Third, the Turkish invasion of Syria gave rise to the regrouping of ISIS. Not surprisingly, armed factions loyal to Turkey have released or simply allowed thousands of ISIS fighters to escape from prisons. One of ISIS's main goals remains the annihilation of minority groups, including the Yazidis. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights recorded scores of incidents in which ethnic-minority civilians were kidnapped; many, including women, were executed, and ISIS and Turkish fighters mutilated female corpses.
Fourth, a significant part of Sinjar, which was populated by Yazidis, has now fallen to an array of militia groups, including pro-Iranian and other jihadists who have adopted a hit-and-run tactic. Now they are free to rampage through the area and inflict mortal danger, if not expel the Yazidis from Iraq altogether. The high level of insecurity and the ongoing conflict render Yazidi children vulnerable to forcible conscription by militias in Sinjar and the surrounding areas.
The U.N. Human Rights Council affirmed that, in the aftermath of the ISIS campaign to eradicate the Yazidi community in Sinjar, "the 400,000-strong community had all been displaced, captured, or killed... The majority of the region's Yazidis live difficult and impoverished existences in IDP [internally displaced person] camps scattered throughout the Duhok region of northern Iraq." Complicating and impeding the return of the Yazidis are a housing shortage, insufficient security, insufficient access to basic services, and the mental trauma suffered by survivors.
Urgent Plan of Action
The need for a comprehensive plan of action to alleviate the plight of the Yazidis by resettling them in their ancient homeland is desperate and urgent. There is little time to spare, because a new peril faces this vulnerable community. The camps for internally displaced Yazidis do not have access to health care and face a scarcity of medical supplies. Resources to provide psychological and emotional healing, especially for the young, are lacking.
Because Iraqi security forces do not have the capacity by themselves to control Sinjar and other rural areas in Iraq, the Yazidis are fearful of returning to their homes. The security problem is compounded by thousands of land mines and unexploded ordinances of the sort that have claimed the lives of scores who have attempted to return.
There are four main actors that can help the Yazidis return to their homeland and begin the arduous process of building their shattered lives and of healing.
Notwithstanding the Iraqi government's preoccupation with internal unrest, it must take special care to acknowledge the danger that Yazidis still face; it must stop short of nothing in the search for missing Yazidis and in the effort to repatriate them. Given that Sinjar is an integral part of Iraq, the Iraqi government must work with the U.S., the EU, and the U.N. and assume the task of coordinating all the assistance coming from outside. That central first step would begin with the placement of adequate security forces in the area.
The Iraqi Kurds have remained steadfast in their efforts to repel ISIS attacks in Iraq. Their heroism and commitment have prevented an even worse catastrophe. Despite their territorial dispute, both the Kurdistan regional government and the Iraqi government should train and arm able young Yazidis, along with state armed forces, to defend the Sinjar area.
The EU can provide financial support, offer vocational training to Yazidis and in particular train scores of Yazidi men and women to provide basic medical assistance, including psychiatric help for Yazidis who suffer from PTSD. In addition, European states should work with Iraq and the U.S. in the formation of peacekeeping troops.
Ideally, the U.N. Security Council would pass a resolution and station a multinational peacekeeping force in Sinjar. Granted, the Yazidi situation is largely an Iraqi problem, the U.S. military force in Iraq is already significant. The U.N. can at least direct special agencies, including the U.N. Refugee Agency, the U.N. Development Program, and the U.N. Children's Fund, to assist the Yazidis.
The U.S. should assume yet greater responsibility to support the return of displaced Yazidis, by providing financial aid, medical assistance, and rehabilitation expertise. Together with Iraqi security forces, the U.S. should defend the area and provide the military hardware needed for that purpose.
Such measures to be taken by the U.S. could be incorporated into the resolution that was submitted by Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R., Neb.) and Anna Eshoo (D., Calif) in March 2019 and referred to the House Committee of Foreign Affairs. According to the resolution,
(1) it should be a policy priority of the United States, working with international partners, the Government of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and local populations, to support the safe return of displaced indigenous people of the Nineveh Plain and Sinjar to their ancestral homeland;
(2) Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga should work to more fully integrate all communities, including religious minority communities to counter current and future terrorist threats; and
(3) the United States, working with international allies and partners, should coordinate efforts to provide for the safe return and future security of religious minorities in the Nineveh Plain and Sinjar.