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A young Yezidi girl carries her sister in a displaced persons camp in Dohuk, Iraq.

A young Yezidi girl carries her sister in a displaced persons camp in Dohuk, Iraq. —Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Protecting Civilians In the Fight Against the Islamic State

In October 2016, a coalition of forces launched an offensive to drive the Islamic State (IS), a perpetrator of genocide and a terrorist group, from Mosul and surrounding areas in Ninewa, in northern Iraq.

While defeating IS would remove a formidable threat, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide warned that religious minorities and other civilians remain at risk now and could face further atrocities in the future.

Long-standing territorial disputes, sectarian tensions existing prior to the Islamic State, and the large number of armed militias create a high risk for successor extremist groups, revenge killings against Sunni Arabs, and continued violence against religious and ethnic minorities by a weakened Islamic State.

In its report, "Communities At Risk: Protecting Civilians in the Fight Against the Islamic State," the Simon-Skjodt Center lays out strategies to protect targeted groups and counter the political climate and lack of stability that allowed IS to flourish.

Download Oct. 2016 Report

The Museum documented IS’ path of destruction through Ninewa and its crimes against Christian, Yezidi, Turkmen, Shabak, Sabaean-Mandaean, and Kaka’i minority populations in northern Iraq between June and August 2014 in its 2015 report  "Our Generation Is Gone: The Islamic State’s Targeting of Iraqi Minorities in Ninewa."

In March 2016, the US government determined that IS perpetrated genocide and crimes against humanity against minorities in northern Iraq.

Download Nov. 2015 Report

Fear

The Islamic State Sows Terror

As IS has rampaged through northern Iraq, it has capitalized on fear. Fear of attack, fear of kidnapping, fear of death—all have terrorized residents of the region. Fear drove people from their homes and helped IS control the areas it occupies.

Displaced Iraqis wait to receive food at a camp in Erbil. —Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Cultivating Fear
A Devastating Choice
“I Feel a Great Sense of Fear”
A Crisis in Plain Sight
So Near, So Far

Flight

Forced from Their Homes

Many of the people targeted by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) had lived in the same areas all their lives; in many cases, their families had been there for centuries. Overnight, they were driven from their homes and villages by IS, forced to flee their businesses, their houses of worship, their families and friends, the social fabric of their lives. Clutching only their most essential possessions, clinging to families that, for some, had been splintered by kidnappings and killings, the fleeing Iraqis have moved from place to place in search of safe haven.

A group of displaced Iraqis at a camp near Erbil. —Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

On the Run
Strong in Her Faith
“I Thought We Would Die on That Mountain.”
“We Hope They Are Alive.”

Devastation

Communities—and People—Are Gone

The plight of the Iraqi minorities was a tragedy on multiple levels. In at least one case, hundreds of residents of a village were killed by fighters of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). But in many other cases, people were driven from their homes, their businesses, their friends, and their houses of worship and forced to begin again. In effect, their cultures and communities were uprooted.

A Sunni man prays as the sun sets over a displaced-persons camp outside Erbil. —Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Living in Fear
A Massacre in Ninewa
“We Don’t Know Where They Are.”
“They Put Them in Cars and Drove Away”
“Today Our People Live in Despair”

Displacement

Clinging to Identity

Practically overnight, comfortable lives came to an end, torn irrevocably. Uprooted from their homes, businesses, and communities, the people of northern Iraq have found themselves living in horrible, strange conditions, trying to make the best of a world that has been changed by mass violence.

An elderly Yezidi woman tends to a number of young children beside the half-constructed building in which they live in Duhok. —Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Making a New Life
Life in the Camps
“We Want to Return to Our Homes"
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