U.S. weighs ‘genocide’ label for IS in Iraq — and more than a word may be at stake

  • Written by:

Michael Isikoff
Chief Investigative Correspondent
A Yazidi girl, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, rests at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing last year. (Photo: Youssef Boudlal/Reuters)
The Obama administration is moving to designate the Islamic State’s murderous attacks on the Yazidi in Iraq an act of “genocide,” an extremely rare move intended to ratchet up international pressure against the terror organization, administration officials tell Yahoo News.

The action, which sources say could be announced by Secretary of State John Kerry in the next few weeks, has been pushed by top officials at the human rights and religious freedom offices at the State Department.

It has also been prodded by a report to be released today by the U.S. Holocaust Museum. The report documents horrific mass killings and sexual slavery targeting the small Yazidi community, as well as crimes against other ethnic minorities, by IS forces who swept through Northern Iraq last year.

“What we found is there was a deliberate attempt by the forces of the Islamic State to not only ethnically cleanse the Yazidi population [forcibly remove them from their lands] but to exterminate them,” said Cameron Hudson, the director of the museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide, which commissioned the report.

“And as they are continuing to hold, kidnap and enslave the [Yazidi ] women and children, this a crime that is still being committed,” he said.

The move to invoke the powerfully evocative “genocide” label comes amid continuing internal discussions among senior officials at the White House, the State Department and other agencies about the legal implications of such a statement. A loosely worded 1948 treaty calls on signatory nations, including the United States, to take unspecified actions to “prevent and to punish” the “odious scourge” of genocide.

But officials cautioned that there were still issues to iron out before committing the U.S. to a legal designation that some may argue requires an adjustment to U.S. military strategy. That strategy is currently designed, in President Obama’s formulation, to “ultimately destroy” the Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL) — a goal that one administration supporter, Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, acknowledged this week could take between 15 and 20 years absent intervention by ground troops from neighboring countries.

Displaced Yazidi walk toward the Syrian border near the town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate. (Photo: Rodi Said/Reuters)

The Yazidi — an ancient population of about 500,000 who practice a religion that incorporates elements of Christianity and Islam —first attracted international attention over a year ago as Islamic State forces besieged thousands of refugees who had fled to Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq, trapping them without food or water.

Their plight prompted President Obama to launch initial airstrikes in what he described then as a “humanitarian” effort to save the lives of innocent civilians.

What especially alarmed officials — and set IS’ conduct apart from other atrocities by IS against Christians and other minorities — is that the terror group openly declared its intention to wipe out the Yazidi.

In its English language magazine Dabiq, IS denounced the Yazidi as devil worshipers and exhorted followers to kill male Yazidi (“sit in wait for them at every place of ambush”) and enslave the women.