The US State Department has accused ISIL of committing genocide against the Yazidi community when it retreated from several villages and cities it controlled in northern Iraq. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) fighters left dozens of mass graves in the Sinjar area, according to the State Department’s recently released annual report on religious freedom around the world.
The discovery of the graves earlier this year came as several countries said ISIL had carried out a genocide against Shia Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and other religious groups. ISIL “continued to pursue a brutal strategy of what Secretary of State (John) Kerry judged to constitute genocide against Yazidis, Christians, Shia Muslims, and other vulnerable groups in the territory it controlled,” the report said.
Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who presented the report, said that the actions of ISIL were genocidal because the group killed “Yazidis because they are Yazidi, Christians because they are Christian, Shia Muslims because they are Shia.”
Yazidi community leaders in Iraq echoed the report and told Al Jazeera that the discovery of the graves, which are thought to contain thousands of bodies, was evidence of genocide, adding to a history of mass killings in the country dating back to the era of former president, Saddam Hussein.
The Yazidis are neither Muslims nor Arabs and follow a unique faith abhorred by ISIL. Soham Hadjkhoudaid, an Iraqi Yazidi, told Al Jazeera that she was certain her husband, and his father and brothers, were buried in a recently-discovered mass grave near Sinjar. ISIL fighters seized their village two years ago and the men were captured at a checkpoint while trying to escape. Witnesses told the family they were killed and dumped in the mass grave, Hadjkhoudaid said. “We still hope they might come back to us by any chance. We always feel their presence around us. Just to visualise how they were killed is horrifying to us,” she said.
Digging up bodies can be dangerous as ISIL often plants bombs in and around the graves, according to Iraqi security officials.
“Government Workers for the Kurdish Regional Government and the central government in Baghdad are also trying to cooperate with Yazidi leaders,” Al Jazeera’s Natasha Ghoneim, reporting from the town of Sinjar, said. “Everyone involved wants to ensure everything is properly documented, so the Yazidi deaths can be officially recognised as a genocide.”
This article, with input from agencies, was originally published by Al Jazeera