Sinjar After ISIS

What the Peshmerga's All-Female Unit Can Do

Sun force soldiers standing with civilians. Christine Balling

When I first met Captain Khatoon Ali Krdr, at a peshmerga military base near Dohuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan, last June, her all-female Yazidi peshmerga unit, the Hezi Roj, or “Sun Force,” was weeks away from graduating from its first basic infantry training course, which involved military discipline, physical conditioning, and the handling of weaponry such as selective-fire rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Khatoon had formed the Sun Force, the only all-female, all-Yazidi unit in the Kurdish peshmerga, in response to the horrors that the Islamic State (or ISIS) had inflicted on Sinjar, a majority-Yazidi district of Iraqi Kurdistan. In August 2014, ISIS had slaughtered over 5,000 Yazidi men in the district. And in Snuny, a town at the base of Mount Sinjar, where the Sun Force is currently deployed, ISIS had killed unknown numbers of Yazidi residents, dumping their bodies into mass graves before the peshmerga retook the town in 2015.

When I returned to Iraq seven months later, I met the Sun Force in Snuny, which is close to the Syrian border. The road there from Dohuk is broken up by peshmerga checkpoints. As we drove, I saw Syrian oil wells, whose smooth, rhythmic motions made it hard for me to believe that the ravaged city of Aleppo lay but a few hundred miles beyond. I also saw an abandoned village along the road where fresh mounds of dirt lay in the graveyard—the only sign that people still lived there. In Snuny, fewer than ten percent of the original population of approximately 150,000 have returned. Although the peshmerga provides security and has restored electricity by bringing in power generators, devastation is everywhere. The police station is a pile of rubble. A large school funded by the Kurdistan Regional Government—newly built when ISIS destroyed it—is but a pile of rubble and scattered desks. And what remains of the local clinic could be mistaken for an abandoned building, even though it is still operational, with a handful of doctors and nurses seeing hundreds

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