According to Noori Abdulrahman, the head of the Department of Coordination and Follow-up of the Kurdistan Regional Government
, ISIL wanted to push most of the Kurds out of strategic areas and bring in Arabs, obedient to ISIL.
On 29 June 2014, the Islamic State declared a caliphate
in the contiguous areas of Syria
it controlled, after it had made significant advances in northern Iraq during the Northern Iraq offensive (June 2014)
. After Iraqi federal military forces fled from the advancing ISIL troops, local residents seized their abandoned weapons in case of an attack by the Islamic State. Kurdistan Regional GovernmentPeshmerga
fighters then moved into and took control of much of the abandoned territory in northern Iraq
from their stronghold in the Kurdistan Region
The Peshmerga confiscated the weapons the Iraqi Army had abandoned, assuring residents that they would protect them.
ISIL takeover and siege
As ISIL attacked Sinjar
and neighboring cities, more than 250 Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in Sinjar withdrew, leaving the civilians behind without warning.
The villagers defended themselves with their own weapons, but ISIL fighters shelled them with mortars. By 3 a.m., ISIL fighters had broken through, and began killing anyone seen outdoors.
On the morning of 3 August 2014, ISIL forces captured the city of Sinjar
as well as the Sinjar area.
ISIL then destroyed a Shiite
Zainab shrine in Sinjar
, executed resisters, and demanded the residents to swear allegiance or be killed.
In the surrounding villages, many residents fled immediately.
According to Yazidis, ISIL fighters asked the remaining Yazidis to convert to Islam or face death, and ISIL Twitter
accounts posted images of murders in the Sinjar area.
About 50,000 Yazidis fled into the Sinjar Mountains
where they were trapped without food, water or medical care
and faced starvation and dehydration.
, the emir of the Yazidis, issued an appeal to world leaders on 3 August 2014, asking for humanitarian help to aid those who were besieged by ISIL.
On 4 August, Kurdish fighters reportedly battled ISIL to retake Sinjar.
Killings throughout the Sinjar area
On 7 August 2014, The New York Times
reported that ISIL had executed dozens of Yazidi men in Sinjar
city and had taken their wives for forced marriage.
It was also reported that ISIL fighters executed ten caretakers of the Shia
Sayeda Zeinab shrine in Sinjar before blowing it up.
While the siege of Mount Sinjar was continuing, ISIL killed hundreds of Yazidis in at least six of the nearby villages. 250–300 men were killed in the village of Hardan
, 200 between Adnaniya and Jazeera, 70–90 in Qiniyeh, and on the road out of al-Shimal witnesses reported seeing dozens of bodies.
Hundreds of others had also been killed for refusing to convert to Islam.
On 15 August 2014, in the Yazidi village of Kocho
, south of Sinjar, over 80 men were killed after refusing to convert to Islam.
A witness recounted that the villagers were first converted under duress,
According to reports from survivors interviewed by OHCHR
, on 15 August, the entire male population of the Yazidi village of Kocho, up to 400 men, were rounded up and shot by ISIL, and up to 1,000 women and children were abducted.
On the same day, up to 200 Yazidi men were reportedly executed for refusing conversion in a Tal Afar prison.
The massacres took place at least until 25 August when ISIL executed 14 elderly Yazidi men in Sheikh Mand
Shrine in Jidala
, western Sinjar, and blew up the shrine there.
Counts of casualties
A civilian reported that on 3 August 2014 alone, 2,000 Yazidis had been killed throughout the Sinjar District
A Yazidi member of the Council of Representatives of Iraq
said that between 2 and 5 August, 500 Yazidi men had been killed in the city of Sinjar
by ISIL, women had been killed or sold into slavery, and 70 children had died from thirst or suffocation while fleeing the ISIL advance.
From the findings of a joint October 2014 report of the OHCHR
ISIL had massacred up to 5000 Yazidi men during August 2014. Kurdistan Region
estimated in December 2014 that the total number of killed or missing Yazidi men, women and children from Sinjar since August amounted to around 4,000.
A 2017 report by the PLOS Medical Journal estimated between 2,100 and 4,400 deaths and 4,200 to 10,800 abductions.
Refugee crisis in the Sinjar Mountains
Iraqi/US/UK/Australian food drops President Obama
meeting with his national security advisors on 7 August 2014
40,000 or more Yazidis
were trapped in the Sinjar Mountains
and mostly surrounded by ISIL forces
who were firing on them.
They were largely without food, water or medical care,
facing starvation and dehydration.
