Mon, Nov 16, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Officials in Iraq find mass grave

AFP, ERBIL, Iraq

A mass grave believed to hold the bodies of dozens of women executed by the Islamic State group was found on Saturday in Iraq’s Sinjar, where Kurdish forces are clearing bombs the militants left.

Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani announced the “liberation of Sinjar” on Friday, a day after the launch of a major ground operation to drive out the Islamic State that ended in not only a military victory for him, but a political one as well.

The bombs must be removed before the northern town’s mainly Yazidi residents, from a minority group who were targeted in a brutal Islamic State campaign of massacres, enslavement and rape, can return to begin rebuilding their lives.

And with the town retaken, new evidence of the militants’ horrific abuses against Yazidis is beginning to emerge.

Officials found the site of the mass grave based on information from young women enslaved by Islamic State who claimed to have witnessed the execution of dozens of Yazidi women before escaping.

Sinjar council member Miyasir Hajji said that the grave on the edge of the town, which has not yet been excavated, is thought to contain the bodies of 78 women aged from 40 to about 80.

“It seems that the [Islamic State] terrorist members only wanted young girls to enslave,” Hajji said, referring to the militants using women as sex slaves who can be bought and sold.

Sinjar area official Mahma Khalil confirmed that the mass grave had been found and estimated it held about 80 victims.

Meanwhile, Kurdish Peshmerga forces are working to clear the many bombs left by Islamic State.

“Until now, we defused 45 bombs and a car bomb,” said Sulaiman Saeed, who works in explosives disposal.

“Bombs are widespread in houses,” Saeed said, adding that some 20 tonnes of explosives were found in a bomb-making factory, while they also discovered 20 barrels of explosives.

US Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the international operation against Islamic State, told a news conference on Friday: “Now that they’ve seized Sinjar, or freed Sinjar, the next phase is to go back and clear it. That will take a while ... depending on the complexity of the minefields and obstacles that [Islamic State] left behind,” Warren said.

However, bombs are not the only obstacles to a return by residents, as many houses and shops were smashed during the fighting.

The ground operation, which began on Thursday morning, was led by Peshmerga forces and also involved Yazidi fighters, with support from US-led airstrikes.

That day, they cut Highway 47, one of the Islamic State’s main supply routes linking territory it holds in Iraq and Syria, then moved into the town on Friday.

The Islamic State overran Sinjar in August last year, forcing thousands of Yazidis to flee to a mountain overlooking the town, where they were trapped by the militants.

The UN has described the attack on the Yazidis as a possible genocide.

Aiding the Yazidis, whose faith the Islamic State considers heretical, was one of Washington’s main justifications for starting its air campaign against the militants last year.

Recapturing Sinjar gives a political boost to Barzani, who remains in power even though his mandate expired in August.

In his bid to stay in office, despite opposition from other parties, Barzani has argued that his leadership is required to steer the region as its Peshmerga forces play a significant role in battling the Islamic State.

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