Islamic State Militants Posed as Kurdish Troops
Terrorists wore YPG uniforms
Sulaiman Ismael and his wife Kalthom Mohammad are Kurdish Shia Muslims and the parents of nine kids. They lived in the village of Rofaia near Mosul until Islamic State’s advance across northern Iraq forced them to flee—twice.
Ismael and his kin trudged for countless miles across the unforgiving desert, harried by Islamist marauders posing as friendly fighters.
When Islamic State’s Sunni militants captured Mosul in June, they also occupied nearby Rofaia. At first, Ismael’s Arab neighbors told him to stay. There was nothing to fear, they said. But soon the militants’ brutal agenda became clear—in communities they control, they’ve told all non-Sunnis to pay, convert or die.
Ismael’s neighbors changed their minds. They urged Ismael to escape.
The family decided to flee to the town of Sinjar, which at the time was still under the control of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Ismael and his wife and kids traveled with Ismael’s brother Idrees and Idrees’ family, along with a few other relatives.
They stayed in Sinjar for 15 days. Then Islamic State attacked Sinjar, too.
Ismael and kin fled again, this time following Sinjar’s Yezidi residents up nearby Mount Sinjar.
The mountain sheltered them … but posed dangers of its own. For eight days Ismael’s family had no food or water. Then they got lucky and found a small farm growing tomatoes and cucumbers.
“When we were on Sinjar mountain, we received a phone call from our neighbors,” Mohammad said. One neighbor told them that another one of their neighbors, a man named Abomozhar, had looted their home. “[He] took everything from our house—about 250 tons of wheat, 100 sheep and our car—and sold them in Mosul.”
Mohammad said she hopes that people like Abomozhar—Arabs who betrayed their Kurdish neighbors by collaborating with militants or robbing Kurdish homes—get expelled when the Peshmerga liberate Kurdish lands.
Early in the morning on the family’s ninth day on Mount Sinjar, planes flew overhead and dropped food. After sunrise, Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters arrived at the mountain and told the refugees that the road was clear for them to go to Rojava, the Kurdish region of Syria.
Ismael and his wife and kids and relatives walked for miles.
Idrees’s wife, exhausted from walking under the ruthless summer sun, had to stop to rest. As they rested, some people approached them in an SUV. “My brother asked them to take his wife with them because if they didn’t, she may die,” Ismael recalled.
Instead, the trucks’ occupants rolled down the tinted windows and opened fire with guns, killing Idrees and wounding a cousin and a woman standing nearby. Ismael said the men in the car were wearing the outfits typical of the YPG.
When the other refugees heard the gunshots, they ran.
They left behind the dead and wounded, including Idrees’ exhausted wife. After two more hours of walking, the group reached a YPG checkpoint. Ismael approached the fighters and demanded to know why their people had killed his brother on a road the YPG had said was clear.
The fighters told Ismael that the gunmen weren’t YPG, but were in fact Islamic State militants disguised as YPG fighters. The Kurdish troops assured Ismael that they were trying to track down and kill the imposters.
Ismael led the survivors, including his brother’s four children, all the way to Syria—a 25-hour journey on foot. There, the YPG asked them where they wanted to go. Ismael opted for a hospital in a village in Hasakah province. As fate would have it, he saw Idrees’ body there. The Kurdish fighters had found it on the roadside.
The YPG asked Ismael to either take his brother’s body with him or let them bury it in Syria.
Ismael told them he couldn’t possibly take Idrees’ remains. The YPG tried to comfort him, assuring him that his brother was a martyr for Kurdistan.
It’s possible at least one of Ismael’s relatives never made it out of Iraq. “We don’t know what happened to my brother’s wife after we left her,” Ismael said.