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After Over A Year Of Occupation, Sinjar Is Taken Back From ISIS

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the devastating attacks in Paris. But the group suffered a major defeat this past week in Iraq. Kurdish forces took back the city of Sinjar in the northern part of the country. ISIS had been controlling that area for over a year, decimating the religious minority population of Yazidis who live there. Ben Kesling reported on the story for The Wall Street Journal. He joins us now on the line from Sinjar. Thanks so much for being with us, Ben.

BEN KESLING: Thank you.

MARTIN: What's it like in the city, in that area? What's the mood? What's the atmosphere?

KESLING: Well, we left Sinjar a little while ago. But we're still in the area. When we were - when we were last in Sinjar, it was - it was eerie how few people there were, how few civilians there were. It was all Peshmerga fighters, Yazidis mostly and different groups that were aligned with the Peshmerga, who had moved into the city. The local mayor, the district mayor of Sinjar told us that he was not expecting any humanitarian crisis because there were no civilians left in the city. So as soon as - as soon as the Peshmerga liberated the town, all the people you found were people in uniform.

MARTIN: So are the locals expected to come back?

KESLING: That's one of the - one of the things that ISIS's influence in that town has done is sort of unleash or uncorked a number of ethnic - ethnic hatreds that weren't necessarily there before, before they acted as the catalyst for it. When they went into town, they sort of enabled the - some of the Sunnis who stayed behind and didn't flee to loot and pillage some of their Yazidi neighbors' properties. And that in turn caused the Yazidis to now be very upset with the Sunnis going back in. And these groups - in Sinjar, they used to live together with very little - very little rancor - Arabs, Kurds, Yazidis, Muslims, Christians. And now it seems like that unity has been destroyed.

MARTIN: Ben, there are reports of a mass grave that was uncovered east of Sinjar. Have you heard anything about this? What can you tell us?

KESLING: Yes, there was a - there was a grave uncovered. There were tens of mostly older Yazidi women - some Yazidi men - who were uncovered in that grave, according to Peshmerga sources. And there are a few other graves in the area that have been rumored. But Peshmerga have not been able to confirm them because they're still in areas that they don't want to go into because they're not sure about Islamic State booby traps that have been left in the various little tiny villages that make up the outskirts of Sinjar city.

MARTIN: Ben Kesling is a reporter with The Wall Street Journal. He is talking with us on the line from near the area of Sinjar, where Kurdish forces recently retook that city from ISIS. Thanks so much for talking with us, Ben.

KESLING: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.