A leading Yazidi politician said yesterday that he was preparing to make a last stand in his home village in northern Iraq, as members of the religious minority warned that another massacre of civilians by the extremist militants of the Islamic State (formerly Isis) showed that the crisis was far from over. The United Nations said it was trying to confirm reports of the worst single atrocity against Yazidis since the Islamic State offensive began on 3 August, with two separate sources saying up to 400 men had been executed in the village of Kocho after refusing to convert to Islam.
Last night, Kurdish forces backed by US air strikes were attempting to retake control of the Mosul Dam, which helps power parts of northern Iraq, with some eyewitness reports claiming a ground offensive had been launched as part of the operation. Eleven fighters from Islamic State, which has controlled the dam since 7 August, were said to have been killed. The strikes came a day after Barack Obama said it was no longer necessary to carry out a military evacuation of Mount Sinjar – where tens of thousands of people had been trapped by militants earlier – since many people had managed to escape following US air strikes.
But a leading Yazidi activist, Dr Mirza Dinnayi, who had spoken to Kocho’s senior official before the massacre, claimed there were still 25,000 people in the area and described Mr Obama’s remarks as “a very big mistake”.
When the US said that the siege of Sinjar was effectively over, “this encouraged Islamic State to attack 24 hours later”, he told Jonathan Rugman, of Channel 4 News. “We had a massacre yesterday [and] could have another.”
Citing sources from neighbouring villages, he said 350 people were killed in Kocho by the militants and 1,000 women taken captive. A Kurdish official said a total of about 400 people had been killed on Friday and yesterday.
A 42-year-old man who was wounded in the attack, but who escaped by playing dead, told the Associated Press that the militants had taken the men away in groups of a few dozen and shot them with assault rifles on the outskirts of the village. The fighters then walked among the bodies, firing again at anyone who appeared to still be alive. “They thought we were dead, and when they went away, we ran away. We hid in a valley until sundown, and then we fled to the mountains,” he said, speaking by phone from his hiding place.
The United Nations said there were a number of “corroborating statements” about the incident, but officials were trying to establish what happened independently.
In the village of Ba’adra, 25km away from the front line, Mohma Khalil Hasan, a Yazidi who is an MP in the Kurdistan Democratic Party, was preparing for battle. Some people have fled Ba’adra, just north of Mosul, but his family and a number of others decided to stay. He said he was “going to die here” if it came to that.
“Naturally, it’s very dangerous, but we are not afraid,” Mr Hasan said by phone through a translator. “This is genocide, a holocaust, it cannot be worse. This is an attack on the Yazidis and on the whole world.”
The fate of the Yazidi women and children of Kocho is unclear, although there were reports that hundreds of them had been taken to the Islamic State-controlled city of Tal Afar.
Mr Hasan said he had heard of children being sold by militants to be raised by Sunni Muslim families. “They are selling our daughters for two dollars. They bring the girls to the towns like Mosul under Arab control [to sell].”
He said US air strikes were having an effect and urged the UK, France and Germany to join in. The need for aid was demonstrated clearly by the harrowing stories of some of the 100,000 people who have fled the Sinjar area into Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria in the past 10 days.
In a video released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees yesterday, Hamid, a farmer from Sinjar, told how his elderly mother, exhausted by walking through treacherous mountain terrain, had died after a fall.
“We came down one hill and up the next. Finally, she said to us, ‘That’s it, I cannot do it.’ My two sons tried to carry her, but could not,” he said. “She was mentally still strong. She said to us, ‘My sons, please go, I am going to die sooner or later. Why stay and die with me?’ We refused to leave without her.”
However, a few hours later she “fell and passed away” and the family of 15, fearing for the lives of the children with them, moved on. “We didn’t get to bury her. If we get a chance to go back, I will look for her, her body, her bones, anything … A mother is the most precious thing.”
A young Yazidi man who fled to Dohuk told how people they had lived alongside for years had turned on them when the militants attacked.
“My sister was killed in front of our door by our neighbours. She was almost 18 years old and she was shot in front of us. We all escaped, but she was killed,” he said. “All of us escaped to the mountains on 3 August. Our Arab neighbours were living with us 24 hours a day. They were coming into our house, dining with us … but when the police withdrew, these people took their arms from the base and started shooting at us.”
Many of the refugees were children, such as Amira, 15, and her nine-year-old brother Zidan, who lost the use of his legs when he was four because of a degenerative disease.
“Because my brother is unable to walk, we came with my uncle, leaving my father and my family to follow. I have one brother and three sisters, but I am very close to my brother,” Amira said. They had not seen any violence, but were “very scared” because they had not been able to speak to their parents by phone.
Their uncle, Nawaf Garib Khidir, said: “Either they have been killed or captured. We just do not know … There was a raid and the militants now control the area.”
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