18 Jan 2015

Why has Islamic State released 200 Yazidis in north Iraq?

Islamic State frees around 200 members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, delivering them to safety in the country’s Kurdish north.

According to local reports, the Yazidis were freed on the front line south west of the city of Kirkuk, in Iraq, and met by Kurdish peshmerga forces who brought them to a health centre in Altun Kopri, on the road to the Kurdish capital of Irbil.

Read more: Where are all the Yazidi refugees?

The majority of those released were said to be elderly, disabled or unwell, and included infants, some who were thought to have serious illnesses.

“These men and women had been held in Mosul,” Khodr Domli, a leading Yazidi rights activist told AFP at the centre. “We already have names for 196 and there could be some more.”

Many are suffering from mental and psychological problems. Khodr Domli

“Some are wounded, some have disabilities and many are suffering from mental and psychological problems,” he said.

Saman Barzanji, director general of the Irbil health department said: “We have dispatched laboratory teams to check their blood, to control for things such as polio and possible contagious diseases.

“Another team is here to handle the people’s immediate health needs. We have also deployed ambulance teams to dispatch emergency cases to hospital,” he said.

Officials told AFP the mass release, the largest of its kind, took them by surprise and said there had been no coordination with the Islamic State.

“IS must have decided that they could no longer feed them, look after them. They were a burden,” said Domli.

‘Under pressure’

“IS saw that there was no benefit for them in keeping these old people,” said Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of the Iraqi parliament who made a poignant appeal to the international community for assistance in August.

“The fact that the peshmerga are regaining ground every day must have played a part in the release. IS is under pressure and is having to reorganise constantly.”

Kurdish peshmerga forces drove back Islamic State militants in northwestern Iraq last month, breaking a long siege of Sinjar mountain where thousands of Yazidis had been stranded for months. But many Yazidi villages remain under IS control.

Yazidi beliefs combine elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions. Islamic State fighters say the Yazidi must embrace their radical version of Islam or die.