Iraq's sectarian strife engulfs minority Yazidis

Yazidis call for government protection, and there are fears of reprisal attacks after religiously motivated killings.

Sectarian tensions have flared up in northern Iraq following the killings on Sunday of 23 members of the Yazidi religious minority, allegedly by Sunni Muslims. The attack near Mosul appears to have been sparked by intolerance of religious intermarriage.

Agence France-Presse reports that local police say gunmen stopped a bus carrying workers from a textile factory home to the town of Bashika on Sunday, and ordered all Christians to get off the bus. The gunmen then drove the bus to eastern Mosul and killed 23 Yazidi passengers.

A police spokesman for Ninevah province, of which Mosul is the provincial capital, said the executions were in response to the killing two weeks ago of a Yazidi woman who had recently converted to Islam.
The woman had fallen in love with a [Sunni] Muslim man, then converted to Islam and ran off with him, said police spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf. Her relatives disapproved of the match and dragged her back to Bashika, where she was stoned to death, he said.

According to AFP, a grainy video showing what appeared to be the Yazidi woman's death was distributed to Iraqi websites in recent weeks, although its authenticity couldn't be confirmed.

The New York Times reports that following the woman's death, police issued a warrant for the arrest of her killers, while Sunnis called for the gunmen to be turned over to them. In one Yazidi town near Mosul, leaflets were distributed saying: "Unless you turn them over, we will never let any Yezidi breathe the air," the Times reports.

The Washington Post writes it's not the first time that a romantic relationship between Muslims and Yazidis sparked violence. Four months ago, the Post reports, Muslims set fire to homes in another Yazidi-majority village near Mosul after a Muslim woman and Yazidi man eloped, according to Mohammed Abdul Aziz al-Jabouri, the deputy police chief in Mosul. Mr. Jabouri also said that the suspected killers in the recent incident were "probably" members of Al Qaeda in Iraq, saying they "don't know the language of negotiaion" and "they only know the language of weapons." The Post also suggests that reprisal attacks from Yazidis against Muslims may be on the horizon.

"We are expecting a strong violence against the Muslims who live in Beshiqa," [Uday Crus, a reporter for a local Yazidi newspaper] said. "Our community is tribal. That means we should take vengeance on the people who committed this terrible tragedy."

The Associated Press reports that following the killings on Sunday, angry Yazidis took to the streets in Bashika, a town that is comprised of 80 percent Yazidis, 15 percent Christians, and 5 percent Muslims. The AP says Muslims in the town locked themselves in their houses for fear of being attacked in retribution, while police set up extra checkpoints throughout the town.

The BBC reports that there is nothing to indicate that militant Sunnis were involved in the attacks against the Yazidis, and that the dispute is a local one. The BBC says the attackers shouted "God curse your devil" before killing the Yazidis, a reference to the belief among some Muslims that the culturally Kurdish Yazidis are devil-worshippers because of the angel - represented by a blue peacock - that they worship.

Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a humanitarian news service that is part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reports that the Yazidis have asked the Iraqi government for protection following Sunday's killings. Hebert Yegorova, a spokesman for the Yazidi Peace Association, said "It is unacceptable because Yazidis, in addition to being a minority in Iraq, have been discriminated against for their beliefs and are forced to isolate themselves to stay alive."

"We're desperate and with this massacre we're sure that soon there'll be more killings. Dozens of Yazidis have been individually killed over the past four years [since the US occupation of Iraq] and we have to save the remaining ones," he said. "Today, our organisation received a threatening letter saying that the massacre was just the beginning of the fate of all Yazidis."
Yazidis have long claimed discrimination in Iraq for matters such as employment and education....

The Los Angeles Times reports that Yahya Mahmood, a Sunni Arab politician in Mosul, said that the killings of the Yazidis is part of a conspiracy by insurgents "against Mosul to incite civil war." The Times also gives some background into the recent Yazidi history in Iraq, and the source of some of the sectarian tensions surrounding the sect.

Nineveh provincial Deputy Gov. Khasro Goran said last month that former Baathists loyal to Hussein and "chauvinist Arabs" pretending to act on behalf of Islamic ideals were targeting the Kurdish population in Mosul, the provincial capital. This included trying to drive a wedge among the Kurds by accusing the Yazidis of not being authentic Kurds, Goran told the Kurdish newspaper Jamawar.
Yazidis practice an ancient religion that includes elements of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. A key divine figure is the archangel Malak Taus, who is depicted as a royal blue peacock.
Under Ottoman rule, they were targeted for refusing to convert to Islam. Under Hussein's Sunni Arab-dominated regime, they were marginalized along with other non-Sunnis. Since the fall of Hussein, Yazidis say they have come under fire from both Sunni Arabs and Kurds because of their beliefs.

Finally, The Turkish Daily News reports that 215 Yazidis have been killed since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, and most of the killings "were perpetrated on religious grounds as fundamentalist and Islamist groups see [Yazidis] as infidels who either have to convert or be killed."

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