacres being committed by radical jihadi group the Islamic State (IS). The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) seems to have stepped in to cover the retreat of the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces from the area. The YPG has protected civilians as they fled to safety, while establishing new posts in Iraqi border areas to help fight the extremist onslaught that is now also threatening the villages of the Yazidi minority in Iraq.

Al-Hasakah Countryside – Hozan, a seven-year-old Yazidi Iraqi child, bites into a tomato that his mother offered him on a plastic plate. Perhaps it will help him deal with the hunger that lasted for nearly four days, which he and many others spent under siege in the mountains until they reached the Syrian border, and from there, crossed to the village of Tal Khatun in the Qahtaniya countryside in al-Hasakah province.

In al-Hasakah, the refugees found shelter in the homes of some locals, while other, larger families chose to take shelter in schools. Hozan had arrived with 168 people from the village of Hardana near the town of Shenkal in the Sinjar district of Iraq. After travelling in cars through rugged roads to bypass the militants, they crossed the border fence between the towns of Rabia and Yarubia on the Iraqi-Syrian border.

The women who came from Hardana were crying incessantly over the news that 10 children from their village had died of dehydration as they escaped to Mount Sinjar, where they were stranded. Today, more than 5,000 people trapped in the same area face the risk of meeting a similar fate.

Shifan Rashu Ossei gave Al-Akhbar an account of what happened with his family. He said that IS had threatened to attack their village in Sinjar 20 days earlier. When they tried to leave in anticipation of the threat, he said, the Peshmerga stopped them, telling them they would repel any attack.

Ossei said, “But the IS attacked us and the Peshmerga escaped, and left us to face our fate alone.”

“IS fighters told us not to leave the village until they take a decision about us, then told us there was no room for the Yazidi religion under the Islamic State, and that we must convert to Islam or leave within 48 hours. We decided to leave our homes, and spent more than a day travelling on rugged roads until we reached Syria,” he added.

Farida Sharro, a young woman also displaced from Sinjar, told Al-Akhbar, “The IS caught us off guard, confiscating weapons from the village, and demanding us to convert to Islam, or face exile or death if we disobey.”

Sharro is not yet used to the new reality. She was tearful as she mentioned the women and children sent to the market selling sabaya, Arabic for captives taken as slaves, in Mosul. She said, “We Yazidis are peaceful and we wish everyone well.”

Ziad Rustom, from the village of Tal Khatun in Syria, tried to console Sharro. He had just finished distributing clothes he collected from his neighborhood in Qahtaniya for their new guests. He said, “We Syrians, just like we prepared our homes for you in our modest villages, will do the same in other villages for others. We will share our bread with you until God brings you relief.”

According to information obtained by Al-Akhbar, more than 8,000 families have crossed the border. Some of them are en route there, after members of the so-called Shenkal Resistance Units and the YPG were able to open a safe corridor for trapped civilians to cross into Syria.

Most of these families, under instructions from the “government of northern Iraq,” have chosen to cross into Syria first on their way to northern Iraq on the other side of the border, through the Samalka crossing in the city of Malikiya. The number of families that chose to stay in Syria is more than 500, concentrated in Qahtaniya, Malikiya, Maabada, Rumeilan, and Jawadia.

Fierce battles on the border

On the road to the city of Yarubia (on the Iraqi border), nothing has yet shattered the tranquility of normal life here. Everyone in the region works in farming or cattle herding. But Yarubia itself is a ghost town. The sound of shelling and gunfire can be heard very loudly there.

At the Rabia border crossing and the opposite side, YPG fighters have erected fortifications, supported by tribal fighters led by Sheikh Hamidi Daham al-Hadi of the Shummar clan. YPG snipers have climbed the grain silos in the area, in an attempt to stop any advance by IS fighters. So far, the latter have tried to breach YPG defenses four times.

The commander of the Yarubia police, Nafez Abdul-Aziz, told Al-Akhbar that the YPG had made their way to the outskirts of Shenkal, and were working on opening more corridors for the civilians to escape.

Abdul-Aziz said, “The YPG intervention in the town was on humanitarian and moral grounds, to limit the massacres being perpetrated there against the civilians.”

The Yarubia police commander criticized the Peshmerga’s withdrawal from Sinjar where they left civilians behind to fend for themselves. He said, “[The civilians] tried to convince the Peshmerga to stay and fight, but they refused, and also refused to give us heavy weapons to fight.”

“What is happening is a political… plan with a view to take over the Kurdish areas, but we will resist it with all our strength,” he added.

Intra-Kurdish coordination against IS

Akram Hissou, head of the Executive Council of the Jazirah Province, told Al-Akhbar that a joint command and control center was established by the YPG, the Peshmerga, and the Kurdish Assayish forces to counter attempts by the IS to expand into their regions. He said, “After these forces were able to open corridors for the civilians in Shenkal, aid convoys were brought in to help them.”

In Shenkal, a military formation dubbed the Shenkal Resistance Units has been established. The formation has since fought battles against the IS in collaboration with the YPG. In the meantime, the latter has declared it had seized the village of Dokra in Shenkal, and repelled infiltration attempts from Rabia toward Yarubia, after killing a number of IS fighters.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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