Iraq's Yazidis Appeal For Help In Finding Their Missing Women : Parallels U.S. airstrikes helped save thousands from the Yazidi community in northern Iraq in August. But the group says the Islamic State has seized many Yazidi women and is selling them as sex slaves.
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Iraq's Yazidis Appeal For Help In Finding Their Missing Women

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Iraq's Yazidis Appeal For Help In Finding Their Missing Women

Iraq's Yazidis Appeal For Help In Finding Their Missing Women

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, have carried out a long list of atrocities. They've beheaded Western aid workers and journalists. They've threatened entire communities to convert, or die. We hear now about one small group that has suffered much at the hands of ISIS militants - the Yazidis. They say their women and girls have been stolen and trafficked for sex. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on what they want the U.S. to do about it.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: When ISIS took over large parts of Iraq, thousands of women and girls went missing. And now there are reports that they're being sold as sex slaves, sometimes changing hands multiple times. Nuri Khalaf, a representative of the Yazidi tribes in Iraq's Sinjar Province, came to NPR to express his alarm.

NURI KHALAF: (Through translator) It is real. It is real. They - our girls are being sold for $300, $500, a thousand dollars. It is real. It's happening.

KELEMEN: Khalaf explains through an interpreter that he had to spend over $9,000 to buy back his 13-year-old niece and five other women and girls after they were kidnapped by ISIS and forced to watch family members killed and abused. He doesn't have any faith in local Iraqi or Kurdish authorities, and that's why he and several other Yazidi representatives made the rounds in Washington to seek help.

KHALAF: (Through translator) Iraq is our country but America was the one who came and liberated us from Saddam's regime. So, it is the U.S.'s responsibility to save us, too.

KELEMEN: The U.S. did launch airstrikes in August to save ethnic Yazidis stranded on Mount Sinjar, but the Yazidis who came to Washington say they still need help to get their women and girls back. Sameer Babasheikh is the son of a Yazidi spiritual leader and says it's hard to say how many were kidnapped during these past chaotic months. He puts the figure at about three to four-thousand, though some have managed to escape.

SAMEER BABASHEIKH: (Through translator) In the last two days, around 20 of them were able to run away from Roqqa, in Syria.

KELEMEN: And he says now they're being reunited with their families in Iraq. Yazidis have been persecuted throughout the centuries, often derided as pagans. Writer and researcher, Hoshang Broka, a Yazidi from Syria, notes that other Islamic groups, not just ISIS, have attacked his people recently. He says U.S. policy in the region is failing. White House and State Department officials who met with the delegation say they're ready to help. State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki, points out that one of the original reasons for the U.S. military action in Iraq this year was to prevent a genocide against the small minority group.

JEN PSAKI: And we continue to closely track what their situation is, what challenges they're facing, what humanitarian assistance they need.

KELEMEN: The Yazidi delegation that came to Washington isn't only looking for humanitarian aid. They're also appealing for military training for their forces in Iraq, who they say will be part of Iraqi defense forces, but better able to protect their own villages and towns. Yazidi activist, Ali Hussein, says in the broader struggles in Iraq, small minorities, like his, feel trapped.

ALI HUSSEIN: (Through translator) The minorities in Iraq - all minorities in Iraq are lost in the fight between Shia and Sunni and the Kurds. And the proof is they have no voice in political decisions.

KELEMEN: He says some of his relatives who, like him, were living in Germany as refugees have gone back to Mount Sinjar to protect Yazidi shrines and holy places. And he says they're still surrounded by ISIS. Michelle Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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