News / Middle East

Islamic State Carries Out Mass Killings in Iraq

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, who fled from the violence in the Iraqi town of Gwer, wait to return at a check point at the entrance of the town, Aug. 18, 2014.
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, who fled from the violence in the Iraqi town of Gwer, wait to return at a check point at the entrance of the town, Aug. 18, 2014.
Reuters

When Islamic State militants stormed into a northern Iraqi village and ordered everyone to convert to Islam or die only one person refused. That did not satisfy the Sunni insurgents, however, who are even more hardline than al-Qaida.

The militants, who have seized much of northern Iraq since arriving from Syria in June, wasted no time after the village's leader, or sheik, stood up for his ancient Yazidi faith.

Khalof Khodede, an unemployed father of three who escaped with his life, recalled how 80 men in the village of Kocho were killed and all the women and girls were kidnapped.

His account, one of the first eyewitness reports of last Friday's killings, could not be independently verified, but other Yazidis and Iraqi officials have given details of Islamic State's attack on the village.

“First they wanted us all to convert to Islam and we said yes just to save our lives. We were all very afraid,” said Khodede, from a hospital bed in the town of Dohuk in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

Dohuk is now home to thousands of refugees from Iraq's minority Yazidi community which has paid the heaviest price for Islamic State's ambition to redraw the map of the Middle East.

“Then our sheik said, 'I won't convert to Islam.' And then they gathered us inside the village school,” he said.

The men were taken to the first floor and the women to the second after the villagers' money and gold jewelry were seized, probably to fund the group made up of Iraqis and other Arabs, as well as foreign fighters.

The Yazidis were loaded onto minibuses in groups of 10 to 20 and transported outside the village after being told they would be taken to Sinjar, the ancient homeland of the sect.

The vehicles stopped abruptly and the militants opened fire without warning. “They started shooting at us randomly. They had heavy guns like machine guns. I was hit in my leg and on my pelvis,” said Khodede, showing where he had been wounded.

The Yazidis, followers of an ancient religion derived from Zoroastrianism who are part of Iraq's Kurdish community, are not strangers to oppression.

Duhok, Mosul and Irbil, IraqDuhok, Mosul and Irbil, Iraq
x
Duhok, Mosul and Irbil, Iraq
Duhok, Mosul and Irbil, Iraq

Sinking to new lows

Many of their villages were destroyed when Saddam Hussein's troops tried to crush the Kurds. Some were taken away by the executed former dictator's intelligence agents.

But nothing could have prepared them for the wrath of the Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria it controls.

To survive, Khodede had to hide under the dead bodies of friends and neighbors, people with whom he had practiced for a lifetime the mysterious Yazidi faith -- beliefs that Islamic State fighters condemn as “devil worship.”

After trying to stay motionless for about an hour, Khodede saw Kurdish fighters in the distance, peering through gaps in the bodies.

They were not Iraqi Kurdish fighters who had held towns and villages in the north for years after the fall of Saddam in 2003.

The Kurdish fighters had come from Syria after hearing that fellow Kurds were being routed in neighboring Iraq by Islamic State militants who seized several towns, a fifth oilfield, as well as the country's dam for some time in recent weeks.

Like many Yazidis, Khodede felt abandoned by the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters who acquired a reputation for being fierce warriors mainly because they challenged Saddam's troops.

The Syrian Kurdish fighters cleaned up his wounds, took him to a hospital in Syria and then brought him back to Iraq.

Others were not so lucky.

“Islamic State kidnapped about 400 to 600 people in our village and the majority of those people are women and children. They killed most of the men,” said Khodede, in the emergency room of a teaching hospital where he arrived on Monday night.

His uncle and sister are by his side as blood drips into a bag hanging from his bed.

In the chaos and panic after the latest Islamic State offensive, rumors swirled about the fate of kidnapped Yazidi women, usually referred to as “slaves” for Islamic State.

Some Yazidis believe Islamic State holds hundreds of people at a detention center near the town of Tal Afar.

Khodede wonders if his family is there. His three children, wife and mother were taken away along with hundreds of others just because the village sheik was defiant.

  • Smoke rises from the impact of airstrikes targeting Islamic State militants, at the Mosul Dam, Iraq, Aug. 18, 2014.
  • Kurdish forces, known as the Peshmerga, on their way to the front line to fight Islamic State extremists, Mosul Dam, outside Mosul, Iraq, Aug. 18, 2014.
  • A Kurdish peshmerga fighter stands guard at the Mosul Dam, near the town of Chamibarakat, outside Mosul, Iraq, Aug. 17, 2014.
  • A Kurdish peshmerga fighter prepares his weapon at his combat position at the Mosul Dam, outside Mosul, Iraq, Aug. 17, 2014.
  • A Kurdish peshmerga fighter prepares his ammunition near the Mosul Dam, outside Mosul, Iraq, Aug. 17, 2014.
  • A Iraqi Shi'ite family who fled from Mosul after the advance of Islamic militants, at a refugee camp in Baghdad's southeast suburb of Nahrawan, Aug. 17, 2014.

 

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs