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A displaced Iraqi Yazidi woman wipes her eyes at the Bajid Kandala camp
JIHADISTS ‘MASSACRE’ VILLAGERS AS WORLD UPS RESPONSE Kurdish forces fight to retake Iraq’s largest dam

BAGHDAD, Aug 16, (Agencies): Kurdish forces backed by US warplanes battled Saturday to retake Iraq’s largest dam from Islamic State jihadist fighters, whose latest atrocity was a massacre in a Yazidi village. Two months of violence have brought Iraq to the brink of breakup, and world powers relieved by the exit of long-time premier Nuri al-Maliki were flying aid to the displaced and arms to the Kurds. Kurdish forces attacked the IS fighters who wrested the Mosul dam from them a week earlier, a general told AFP. “Kurdish peshmerga, with US air support, have seized control of the eastern side of the dam” complex, Major General Abdelrahman Korini told AFP, saying several jihadists had been killed.

Buoyed by the air strikes US President Barack Obama ordered last week, the peshmerga have tried to claw back the ground they lost since the start of August. The dam on the Tigris provides electricity to much of the region and is crucial to irrigation in vast farming areas in Nineveh province. The recapture of Mosul dam would be one of the most significant achievements in a fightback that is also getting international material support.

A day after the European Union foreign ministers encouraged the bloc’s member countries to send arms to the Kurds, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Iraq. Steinmeier, whose country hosts the largest Yazidi diaspora in the West, visited the autonomous region to assess the needs of the displaced and the peshmerga.

Fear of an impending genocide against the Yazidi minority, whose faith is anathema to the Sunni Muslim extremists, was one reason Washington cited for air strikes it began on Aug 8. Obama declared the Mount Sinjar siege over on Thursday, but vulnerable civilians remain in areas taken by the jihadists. In Kocho, senior Kurdish official Hoshyar Zebari said the jihadists “took their revenge on its inhabitants, who happened to be mostly Yazidis who did not flee their homes”. Human rights groups and residents say IS fighters have demanded that villagers in the Sinjar area convert or leave, unleashing violent reprisals on any who refused.

A senior official of one of Iraq’s main Kurdish parties said 81 people had lost their lives in the Friday attack, while a Yazidi activist said the death toll could be even higher. The village lies near the northwestern town of Sinjar, which the jihadists stormed on August 3 sending tens of thousands of civilians, many of them Yazidi Kurds, fleeing into the mountains to the north. They hid there for days with little food or water. Mohsen Tawwal, a Yazidi fighter, said he saw a large number of bodies in Kocho on Friday. “We made it into a part of Kocho village, where residents were under siege, but we were too late,” he told AFP by telephone. “There were corpses everywhere. We only managed to get two people out alive. The rest had all been killed.”

The Pentagon announced that US drones had struck an IS convoy leaving the village on Friday after receiving reports that residents were under attack. The outcome of the latest US strike was not immediately clear. Amnesty International, which has been documenting mass abductions in the Sinjar area, says IS has kidnapped thousands of Yazidis since it launched its offensive in the region on Aug 3. Members of the Christian, Turkmen and other minorities have also been affected by the violence. Meanwhile, Islamic extremists in Iraq killed 80 Yazidi men and abducted their wives and children, officials and eyewitnesses said Saturday, insisting the religious community is still at risk after a week of US and Iraqi airstrikes on the militants. Airstrikes meanwhile targeted insurgents around Iraq’s largest dam, which was captured by the Islamic State extremist group earlier this month, according to nearby residents.

It was not immediately clear who carried out the strikes. The US began launching airstrikes against the Islamic State extremist group a week ago, in part to prevent the massacre of tens of thousands of Yazidis stranded on a northern mountaintop. After most were able to escape with the help of Kurdish fighters, President Barack Obama took credit for alleviating the threat of genocide. But on Friday afternoon Islamic State fighters who had surrounded the nearby village of Kocho 12 days ago, demanding its Yazidi residents convert or die, moved in.

Militants
The militants took the men away in groups of a few dozen and shot them dead with assault rifles on the edge of the village, according to a wounded man who escaped by feigning death. The fighters then walked among the bodies, finishing off any who appeared to still be alive with their pistols, the 42- year-old man told the Associated Press by phone from an area where he was hiding out. He spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for his safety. “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. A Yazidi lawmaker, a Kurdish security official and an Iraqi official from the nearby city of Sinjar gave similar accounts, saying Islamic State fighters had massacred scores of Yazidi men Friday afternoon after seizing Kocho.

All said they based their information on the accounts of survivors and warned that the minority group remains in danger despite the US intervention. Their accounts matched those of two other Yazidi men, Qassim Hussein and Nayef Jassem, who said they spoke to other survivors. The Yazidis are a centuries-old religious minority viewed as apostates by the extremist Islamic State group, which has claimed mass killings of its opponents in Syria and Iraq, often posting grisly photos on the Internet. Yazidi lawmaker Mahma Khalil said the Yazidis in Kocho were given the choice to convert or die. “When the residents refused to do this, the massacre took place,” he said.

Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for Kurdish security forces, said the militants took the women and children of Kocho to the nearby city of Tal Afar, which is controlled by the Islamic State group. Elsewhere in northern Iraq, residents living near the Mosul Dam told The Associated Press that the area was being targeted by airstrikes, but it was not immediately clear whether the attacks were being carried out by Iraq’s air force or the United States.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said the Defense Department, for the safety and security of American personnel, would not discuss reports of ongoing or future operations. Iraqi military spokesmen could not immediately be reached for comment. The extremist group seized the dam on the Tigris River on Aug. 7. Residents near the dam say the airstrikes killed militants, but that could not immediately be confirmed. The residents spoke on condition of anonymity out of fears for their safety. Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled when the Islamic State group earlier this month captured the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, near the Syrian border.

The plight of the Yazidis, tens of thousands of whom were stranded on a desert mountaintop for days, encircled by the Islamic extremists, prompted US and Iraqi forces to launch aid drops. It also contributed to the US decision to launch airstrikes against the militants, who were advancing on the Kurdish regional capital Irbil. Most of those Yazidis were eventually able to escape to Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish region with the help of Kurdish fighters, and on Thursday Obama said Americans should be proud of the US efforts to save them. “We broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar, we helped vulnerable people reach safety and we helped save many innocent lives.” Obama said, speaking from his vacation spot in Edgartown, Massachusetts. He was referring to the extremist group by its earlier acronym. But the Islamic State group remains in control of vast swaths of northeastern Syria and northern and western Iraq, and the scale of the humanitarian crisis prompted the UN to declare its highest level of emergency earlier this week. Some 1.5 million people have been displaced by fighting since the Islamic State group’s rapid advance across northern and western Iraq began in June.

The decision to launch airstrikes marked the first direct US military intervention in Iraq since the last troops withdrew in 2011, and reflected growing international concern about the extremist group. On Saturday, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said it deployed a US-made spy plane over northern Iraq to monitor the humanitarian crisis and movements of Islamic State militants. It said the converted Boeing KC-135 tanker, called a Rivet Joint, would monitor mobile phone calls and other communication. In New York, the United Nations Security Council took aim at Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria on Friday, blacklisting six people including the Islamic State spokesman and threatening sanctions against those who finance, recruit or supply weapons to the insurgents.

The 15-member council unanimously adopted a resolution that aims to weaken the Islamic State — an al-Qaeda splinter group that has seized swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate — and al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing, Nusra Front. Islamic State has long been blacklisted by the Security Council, while Nusra Front was added earlier this year. Both groups are designated under the UN al- Qaeda sanctions regime.

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