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US withdrawal from Syria poses threat to minorities: rights group

IS overran large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014 [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 January, 2019

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The Netherlands-based Free Yezidi Foundation said a potential reemergence of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq poses an "existential threat to minorities".

A Yazidi rights group called on the United States to delay its withdrawal of troops from Syria, warning the move risks putting religious minorities in danger, as US officials suggested the withdrawal is conditional.

The Netherlands-based Free Yezidi Foundation said a potential reemergence of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq poses an "existential threat to minorities" such as the Yazidis, a statement by the group released on Friday said. 

"Any premature withdrawal of the United States forces from Syria not only endangers religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, it vastly increases the likelihood of a resurgent Daesh militant power," the Free Yezidi Foundation said, using the Arabic acronym for the militant group.

"This is an existential threat to minorities like the Yazidis,” the group warned.

But US President Donald Trump's national security adviser said Sunday that conditions such as guarantees on the safety of Kurdish allies must be met before American troops are withdrawn from Syria.

John Bolton told journalists travelling with him on a trip to Israel that the United States wanted a guarantee from Turkey that Kurds in Syria would be protected, the US news outlet said.

Trump's announcement on December 19 that the US would immediately withdraw its troops from Syria led to concerns among allies, and he has since spoken of "slowly" sending troops home "over a period of time".

"There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal," said Bolton, who travels to Turkey after Israel, according to NBC News.

"Timetables or the timing of the withdrawal occurs as a result of the fulfilment of the conditions and the establishment of the circumstances that we want to see. And once that's done, then you talk about a timetable."

Kurdish-led forces control a large swathe of Syria's north and northeast, some of it seized from the Islamic State group.

Despite backing from the US-led coalition and success in pushing back IS, Kurdish-led forces have at times incurred heavy losses.

A US withdrawal could leave them exposed to an attack by neighbouring Turkey and its Syrian proxies.

The Kurds have invited Damascus to send troops into some of the territory it controls, to act as a bulwark against pro-Turkish forces.

Bolton also said Sunday all 2,000 US forces may not be withdrawn.

IS captured large parts of northern Iraq and eastern Syria in 2014, during a lightning campaign that saw Iraqi troops flee south leaving civilians defenceless to the militants. 

IS kidnapped 7,000 Yazidi women and girls and held them as sex slaves during the campaign.

More than 3,000 Yazidi were murdered, mostly men and the elderly, in the days after IS took over areas around Sinjar, while children were forced into military conscription.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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