McClatchy reports: The mortars rained down for 12 hours, an eternity for members of the Hassan family who huddled together in a single room, the children screaming and the adults praying to die in the shelling rather than be slaughtered by the Islamic State militants who rampaged into the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar two weeks ago.
Unlike many of their neighbors, the Hassans survived, all 19 of them, and the next day they fled their hometown on the same road they’d used in two previous displacements — once when U.S. forces battled Sunni Muslim extremists in 2004, and again in 2005 during sectarian pogroms. But after a harrowing, five-day journey to this southern Shiite holy city, the family has given up on Tal Afar.
Qassim Hassan, 53, the patriarch of this clan of Shiite Muslim Turkmen, a minority that dates back to the 7th Century, said there hasn’t been a peaceful year since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. This third narrow escape will be their last, he declared, ending more than 200 years of his family’s presence in Tal Afar, which once was considered a showpiece of U.S. counterinsurgency successes.
“We’re desperate now,” Hassan said. “We can no longer live there because we are the targets every time, and the government cannot protect us. We’re starting from zero here. We’re building a new life.”
The sectarian cleansing of Tal Afar is now complete, according to accounts from the city that say not a single Shiite family remains. The Islamic State, an al Qaida splinter group that’s captured roughly a third of Iraq, views Shiites as heretics deserving of death.
Not that the Sunnis who stayed behind fared much better — witnesses reached by phone say the extremists demanded two women from each remaining tribe. Leaders refused and at least eight people were killed in a single night of clashes last week, creating another wave of fleeing families. [Continue reading…]