On 5 August 2014, Iraqi military helicopters reportedly dropped some food and water for the Yazidis in the mountains.
The US began their own supply drops on 7 August and the UK participated 3 days later.
French aid was also promised.
On 12 August, an Iraqi military helicopter, piloted by Maj. Gen. Majid Abdul Salam Ashour, crashed in the mountains while delivering aid and rescuing stranded Yazidi refugees.
The general was killed in the crash,
while most of the passengers, including Iraqi MP Vian Dakhil
, were injured.
On 13 August, a 16-aircraft mission including US C-17s and C-130Hs, an Australian C-130J, and a British C-130J delivered supplies to mostly Yezidi civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar.
U.S. air strikes
On 7 August 2014, the U.S. President, Barack Obama
, stated that the U.S. was starting air strikes to prevent a potential massacre (genocide
) by ISIL of thousands of Yazidis
trapped in the Sinjar Mountains
Obama further defended his decision by saying:
The world is confronted by many challenges. And while America has never been able to right every wrong, America has made the world a more secure and prosperous place. And our leadership is necessary to underwrite the global security and prosperity that our children and our grandchildren will depend upon. We do so by adhering to a set of core principles. We do whatever is necessary to protect our people. We support our allies when they're in danger. We lead coalitions of countries to uphold international norms. And we strive to stay true to the fundamental values – the desire to live with basic freedom and dignity – that is common to human beings wherever they are. That's why people all over the world look to the United States of America to lead. And that's why we do it.
On 8 August 2014, US airstrikes were launched in the Erbil
area, 180 km east of Sinjar. The first airstrikes in the Mount Sinjar area were reported on 9 August, when the US launched four strikes against armored fighting vehicles of ISIL fighters threatening civilians on Mount Sinjar.
The continued Iraqi airdrops of food and water in the Sinjar Mountains and their picking up of some Yazidis were also backed up by the U.S. airstrikes.
After the air strikes, the U.S. government spent five days discussing the possibilities and necessity of a rescue operation with U.S. ground troops or U.S. airlifts.
Sinjar rescue operations
Kurdish PKK and YPG clearing a path for Yazidis
and 11 August 2014,
a safe corridor was established from the mountain enabling 10,000 people to evacuate on the first day.
Kurdish fighters of Kurdistan Workers' Party
(PKK) entered the Sinjar Mountains
with trucks and tractors to carry out the sick and elderly into Syria via a path that was cleared by Syrian Kurdish militants (YPG
). According to Dr. Salim Hassan, a professor at the University of Sulaymaniyah
and spokesman of the uprooted Yazidis, the PKK
and YPG enabled an estimated 35,000 of the initially 50,000 trapped Yazidis to escape into Syria.
According to the account of the Sinjar District Governor, the route was jointly set up by Peshmerga and the YPG.
Mountain siege ends, U.S. rescue mission canceled
or 13 August 2014, a dozen U.S. Marines and special forces servicemen landed on Mount Sinjar from V-22 aircraft to assess options for a potential rescue of Yazidi refugees joining British SAS already in the area.
They reported that "the situation is much more manageable", that there were now far fewer Yazidis on the mountain than expected, and that those Yazidis were in relatively good condition. A U.S. rescue mission for those still on the mountain was therefore "far less likely now", said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
The U.S. government officially declared the siege to be broken on 13 August 2014. This was reportedly done by U.S airstrikes and Kurdish fighters of the People's Protection Units
from Syria, together with their PKK
allies from Turkey,
allowing more than 50,000 refugees to escape.
Despite this, according to Professor Salim Hassan, between 5,000 and 10,000 people still remained trapped in the mountains.
They were reportedly afraid to return to their homes and were sustained in the coming months by airdrops from a lone Iraqi helicopter.
Demonstration in Paris
against persecution of Kurds and Yazidis.
Western military response
On 8 August 2014, the US asserted that the systematic destruction of the Yazidi people by the Islamic State was genocide.
President Barack Obama
had authorized the attacks to protect Yazidis but also Americans and Iraqi minorities. President Obama gave an assurance that no troops would be deployed for combat. Along with the airstrikes of 9 August, the US airdropped
3,800 gallons of water and 16,128 MREs
. Following these actions, the United Kingdom and France stated that they also would begin airdrops.
