SINJAR, Iraq — They piled their trucks high with television sets, refrigerators, generators, carpets and plastic chairs.
Stripping the homes of their Arab neighbors, whom they accuse of supporting the Islamic State, Yazidi residents of the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, recaptured from the Sunni extremists last week, said it is little compensation for what they have lost. Their men have been killed, their women kidnapped, their homes destroyed. Besides, they said, the Arab families have no use for the furniture and appliances — they are not coming home.
Across Iraq, the Islamic State’s rampage has torn apart communities and sown distrust. It has broken down traditional borders and stoked sectarian and ethnic tensions. It has turned village against village.
Sinjar was reduced to little more than rubble after a heavy air campaign and large-scale assault by Kurdish forces drove the Islamic State fighters out of town. Residents say their community is beyond repair — they have suffered too much.
Two mass graves have been discovered near the town since it was secured, one to the east and another to the west. They have yet to be excavated, but based on witness testimony, one is thought to contain about 24 bodies and the other 76, said Sinjar’s mayor, Mahma Khalil.
Ismail Mirza, 40, who fled on foot last year with his wife and five children up the slopes of Mount Sinjar, says he witnessed the massacre through binoculars from the mountainside after fleeing. The rugged slopes provide a clear view of the villages and town below.
Gunmen drove two small trucks packed with people to the Arab village of Khazalkand, before lining them up and shooting them, he said. Then, a second time, there were three trucks. The bodies were later covered with earth by bulldozers. Security officials said they found the spot Saturday, but it has not been excavated.
“It was our neighbors who did it,” said Mirza. “When Islamic State attacked us, they joined them and helped them. We will never be able to live side by side again.”
Hundreds of thousands of minority Yazidis were displaced when the Islamic State took Sinjar and the surrounding area last year. Tens of thousands fled to Mount Sinjar, which rises majestically behind the town.
Mirza’s family is still camped there, lucky enough to have found a place where there was a water supply.
Rusty carcasses of abandoned vehicles line a road that snakes up the mountain. Fleeing families had ditched their cars as the road became jammed. Scraps of clothes discarded in the panic still dot the rocky slopes.
The day after Sinjar was cleared in a two-day offensive last week, a steady stream of trucks and vehicles climbed from the town up the mountainside, this time carrying bounty from Arab homes.
“It’s our right. They’ve taken everything we had,” said Azyad Hassan Ali, 20, as he drove a packed pickup Saturday, a glass-fronted Pepsi refrigerator taken from a shop teetering in the back. “They’ve destroyed our houses, killed our men, sold our women, and taken our children and taught them how to fight.”
Local authorities estimate that at least 2,500 Yazidis remain in Islamic State captivity and that about 1,000 men were executed as the town fell in August 2014 in what was described by President Obama as an act of genocide.
Before the Islamic State takeover, Sinjar’s roughly 80,000 residents were a mix of Sunni Arabs, Sunni Kurds and members of the Yazidi sect, most of whom identify ethnically as Kurdish.
Residents vow that will change.
“Sinjar is going to be a hundred percent Kurdish,” said Jassim Hassan Qassim, a 31-year-old Yazidi squeezed into the back of Ali’s truck. “My brother and 58 members of my family are missing. How can anyone expect me not to kill Arabs who come back?”
Reconciliation is emerging as a knotty problem as areas in Iraq are cleared of Islamic State militants. Some deals have been brokered by the paying of “blood money” to compensate for lost lives. But in areas of mixed religious sects, Sunni leaders have complained that there is an effort to keep them out forever.
Qassim Shesho, who heads a militia of thousands of Yazidi fighters, said families who did not assist the Islamic State should be allowed back to the area.
“But to be honest, 90 percent of them were friends with Islamic State and joined them,” he said.
Further complicating the future of Sinjar is political wrangling between various Kurdish factions that have fought here. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, designated a terrorist group by the United States, and its sister organization from Syria, the YPG, first opened a safe route from Mount Sinjar through Syria to Iraq’s Kurdish region — allowing desperate Yazidis stranded on the mountaintop to flee.
“To be honest, yes, we are concerned about the future of Sinjar because of this, and we say to these groups, ‘Go and liberate your own lands,’ ” said Shesho, whose local militia is now supported by the Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional government, led by Massoud Barzani.
However, many Yazidis say that Barzani’s government betrayed them, its forces leaving Sinjar last year without much of a fight.
“They abandoned us,” said Ali, whose family has largely left for Germany. He described the newly installed mayor from Barzani’s party as a “puppet” they had no part in choosing.
Kawar Shingali, 23, fought in the battle with a separate Yazidi militia not aligned with Barzani’s government.
“If we had relied only on them, the rest of the Yazidis would have died on the mountain,” he said. “Luckily, the YPG and the PKK came to help us.”
At times, tensions have run high, with the PKK and government forces blocking each other’s supply lines into town.
“Barzani’s media portray us as occupiers, but we are not occupiers — we are saviors,” said Agid Kalari, the commander of PKK forces in Sinjar. The group says it has lost almost 200 men here. A shrine on the mountain’s northern side commemorates their sacrifice.
“We will stay as long as the Yazidi people want us here,” he said.
Many Yazidis say they simply want to be given the means to govern and protect themselves.
But first, there has to be a town to go back to. Seemingly every house in Sinjar is damaged, and many have been flattened by airstrikes and explosions. Mirza, who had visited the day after it was retaken, found his house destroyed by an airstrike.
“I stood and cried a little,” he said. He wonders if his town will ever be habitable again. “It’s like you’ve taken the petals off a flower,” he said, “and all you are left with is a stalk.”