Islamic State (ISIS) militants have launched a major attack against thousands of Yezidis, a religious minority who are surrounded on their sacred mountain in northern Iraq.
Qasim Shesho, a Yezidi commander on Shingal mountain, told Rudaw that ISIS began an offensive early on Monday that continued throughout the day.
“A large number of ISIS militants are using nearly 20 Humvee vehicles to fight the Yezidi fighters,” he said.
Thousands of Yezidis were driven up into the mountain in early August when ISIS pushed into the area. The group massacred civilians—who they consider to be ‘devil worshippers’—and sold women into slavery, forcibly converting others. A rescue operation evacuated thousands from the mountain through Syria into Iraqi Kurdistan, but many remained behind.
Following the tragedy, many Yezidi men trained with the Peshmerga and the Syrian People’s Protection Units (YPG) and quickly formed brigades to defend the area.
Yezidi officers confirmed that ISIS forces attacked the mountain from three sides, following heavy fighting yesterday that left 16 ISIS dead.
An estimated 7,000 civilians are in danger as ISIS forces draw closer to the religious minority’s last line of defense. ISIS had encircled the group over a week ago, toppling a string of villages along the only exit routes from the mountain.
German-based Ezidi Press, which has journalists documenting the battle on the mountain, claims that the two major Yezidi militias are operating out of the Sherfedin shrine on the northern side of Shingal Mountain.
“Fighters on the mountain used to be aided via helicopters, but it’s been nearly 20 days that nothing has arrived for them,” says Qasim Simo, the head of Shingal’s security services. Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces have asked the Iraqi air force to drop humanitarian aid on the mountain.
But Yezidi officer Sulaiman Dawid insists that military aid is most urgent.
“We need more support in the form of weapons in order to protect the area and prevent ISIS from advancing,” he said. “If we are assisted with weapons, we will stop ISIS from attacking Zummar and Rabia,” two strategic towns captured by Peshmerga forces recently, although Peshmerga retreated from Zummar in recent days.
Rabia, Zummar, and Shingal all lay on ISIS supply routes connecting ISIS territory in Syria to Mosul, Iraq. Peshmerga forces have captured a series of towns approaching Shingal after retreating from the area in August.
Today a number of actors are cooperating in the mountain’s defense. Syrian Kurdish fighters from the YPG and guerillas from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are fighting alongside the KRG’s Peshmerga forces on the besieged mountain.
Most of the civilians on the mountain live in desperate conditions. When they fled to the mountain in August, they brought hardly anything, and now they are ill-prepared for the harsh conditions of the winter months. A planned truck delivery of blankets and mattresses was blocked by the militant’s progress.
Many of those who remained on the mountain were farmers who have lived with their livestock on Shingal mountain, considered sacred in the Yazidi religion. They refused to abandon their villages and move to safer areas despite repeated warnings by Kurdish officials.
“This is where we have lived for ages and we would rather die here in dignity than flee,” said Hatte Mito, a 60 year-old Yazidi woman in Kochare village, situated in the foothills of the mountain.