After surviving Daesh, Yazidi women ask to go home

Yazidi women hold placards during a protest outside the United Nations office in Erbil on August 2, 2015 in support of women from their community who were kidnapped by Daesh militants. (AFP)
Updated 04 February 2019

After surviving Daesh, Yazidi women ask to go home

  • In 2014, Daesh militants rampaged across swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq
  • None perhaps have tales so harrowing as the Yazidi women

OMAR OIL FIELD: Among thousands fleeing the crumbling dream of a Daesh group “caliphate” in eastern Syria are alleged militants but also survivors of some of their worst atrocities.
“I’ll never forget,” 40-year-old Bissa says softly, as she recounts being “bought and sold” by six different militants.
“We did everything they wanted to do with us. We couldn’t say no,” says the Iraqi woman from the Yazidi religious minority, after fleeing her Daesh captors.
Bissa was one of at least seven Yazidi women and girls to finally escape captivity last week, after years as “sex slaves” at the hands of the extremist group.
Speaking to AFP in territory held by US-backed forces, the women — and at least one teenager abducted when she was 13 — say they just want to go home.
“They would sleep with us against our will,” Bissa said, wearing a dark red headscarf and appearing years beyond her age, her face and hands etched with lines.
More than 36,000 people have fled a crumbling Daesh holdout near the Iraqi border in recent weeks, among them 3,200 alleged militants.
But now in territory held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), none perhaps have tales so harrowing as the Yazidi women.
In 2014, Daesh militants rampaged across swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq — including the northern Iraqi region of Sinjar, home to a large Yazidi community.
The Kurdish-speaking Yazidis follow an ancient religion rooted in Zoroastrianism, but Daesh considers them to be “apostates.”
In Sinjar, Daesh fighters killed the men, forcefully enlisted boys as soldiers and kidnapped more than 6,000 women.
After Bissa was captured, she was “bought and sold” by six different militants — including three Saudis and a fighter who said he was Swedish.
She was repeatedly brutalized, but was too scared to escape.
“They said whoever tried ... would be punished by a different man sleeping with her every day,” she says inside an SDF center near the Omar oil field.
But 17-year-old Nadine, who militants kidnapped from Sinjar when she was just 13, says she twice tried to escape.
Both times the militant group’s police caught her.
“They flogged me with a hose. It left marks on my back, and I couldn’t sleep on it,” she says.
“The second time, they said I couldn’t eat for two days,” she added.
After they abducted Nadine, Daesh militants took her across the border to the group’s then de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa.
Over four years, she says, six different men bought her — Saudis and a Tunisian.
She had to adapt to their brutal interpretation of religion, and adhere to their strict dress code of covering from head to toe in public.
“I love color, and I used to wear trousers,” Nadine says.
Inside the SDF center, she wears a black-and-white bead bracelet around her wrist, bearing the name of her little brother in English.
But she can’t bring herself to remove her black face veil.
“I got used to it. I can’t yet take it off,” she says. “But I will do so when I see my mum.”
After escaping, Nadine says several cousins are still being held a Daesh pocket in eastern Syria.
At the height of its rule, Daesh controlled territory the size of Britain, but today it has lost all but an eastern patch to various offensives — including by the SDF, backed by air strikes of the US-led coalition.
Between 2015 and 2018, at least 129 Yazidi women and girls were handed over to the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), who are part of the SDF.
“We’re definitely... fighting Daesh to free more captives — and not just Yazidis,” YPJ spokeswoman Nasreen Abdallah said.
At the YPJ center, Sabha, 30, waited to take her 10-year-old daughter to hospital, after a kettle of boiling water fell on her legs.
Also a Yazidi woman, Sabha fled the last patch Daesh IS territory with her six children, after the man she was forced to marry was killed in an air strike.
Five of her children are from a first husband killed by Daesh after they overran Sinjar.
But her 18-month-old girl was fathered by a Kurdish militant from the Iraqi region of Kirkuk, who said he spent 15 years of his life in Britain.
Sebha says the militant beat her and threatened to kill her children if she disobeyed.
“All I could think of was how to get out,” says Sabha, wearing a green headscarf.
“I’d wish him dead so I could escape.”
Today, Sabha looks forward to going home to her family, she says.
“But what makes me most happy is that I saved my children.”


Iraqi blogger returns day after kidnapping

Updated 18 October 2019

Iraqi blogger returns day after kidnapping

  • “Around 15 men wearing masks and black uniforms” took Al-Khafaji from his home, the blogger’s father said
  • Twenty-four hours later, hei was “abandoned in a street with $20 to pay for a taxi home”

BAGHDAD: A prominent Iraqi blogger resurfaced Friday a day after he was seized by masked gunmen, his father said, as Amnesty International denounced a “climate of fear” in the country after protests and deadly violence.
Shujaa Al-Khafaji’s family said armed men had snatched him from his home on Thursday without identifying themselves or showing an arrest warrant.
Khafaji’s Facebook page, Al-Khowa Al-Nadifa (Arabic for “Those Who Have Clean Hands“), carries posts on political and social issues and has some 2.5 million followers.
“Around 15 men wearing masks and black uniforms” took Khafaji from his home, the blogger’s father, Fares Al-Khafaji, told AFP.
He said they seized his son’s phones and computers, but were not violent.
Twenty-four hours later, Khafaji was “abandoned in a street with $20 to pay for a taxi home,” his father added.
The report of Khafaji’s seizure sparked an outcry from activists and influential political leaders.
Rights watchdog Amnesty International denounced a “relentless campaign of intimidation and assault against activists in Iraq” by authorities.
“The Iraqi authorities must immediately rein in the security forces and dismantle the climate of fear they have deliberately created to stop Iraqis from peacefully exercising their rights to freedoms of expression and assembly,” said Lynn Maalouf, the group’s Middle East research director.
The group said other activists, including a doctor and a lawyer, were “forcibly disappeared more than 10 days ago,” and called on Iraqi authorities to reveal their whereabouts.
Firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr wrote on Twitter that “any act of aggression (against journalists or activists)... by the state constitutes an attack on freedom of speech.”
Former prime minister Haider Al-Abadi’s parliamentary bloc called on the government “to stop abuses of free media.”
Iraq was gripped by anti-government protests between October 1 and 6, during which 110 people, mainly demonstrators, were killed in clashes with security forces.
During the protests, unidentified armed men in uniforms raided several local television stations in Baghdad, destroying their equipment and intimidating their staff.
Journalists and activists also reported receiving threats, mostly by phone, from unidentified callers accusing them of having sided with the protesters.
Khafaji faced online harassment last month after a string of attacks on bases of the Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force dominated by pro-Iran groups.
The group on Thursday denied any involvement in the disappearance of activists, threatening legal action against anyone making such accusations.
But according to Amnesty, the Hashed was involved in at least one abduction — that of lawyer Ali Hattab, who represented protesters and was seized on October 8 in the southern city of Amara.
He was snatched by “suspected members of a faction of the Popular Mobilization Units (Hashed),” Amnesty said quoting Hattab’s relatives.
It happened two days after “two armed men from the PMU came to (his) home to warn him to stop being vocal about the killing of protesters on Facebook, otherwise they would kill him,” Amnesty added.