With thousands still missing, Sinjar’s deep wounds remain raw

WASHINGTON — “My first thoughts were, ‘I just can’t believe we’re undergoing yet another genocide,'” said Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman.

She paused. Her eyes welled. For a long moment, she glanced eastward out the window of her office, on 16th Street in downtown D.C., in the direction of Iraq.

Her voice cracked and she dabbed at her eyes, swept away by the memory of raw emotions that she and countless others experienced on Aug. 3, 2014 — the day the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) desecrated her homeland of Sinjar, her people and her own memories.

Rahman, the normally reserved, all-business representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Washington, was remembering the details of ISIL’s grisly campaign of genocide in the village and areas of Kocho.

The world’s most dangerous terror group sought to annihilate the Yazidi community in order to import its own preselected population. In the process, entire villages and thousands of years of history were destroyed. Families were ripped asunder; people were driven into the Sinjar mountains and left to die.

They would have — were it not for a U.S.-led rescue mission that reportedly was organized in less than 24 hours.

In an interview on the eve of the second anniversary of the ghastly extermination of thousands and enslavement of thousands more, Rahman recalled how the news pierced her to the core.

“It was my first birthday without my mother, who had passed away six months earlier. To me, my mother symbolizes Sinjar and Sinjar symbolizes my mother. She spoke the dialect; she taught us the dialect; she taught us the cuisine. Everything about her was Sinjari.”

She took a long pause; her face was marked by grief.

Successfully struggling to maintain her composure, she confessed that the dreadful, seemingly unabated rampage over the place where she was raised and cared for by her mother made it seem “as though my mother was dying again,” Rahman said, her voice cracking anew.

She apologized for talking about her personal loss, “because it is so unbelievably insignificant. It’s not even worth mentioning, frankly, compared to what others have gone through and are going through right now.”

But her loss prepared her to empathize with the victims of yet another genocide in Iraq.

Rahman asked, with more than a hint of frustration in her voice, “How many genocides do we have to go through just because we’re a part of Iraq. Why is it acceptable that Iraq should be the theater for mass murder — for genocide over and over again?”

The United Nations recognizes four genocides in Iraq since the 1970s, but Rahman said throughout history there have been many more that have not been recognized.

In the Sinjar region two years ago, “more than 5,000 men were killed and buried. We know through satellite images that there are many mass graves around Sinjar. Approximately 5,000 women and children and some men, but mostly women, were kidnapped,” said Rahman.

“They took them as slaves. We know that they use the women as sexual slaves. They have been tortured, raped, gang-raped and sold in markets. And the children have also been sexually abused. Some of the children are being trained to be the next generation of ISIS terrorists for suicide bombings.”

Her primary duty in the U.S. is to strengthen ties between Kurdistan and the U.S., advocate her government’s position on a wide array of political, security, humanitarian, economic and cultural matters, and promote coordination and partnership.

But no issue compares to the ongoing tragedy.

Since the U.S.-led military coalition began targeting ISIL with airstrikes in December 2014, thousands of fighters have been killed and the group’s funding has been disrupted.

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said, “Iraqis have reclaimed nearly 50 percent of populated territory that ISIL once held. In Syria, ISIL has been rolled back from nearly 25 percent of the territory they previously controlled.”

The 67-member international coalition, led by the U.S., has launched almost daily strikes on ISIL targets.

Thus far, said Price, “The coalition has flown more than 90,000 sorties conducting 14,000 coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. We’ve also trained 30,000 Iraqi security personnel.”

And as it’s been forced out of areas, the group has left behind a trail of destruction — including booby-trapped buildings roads and bridges.

The booby traps can be addressed with ingenuity. But the fate of the enslaved women and children, Rahman says, is a much more difficult task.

“Over 2,000 of the women and children have been rescued, but even today, two years later, more than 3,200 women and children are still held captive. Some, we know, are still in Mosul. Some have been taken to Raqqa. Some have been taken much farther afield and it’s much harder to track them down and much harder to find them.”

She paused and again looked eastward. As she did so, it was noon and almost simultaneously, a symphony of church bells along 16th Street began pealing.

She resolutely declared the search for the missing would continue and emphatically stated, “If anyone from D’aesh is listening, we will continue to fight until you are completely defeated.”

J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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