14 Days that Saved the Yazidis from Islamic State
Rowan and Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2018, 268 pages
Book Review published on: January 4, 2019
Sinjar: 14 Days that Saved the Yazidis from Islamic State is the story of the genocide of the Yazidi people at Sinjar in northwest Iraq during early August 2014. An unfathomable act that is so hard to comprehend in this day and time, yet is the standard practice by the Islamic State (IS).
The author, Susan Shand, lays out the key players, the massacres of Yazidi villagers, the notification and pleas for help, and finally the response by President Barack Obama and U.S. forces to rescue survivors trapped on Mount Sinjar. Rather than attempt to give a forensic examination of the genocide, Shand tells the story from as many first-hand accounts and eyewitnesses as possible. Her objective is to let the reader learn about the barbaric acts by IS, and how a handful of Yazidis outside the county, with such little power and influence, were able to motivate a world superpower to act so quickly on behalf of a small obscure minority that few had ever heard of.
Organized into ten chapters, the book gives the background of the key players and events leading up to IS’s attack. It then describes how the region’s Peshmerga defenders pulled out the night before the attack, leaving the villages completely undefended and without warning. As the attacks on the villages began, surviving members phoned friends and relatives begging for help. Calls were made not only to area towns but also as far away as Virginia and Nebraska. These diaspora members mobilized and contacted U.S. State Department officials and pleaded for immediate help. They were able to have intermittent cell phone contact with survivors and provide updates that the U.S. intelligence services were slow to develop. Another key person who plead for help was a Yazidi member of the Iraqi Parliament, Vian Dakhil. Upon being notified of the massacre by a friend, she went to Parliament and implored the Iraqi government to intervene. Her less than two hundred-word highly emotional appeal soon made its way to the Oval Office. From there, a plan for intervention quickly began to develop. The diaspora members were able to assist with information that allowed U.S. forces to refine their actions and begin to attack IS strongpoints in the area around Sinjar, deliver life-saving supplies, and eventually open a path for the stranded Yazidis to escape to safety.
Sinjar is well written, laid out in a logical format, and well sourced with witnesses. It is also full of great insight about contemporary warfare and how a simple technology, such as a common cell phone app, made a significant contribution to the survival of a centuries old civilization. I highly recommend this book for all military and nonmilitary audiences, because of the insight into one of the top threats that confronts the world today. It brings to light some of the characteristics of nonstate actors and what kind of responses are needed to combat them.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. George Hodge, U.S. Army, Retired, Lansing, Kansas