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America’s Heartland Helps Iraq's Yazidis

Attacks by the self-styled "Islamic State," also known as ISIL, on the Yazidi religious minority in the mountains of northern Iraq have driven thousands of men, women and children into refugee camps -- where life remains uncertain and difficult. Small Yazidi immigrant communities in the U.S. heartland are trying to provide relief to their brethren in Iraq and alert the world to their plight.

What haunts Murad Ismael is a cell phone call from a Yazidi woman after Islamic State fighters captured her and her companions last year.

“They shot four more women. I could hear them shooting. Then they threw them away, they threw their bodies away. They said their bodies had been kept for the dogs,” he said.

Harrowing stories

Ismael said women who have escaped tell many stories of young girls committing suicide rather than be used as sex slaves.

“It is not fair, it is not fair, and that is the fate of all the Yazidi women who are captured,” he said.

Last year, when the ISIL attacks began, Ismael and other Yazidis in the Houston area — along with members of a large Yazidi community in Lincoln, Nebraska — formed a group called Yazda.

Yazda President Haider Elias said it was difficult at first because few Americans had ever heard of the Yazidis.

“We had to introduce them to the Yazidi religion first and then present the issue,” Elias said.

Elias told people about the Yazidis’ religious traditions, which draw influences from Islam and other religions, but draw only scorn from radical Muslims.

Yazda's efforts

Yazda operates a relief center in Iraq and is now trying to provide psychological therapy for female victims of rape and abuse.

But Elias said the United Nations should do more than set up refugee camps for these victims of attempted genocide.

“We have been very frustrated with those great countries that are handling or making decisions for the UN. They have not been doing anything to help the Yazidis specifically,” she said.

At the end of this month, Murad Ismael plans to return to Iraq to assess the Yazidis’ situation and gather testimony from ISIL victims.