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Islamic Militants Kill Dozens Of Yazidis In Northern Iraq


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. American fighter jets and drones have carried out air strikes against Islamist targets near the Mosul dam in Northern Iraq. Kurdish forces say they will work with the Iraqi Army to retake the dam from the Islamic State militant group, also known as ISIS. A deliberate breach of the dam could pose a serious threat to the city of Mosul. The initial U.S. air strikes were intended to protect U.S. citizens and religious minorities such as the Yazidis, who have fled their villages in the face of mass killings. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Northern Iraq.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The latest atrocity to emerge from the violent advance of the so-called Islamic State occurred in the Yazidi Village of Kocho, south of Sinjar. The fighters, who claim to want an Islamic caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq, gave the villagers a deadline to convert and become Muslims. It passed and was extended once. Meanwhile, villagers and others desperately called for help from the U.N., the Americans, the Kurdish government and others. But on Friday, says Nayf Jaso Qasm, brother of Kocho's mayor, the slaughter began.

NAYF JASO QASM: (Through translator) They kept the women and children in the school, and they put the men into a vehicle, drove them off to a field and shot them. The men didn't all fit. And they had to kill them in groups.

KENYON: Qasm lost several family members and has a list of all the men in the village that day. It totals 420. So he believes the death toll is much higher than the 80 that has been reported thus far.

N. QASM: (Through translator) No one tried to save my village's people. I asked the government in Baghdad. I asked the Kurds in Erbil. I asked the Syrian Kurdish fighters, please, just save my village. And now there is no one left in my village. The ISIS fighters are looting our homes.

KENYON: At Feshkabour, near the Syrian border, camps for the displaced are being filled as fast as they can be built. Children play between the rows of tents and in the desert or fill jugs of water for the family at the communal spigots. Huddled in the shade of one tent is a Yazidi family that fled a village near Sunune when Peshmerga and Syrian Kurdish fighters opened a safe passage. Several of them try to answer at once when asked if they'll ever go back.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: No, they say. Iraq can never be safe now. Everyone knows what happened at Kocho. They hope Kurdistan will be safe, but the Yazidis must go.

A young man approaches when he hears a reporter speaking English. Ziad Khalaf, from Sepa Village, renamed Jazira by Saddam Hussein, was a translator for the U.S. military for six years. He points to a mother cradling a baby who he says was born on Mount Sinjar where Yazidis traditionally flee religious persecution. He says the family named him invasion. Khalaf is proud of his English and his time with the Americans. And he appreciates the U.S. air drops of food and water on Mount Sinjar. He still believes that the Americans are coming, though he contradicts President Obama's statement that we broke the siege at Mount Sinjar.

ZIAD KHALAF: Americans, we don't know. We are just waiting for their response. We hope they're going to come save us. And we believe in Obama, the president of United States, to help us. It is not - still now, the siege has not been broke.

KENYON: The Yazidis in the camps are the fortunate ones. Up the road, families are spread out along the highway under makeshift lean-tos, shuttering as passing trucks kick up dust from the road. Beneath one covering, Hodeyda Qasm, an elderly man with a silver mustache, says after all the years of Yazidi persecution, this time he doesn't see how they can live side-by-side with their Arab neighbors anymore.

HODEYDA QASM: (Through translator) There's no more life between us. If we go back, either they will kill us, or we'll kill them. There's no living together. Help us to have our place, give us the way to start, and we will go back and defend our land.

KENYON: In fact, he says, young Yazidi men are now training with Syrian Kurdish fighters learning how to fight back amid the growing feeling that despite the international declarations, no one is coming to help them. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Northern Iraq. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.