Islamic State’s purge of minorities re-draws the map of Iraq

July 24, 2014
(Iraqi refugees, who fled from the violence in Mosul, walk during sunset inside the Khazer refugee camp on the outskirts of Arbil, in Iraq's Kurdistan region, June 27, 2014. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most influential Shi'ite cleric in Iraq, called on the country's leaders on Friday to choose a prime minister within the next four days, a dramatic political intervention that could hasten the end of Nuri al-Maliki's eight year rule. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah )

(Iraqi refugees, who fled from the violence in Mosul, walk during sunset inside the Khazer refugee camp on the outskirts of Arbil, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, June 27, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah )

A new map is being drawn across the plains of northern Iraq as Sunni militants of the Islamic State purge the rural landscape of religious and ethnic minorities that have co-existed for hundreds of years.

More than half a million people have been displaced across Iraq since June, when the north’s biggest city, Mosul, fell to Sunni insurgents who have have harried Shi’ite Turkmen and Shabaks, Yezidis and Christians.

Even before the fall of Mosul, Yezidis, who follow an ancient monotheistic religion with elements of nature worship and are branded devil worshippers by the hardline Islamists, hardly dared set foot in the city, which has been a nerve centre for the Sunni insurgency since 2003.

Now the Islamic State’s cleansing campaign has rid farmland and villages in the surrounding Nineveh province and beyond of longtime minority inhabitants, leaving the country’s north segregated along clear sectarian and ethnic lines.

Much of the north is now divided between the Islamic State and the Kurds, who have expanded their autonomous region by as much as 40 percent as the central government’s presence has crumbled.

Minorities are being forced to choose which part of Iraq they belong to, hastening the country’s de-facto partition and transforming its demography, perhaps irreversibly.

For many Shi’ites – the majority in Iraq overall but outnumbered by Sunnis in the north – the obvious refuge is south, where their sect predominates.

“We want to get out of Kurdistan and Sunnistan, and go to Shi’istan,” said a man from the city of Tal Afar, 70 kilometres (44 miles) west of Mosul, which was overrun by insurgents last month, driving out Shi’ite Turkmen like him en masse.

Read the full story by Isabel Coles here.

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