Defense Department officials said Aug. 13 that US air-strikes and Kurdish forces have broken the ISIS siege of Mount Sinjar, allowing thousands of the Yazidis trapped there to escape. An initial report from some dozen Marines and Special Operations troops who arrived the previous day said that "the situation is much more manageable," a Defense official told the New York Times. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking to reporters at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., said it is "far less likely now" that the US will undertake a rescue mission. A White House official said: "The president's decisive decisions [sic] in the immediate wake of the crisis kept people alive and broke the siege of the mountain." But Yazidi leaders and relief workers dispute the claim that the siege has been broken, asserting that tens of thousands of Yazidis remain on the mountain in desperate conditions. Speaking from her hospital bed in Istanbul, Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of Iraq's parliament who was injured in a helicopter crash on the mountain, said that up to 80,000 remain stranded there. "It's better now than it had been, but it's just not true that all of them are safe—they are not," Dakhil said. "Especially on the south side of the mountain, the situation is very terrible. There are still people who are not getting any aid." (NYT, NYT, Ahram, The Guardian)
Another 130 US troops arrived in northern Iraq on Aug. 12 on what the Pentagon described as a temporary mission to assess the scope of the humanitarian crisis facing thousands of displaced civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar. Kurdish sources said four US Osprey aircraft landed in Erbil, where the military advisors disembarked and were greeted by officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). On a visit to California's Camp Pendleton, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel emphasized: "This is not a combat boots on the ground kind of operation. We're not going back into Iraq in any of the same combat mission dimensions that we once were in in Iraq." (AP, Rudaw)
Some 20,000 Yazidis have managed to flee Mount Sinjar after Peshmerga forces opened a corridor for them into Syrian territory, and some have since crossed back into Kurdish-controlled Iraq. Many are making their way to the Kurdish capital of Erbil, where the 1.5 million population has grown by around 185,000 since the fall of Mosul to ISIS. Peshmerga leaders are said to be meeting with US and British special forces to try to devise an escape route for up to 150,000 who have been displaced from the Sinjar area, in Nineveh governorate. A British C130 cargo plane had to abort an aid drop on Mount Sinjar because desperate Yazidis crowded under the aicraft, making it impossible to parachute bundles down without risking injury to those below. (NY Daily News, LAT, Daily Mail) Witnesses told the independent Kurdish news agency Rudaw that more than 500 Yazidi girls and women were abducted by ISIS militants after the seizure of Sinjar town. One displaced Yazidi said he had seen two ISIS vehicles "full of women." He told Rudaw: "There were seven women in the back of the truck—five younger women and two who appeared to be above 50. They killed the two older women on the spot in the street and took with them the other women." (Rudaw)
Kurdish Peshmerga forces claimed Aug. 10 to have liberated the towns of Makhmur and Gwer, some 80 kilometers south of Erbil, and surrounding areas that had been occupied by ISIS. (BasNews) ISIS militants have blown up the bridge on the Khazir River between Erbil and Mosul to slow Peshmerga progress. (BasNews) US air-strikes destroyed several ISIS armed vehicles outside Erbil, while Halgord Hikmat of the Kurdistan Region's Peshmerga Ministry said: "The US airstrikes against IS positions are done with the coordination of Peshmerga forces." He added that there are a number of US military advisers working with Peshmerga forces on the ground. (AP, BasNews) Iraqi parliamentarians from Mosul held a press conference in Baghdad to praise the Peshmerga offensive, while berating the central government for its failure to respond to the crisis. "The Iraqi government has been silent since the first day regarding the situation in Mosul and only watches the developments," said the angry MPs. (BasNews)
Egypt's former foreign minister, Mohammed al-Orabi, said Aug. 9 that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will coordinate with Arab countries to send military forces to confront ISIS. Orabi called for an "Arab Alliance" prepared "to repel any aggression or mobilization undertaken by ISIL against Gulf countries." He said "Sisi will intervene quickly to counter any aggression against those countries. Sisi will intervene immediately to protect them." (IraqiNews.com) The Pentagon meanwhile announced a new round of air-strikes, this time closer to Mount Sinjar, where the Yazidis remain beseiged. Read a statement by US Central Command: "US fighters and remotely piloted aircraft struck one of two ISIL armored personnel carriers firing on Yazidi civilians near Sinjar, destroying the APC." Kurdish Peshmerga forces with US air support opened a road to Mount Sinjar, allowing some 5,000 Yazidis to flee into Syrian territory. (Al Jazeera, AP via Lebanon Daily Star, AP via FoxNews) ISIS-held Mosul is reported to be partially without electricity or water. Foreign oil company personnel are flying out of Erbil, the Kurdish capital, where residents are arming themselves in anticipation of an ISIS assault. (Tehran Times) President Obama said that air-strikes will continue for as long as necessary. "I'm not going to give a particular timetable," he said shortly before leaving for a summer vacation at Martha's Vineyard. "We are going to maintain vigilance." (USA Today)
US jets and drones carried out air-strikes outside Erbil Aug. 8 in an effort to drive back the ISIS advance on the Kurdish regional capital. The targets included ISIS positions in Makhmour, about 60 kilometers southwest of Erbil, and a convoy of seven vehicles headed towards the city. The Pentagon said four aircraft executed two passes over the convoy, dropping a total of eight laser-guided bombs. (IraqNews) Peshmerga forces are delivering aid by helicopter to the besieged Yazidis on Mount Shingal. The aid was provided by Rwanga Foundation, run by Kurdish politician Idris Nechirvan Barzani. The number of those stranded on the mountain has been upped to some 100,000. US aircraft have also dropped supplies to the mountaintop. (Rudaw) Iraqi military planes struck the ISIS-held town of Gwier, outside Mosul, claiming some 130 militants dead and several humvees destroyed. (BasNews)
Well, this is surreal. In authorizing US air-strikes in northern Iraq, President Obama invoked the responsibility to protect the Yazidis from ISIS and avert a potential "genocide." Before the missiles fall, there will be air-drops of aid to the several thousand Yazidis besieged on a mountaintop in Sinjar, Nineveh governorate, driven from their homes below by ISIS militants. Said Obama: "Earlier this week, one Iraqi cried that there is no one coming to help. Well, today America is coming to help." (AP, AFP, NYT, Aug. 7) We have been noting for years the growing persecution and attacks on the Yazidis as jihadists have been unleashed in the decade since the US invasion, and warning of the threat of genocide. But too small to matter in the Great Power game, their plight was little noted by the outside world. Now their name is on the lips of the leader of the West, and in the global headlines.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces took control of the town of Zumar near Iraq's border with Syria Aug. 1, routing ISIS militants from oil installations they had taken in a surprise attack earlier in the day. Kurdish authorities said two Peshmerga troops were killed, along with several ISIS fighters, with several more ISIS militants taken prisoner. The Peshmerga victory comes two days after ISIS insurgents blew up the critical bridge over the Tigris River at Samarra, effectively cutting off Baghdad from Nineveh and Iraq's north. The emergence of the Peshmerga as a more potent force against ISIS than Iraq's national army (now approaching a state of disentegration) raises obvious dilemmas. In fact, in 2012, the town of Zumar was at the center of a political crisis between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government. The central government sent military units to Zumar to take the border post, but were stopped by Peshmerga forces. Zumar lies in the northwest of Nineveh governorate, on the border of teritory controlled by the KRG and ISIS. (See map.) (Rudaw, Aug. 1; BasNews, July 30)