On 10 August 2014, at approximately 2:15 a.m. ET, the US carried out five additional airstrikes on armed vehicles and a mortar position, enabling 20,000–30,000 Yazidi Iraqis to flee into Syria and later be rescued by Kurdish forces. The Kurdish forces then provided shelter for the Yazidis in Dohuk
On 13 August 2014, fewer than 20 United States Special Forces
troops stationed in Irbil along with Special Air Service
troops visited the area near Mount Sinjar to gather intelligence and plan the evacuation of approximately 30,000 Yazidis still trapped on Mount Sinjar. One hundred and twenty-nine additional US military personnel were deployed to Irbil to assess and provide a report to President Obama.
The United States Central Command also reported that a seventh airdrop was conducted and that to date, 114,000 meals and more than 35,000 gallons of water had been airdropped to the displaced Yazidis in the area.
In a statement on 14 August 2014, The Pentagon
said that the 20 US personnel who had visited the previous day had concluded that a rescue operation was probably unnecessary since there was less danger from exposure or dehydration and the Yazidis were no longer believed to be at risk of attack from ISIL. Estimates also stated that 4,000 to 5,000 people remained on the mountain, with nearly half of them being Yazidi herders
who lived there before the siege.
Kurdish officials and Yazidi refugees stated that thousands of young, elderly, and disabled individuals on the mountain were still vulnerable, with the governor of Kurdistan's Dahuk province
, Farhad Atruchi
, saying that the assessment was "not correct" and that although people were suffering, "the international community is not moving".
- United Nations – On 13 August 2014, the United Nations declared the Yazidi crisis a highest-level "Level 3 Emergency", saying that the declaration "will facilitate mobilization of additional resources in goods, funds and assets to ensure a more effective response to the humanitarian needs of populations affected by forced displacements". On 19 March 2015, a United Nations panel concluded that ISIL "may have committed" genocide against the Yazidis with an investigation head, Suki Nagra, stating that the attacks on the Yazidis "were not just spontaneous or happened out of the blue, they were clearly orchestrated".
- Arab League – On 11 August 2014, the Arab League accused ISIL of committing crimes against humanity by persecuting the Yazidis.
This section needs expansion
. You can help by adding to it
. (November 2015)
After August 2014, ISIL held the town of Sinjar
Several thousand Yazidis
remained in the Sinjar Mountains
located to the city's north, sustained by airdrops from a lone Iraqi helicopter,
while an escape road from the mountains northward to Kurdish areas was under Kurdish/Yazidi control.
American officials said that some of those Yazidis considered the Sinjar Mountains a place of refuge and home and did not want to leave;
while a report from The New Yorker
said some were afraid to return to their homes.
Other Yazidis also came to the mountains after the August evacuations.
On 21 October 2014, ISIL seized territory to the north of the mountains, cutting the area's escape route to Kurdish areas. The Yazidi militias then withdrew into the Sinjar Mountains, where the number of Yazidi civilian refugees was estimated at 2,000–7,000.
The mountains had once again been partially besieged by ISIL.
On 17 December 2014, Peshmerga
forces, backed by 50 U.S.-led coalition airstrikes on ISIL positions, launched an offensive to liberate Sinjar
and to break the partial siege of the Sinjar Mountains.
In less than two days, the Peshmerga
seized the mountain range. After ISIL forces retreated, Kurdish fighters were initially faced with clearing out mines in the area,
but quickly opened a land corridor that enabled Yazidis to be evacuated. The operation left 100 ISIL fighters dead.
Late on 21 December 2014, Syrian Kurdish YPG
fighters south of the mountain range reached Peshmerga lines, thus linking their two fronts.
The next day, the YPG broke through ISIL lines, thus opening a corridor from Syria
to the town of Sinjar. By the evening, the Peshmerga took control of much of Sinjar.
Return of Yazidi population
Following ISIL's retreat from Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the region during late-2017 campaigns, both governments laid claim to the area. The Yazidi population, with only about 15% returning to Sinjar during the period, was caught in the political crossfire. Yazidis returned to an abandoned town of crumbling buildings, leftover IEDs and the remains of those killed during the massacre.
In November 2017, a mass grave of about 70 people was uncovered
and a month later in December, another mass grave was discovered holding about 90 victims.
According to the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI)
and the UN Human Rights Office there are more than 200 mass graves sites across Iraq.
The Documentation Project run by the NGO Yazda
has provided photographic and witness testimony to document dozens of mass grave sites across the Nineveh Plain and Sinjar.
In March 2019, the first mass grave site in Sinjar was exhumed by the Iraqi Mass Graves Directorate within the Martyr's Foundation and the Medical Legal Directorate under the Iraqi Ministry of Health in conjunction with UNITAD (United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL).
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