The Islamic State has taken over the Iraqi town of Sinjar in a second straight day of advances against Kurdish forces, forcing thousands of displaced people back on the road: raising fears for minority groups that had found refuge there.
“The (Kurdish) peshmerga have withdrawn from Sinjar, Daash has entered the city,” Kurdish official Kheiri Sinjari told AFP, using the former Arabic acronym for the IS.
“They have raised their flag above government buildings,” the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party official said.
Other officials confirmed the fall of the town between the Syrian border and Mosul, which is Iraq’s second city and has been the IS hub in the country since it launched a major onslaught on June 9.
“The peshmerga have withdrawn to mountain areas and are getting reinforcements,” a high-ranking source in the peshmerga said.
Sinjar had sheltered thousands of people who were displaced by the huge offensive IS launched in the region nearly two months ago.
Among them are many of Iraq’s minorities, such as Turkmen Shi’ites who fled the city of Tal Afar, about half-way between Sinjar and Mosul, when jihadist invaded their city.
Sinjar is also a historical home for the Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking minority which follows a pre-Islamic faith derived in part from Zoroastrianism.
IS militants refer to them as devil worshippers and they have been repeatedly targeted.
“Thousands of people have already fled, some to nearby mountains still under Kurdish control and also towards Dohuk,” in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, another PUK official said.
He also said that IS fighters had destroyed the small Shi’ite shrine of Sayyeda Zeinab shortly after taking control of Sinjar.
The jihadist group, which effectively controls much of Iraq’s Sunni heartland, posted pictures on the internet of its forces patrolling the main street in Sinjar.
The push on Sinjar by IS fighters came a day after the jihadists seized control of Zumar, another town to the northeast, which had also been under peshmerga control.
The Sunni militants also seized two nearby small oilfields which a North Oil Company official said had a combined capacity of 20,000 barrels per day.
Both Sinjar and Zumar are areas that the Kurdish peshmerga moved into in June.
They filled a security vacuum left by retreating Iraq government forces, while grabbing land the Kurds had long coveted and were in dispute with Baghdad over.
The peshmerga are widely perceived as Iraq’s best organised and most efficient military force but the autonomous Kurdish region has been cash-strapped and its troops stretched.