Dubai: Until August 14 this year the word Yazidi, a reference to the followers of an ancient religious group, was hardly heard of in Iraq, although most Iraqis have started to add their tribal and sectarian backgrounds to their identities after the collapse of Saddam Hussain's regime.

Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds in addition to Christians started to highlight their issues through parties and religious entities after the fall of Saddam, but Yazidis, whose population is around 600,000 of the 26 million Iraqis, remained out of the game because their leaders felt they had very little chance of being heard in the troubled country.

On that day in August, four suicide attacks ripped the peace of two Yazidi villages killing more than 500 civilians and injuring 1,000, (credible news reports mentioned half the previous figures, but community leaders told Gulf News the death toll had increased in the following days).

The magnitude of the crime has, however, highlighted the issues of the forgotten Yazidis and alerted them to their fragile security.

Ethnic cleansing

In a telephone interview from her refuge in Germany, Princess Aruba Esmail Bik, the daughter of the popular Yazidi leader, Esmail Bik, told Gulf News Yazidis have lived in the Sinjar province, a mountainous area in the north west of Iraq for around 14 centuries.

They have been subjected to 72 waves of ethnic and religious cleansing over their history, but the recent attacks were the worst. She said Yazidis had seriously started planning their own militia to protect their villages and towns.

"As a leader to my community, I feel a special Yazidi militia will be the right answer to the worries of thousands of innocent Yazidis in Iraq," she said

Like many Iraqis, she said Yazidis, who embrace an ancient Mesopotamian religion, thought the removal of Saddam Hussain's regime would put an end to the tragic life they had experienced under the tyrant regime, but that proved wrong.

"A few months after the invasion the Yazidis' hopes evaporated as they realised that they had became a target of sectarian intolerance that prevailed in the new Iraq," she said.

The security forces of the old regime, which fought a merciless war against Kurds in northern Iraq, had targeted Yazidis more than once for being considered a security threat. After Saddam, Yazidis were targeted by different groups and suffered from ethnic cleansing aimed at uprooting them from their homes and villages.

Clear evidence

Thousands of Yazidis fled the country and the August 14 attacks provided clear evidence of the critical security conditions the community is facing," said Princess Aruba.

She fled Iraq in 2001 and has not returned to her home since then but she is still in contact with the community inside Iraq and in exile.

She said the Tal Azir and Qahataniya explosions, the deadliest in the history of the war in the country since the 2003 invasion, has opened the eyes of Yazidis about the deficit in their representation in the federal government and in Parliament.

"Yazidis need to live in peace and enjoy the security they deserve. They are a very peaceful community and had never been involved in a conflict with other communities living in the country," she said.

"We have no minister or a representative in the federal parliament. The government has to check our case seriously and look into solutions to our security concerns," he said.

Yazidis are considered infidels by both Christians and Muslims.