Dark shadows driven from Mount Sinjar

Exhaustion was etched on their faces, and there was little celebration. For them, the war goes on.

Florian Neuhof

Published: Updated:

Amid the horror of Paris and Beirut attacks, it was easy to forget that ISIS had just suffered a crushing defeat on the battlefield. The very day that terrorists rampaged in the streets of Paris, a broad coalition of Kurdish forces celebrated victory in Sinjar, a town in northern Iraq that had been largely under ISIS control for over a year.

On November 12, after an intense aerial bombardment by the US-led coalition, the Kurds swept into the city and the surrounding plains, sending the jihadists packing and cutting off the main supply route between Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.

The next day, it was all over. Kurds were exuberant in victory, and proud to have demonstrated once again that they are the Islamic State's most effective opponents. But their boisterous celebrations – complete with celebratory salvos of gunfire that rang out over devastated Sinjar – did not run as deep as the joy and relief felt by the Yazidis, who had suffered so much when ISIS attacked the area in August last year.

A religious minority that has been home in the area for hundreds of years, the Yazidis are considered by ISIS as devil worshippers, and fair game in a campaign of systematic rape and mass murder. Hundreds of Yazidis were butchered in cold blood, and thousands forced into sexual slavery. Hundreds of thousands fled their homes, and now live in refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Some of them chose to stay on Mount Sinjar, a rugged plateau that rises behind the town, which they scaled to escape the ISIS onslaught. As dusk settled over the scattered clusters of tents on the mountain on November 13, I spoke to two women, who stood in front of their tents with a gaggle of children. Their elation was palpable; the dark shadow that had hung over the mountain for so long had finally been dispelled, and they flashed broad smiles as they spoke about returning to their houses.

The Yazidis had also taken part in the offensive to retake Sinjar, having joined various Kurdish units or fought in independent volunteer outfits. A small group of them relaxed in a shisha shack on the other side of the mountain after the battle, smoking and drinking beer. Exhaustion was etched on their faces, and there was little celebration. For them, the war goes on.