Amerli passes 70 days under siege from IS

Youth groups and other activists have staged protests in Baghdad to attract international attention to the suffering of Amerli’s residents, under siege by the Islamic State for 70 days now.

al-monitor Iraqi security forces and Turkmen Shiite fighters hold a position in Amerli, which has been completely surrounded by Islamic State militants for weeks, Aug. 4, 2014. Photo by ALI AL-BAYATI/AFP/Getty Images.

Topics covered

turkmen, sectarian conflict in iraq, islamic state, iraqi central government

Aug 28, 2014

On Aug. 21, banners were raised in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, pleading for the city of Amerli to be saved from the Islamic State (IS) blockade that has been ongoing for the past 70 days. The youths, activists and intellectuals staged a two-day demonstration to attract the attention of the international community and the Iraqi government to the suffering of the region to the north of Baghdad. Around 20,000 Iraqis from the Turkmen Shiite minority live in Amerli, where the IS blockade affects 36 surrounding villages.

One grim female protester raised a banner reading, “Did the military experts fail to put plans to free our cities where barbarian mobs are wreaking havoc?”

The UN warned that if the IS militants enter the Shiite regions, they will massacre the inhabitants. However, the states that helped the Yazidi minority in Sinjar escape the terror organization have turned a deaf ear to the warnings.

The voice of poet Ahmad Mohammad Fares, who lives in Amerli, sounded tired while he talked about the blockade and the suffering of the people there. Fares told Al-Monitor, “The blockade has drained us. Mortars are constantly falling over the city, and the food is running out.”

On Aug. 25, Fares and his fellow journalists and writers in Baghdad organized sit-ins and urged newspapers to stop publishing out of solidarity and as part of a public campaign to pressure the government and international community to lift the siege in Amerli. Fares noted, “Three women died while giving birth because there were no doctors in the only hospital in the region. The children are also parched due to lack of water.”

Shiite militias fighting alongside the government said that they are close to the region and determined to free it soon. Meanwhile, the government said it was dropping food supplies and arms by aircraft. But retired Brig. Gen. Khaled Mahmoud, who was fighting alongside the youth carrying arms to defend their city, said, “The aid supplies that arrived to the city were scarce.”

He told Al-Monitor, “Everybody is waiting for the army, and the situation is bad,” adding, “The [Shiite militias] might have arrived at the outskirts of the region, but nobody has entered yet.”

Pictures spread of young men carrying light arms and wearing green bandanas on their heads to indicate their Shiism, as well as armed children and old women. The photos awakened deep sympathy in the hearts of Iraqis, who described Amerli as the “Stalingrad of Iraq.”

Fares said, “Amerli’s citizens no longer expect anything from the Shiite National Alliance in the parliament. It is as if we do not belong to this alliance. Under these circumstances, two men must share one small piece of cheese. We are drinking from wells we had covered in the past. Diseases have started to spread and there are no treatments available around here.”

In the region under siege, the situation is made even more dramatic by IS’ increasing attempts to enter it. Marwan al-Biyati, who recently married and was fighting as part of the committees formed to defend the region, told Al-Monitor by telephone that he made a deal with his wife to kill her if IS enters Amerli.

“I will not allow these criminals to sell or rape my wife. I’d rather kill her and fight for the city until my last breath,” he said.

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