Baghdad, Aug. 10 (Reuters): Islamic State militants have killed hundreds of Iraq’s minority Yazidis, burying some alive and taking women as slaves, an Iraqi government minister said today, as US warplanes again bombed the insurgents.
Human rights minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani accused the insurgents — who have ordered the community they regard as “devil worshippers” to convert to Islam or die — of celebrating “a vicious atrocity” with cheers and weapons waved in the air. No independent confirmation was available.
The US Central Command said drone aircraft and fighter jets had hit Islamic State armed trucks and mortar positions near Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region which had been relatively stable throughout Iraq’s years of turmoil until the insurgents swept across the north this summer.
The Islamic State’s advance has forced tens of thousands to flee, threatened Arbil and provoked the first US attacks in the region since Washington withdrew troops from Iraq in late 2011.
Sudani said in a telephone interview that accounts of the killings had come from people who had escaped town of Sinjar, an ancient home of the Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking community.
“We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic State have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar,” he said.
“Some of the victims, including women and children were buried alive in scattered mass graves in and around Sinjar.”
During a visit by French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, Kurdish regional president Masoud Barzani said: “We are not fighting a terrorist organisation, we are fighting a terrorist state.”
Another senior Kurdish official said Kurds retook two towns southwest of Arbil, Guwair and Makhmur, with the help of US strikes.
In comments likely to put pressure on Washington to step up its response to Islamic State, Sudani said: “The terrorist Islamic State has also taken at least 300 Yazidi women as slaves and locked some of them inside a police station in Sinjar and transferred others to the town of Tal Afar. We are afraid they will take them outside the country.”
A deadline to convert to Islam or die for 300 families from the Yazidi community — followers of a religion influenced by the Zoroastrianism of ancient Persia — passed at midday on Sunday. It was not immediately clear if the victims to whom the minister referred were from that group of families.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis held a silent prayer for victims of the Iraqi conflict.