yazidi
Iraqi Yazidis perform a traditional dance outside Lalish templeAFP

A militia of Iraqi Yazidis has killed at least 22 Isis (known as Islamic State) militants in the northern town of Sinjar, according to reports.

The contingent, named Malik al-Tawus or 'King Peacock' after the mythical figure worshipped by the ancient religious minority, clashed with IS in the area west of the rebel-held city of Mosul.

"Five Islamic State armoured vehicles were also burnt in the same operation," militia spokesman Khudida al-Haskani told Iraqi site Alsumaria news.

Malik al-Tawus, the self-defence group, was established in 2007 to protect the Yazidi community in Iraq against attacks by Islamists.

The Yazidi religion is a syncretic combination of Zoroastrianism with Sufi Islam, dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. They believe that God and seven angels protect the world and one of these angels, named Malak Tawus and believed to be embodied by a peacock on Earth, was thrown out of paradise for refusing to bow to Adam.

Muslims view the figure as a "fallen angel" and consider Yazidis to be devil-worshippers and apostates.

A recent video released by IS showed dozens of captured members of the Yazidi sect converting to Islam.

Sunni militants stormed into villages in north Iraq, forcing residents to flee into the neighbouring Kurdistan region. Those who stayed were given a simple option: convert to Islam or die.

Hundreds of Yazidis were shot dead and women and children buried alive. Many women were taken away as slaves and raped.