Residents can't return to Sinjar if there is no strong government capable of protecting civilians
A recent agreement between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government regarding the region of Sinjar in northwestern Iraq has profound ramifications for not only the people and groups in Sinjar currently, but displaced people who fled ISIS, the Yazidi community, tribes and regional politics. The agreement was made on October 9 and our researchers at MECRA have spent the last month interviewing locals and discussing the development with people on all sides. There have been protests agains the agreement and there have also been airstrikes by Turkey in the area.
The following interviews were conducted by our researcher in Iraq.
Date: 11th October, 2020
Time: 08:34 PM Local time
IRAQI soldier from Sinjar ( Sunni Tribe), 29:
The protests that took place recently in Sinjar consisted of 75% PKK supporters, and the remaining 25% were people opposed to the return of the Peshmerga because they see the latter as responsible for the murders, rapes, displacement and destruction of properties which took place at the hands of ISIS. They also complain that the KDP (Kurdish Democratic Party – the ruling party of the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq) don’t give local people the authority to effectively control and manage their areas.
This agreement will be like all previous agreements – signed but not implemented. Sinjar is not an internal issue - it is regional and international, with many countries playing on it. Also, the PKK in Sinjar works for the Iraqi government and is allied with it. It doesn't make sense after five years working together to now give up on them. The PKK is in Sinjar not because of Iraqi permission or for Iraq but rather for Iran and its militias (ie in cooperation with the Hashd Al-Shaabi committee – ed.) From the other side, Turkey is bombing Sinjar from time to time against PKK. So the Sinjar case is not only KRG and Baghdad. Prime Minister Kadhimi is not able to implement this decision. We the people of Sinjar would be happy if the Federal Police were to be deployed up to Sinjar mountain and all the way to the border (with Syria), and that Yazidi and Arab people could return to their homes. Most the people speaking about Sinjar are not from Sinjar city, but are rather from the villages around Sinjar.
Yazidi student (Activist) from Sinjar, 24 year old:
Always, we hear there will be revenge after Yazidi people go back to their homes - against Arabs who did what they did to them in 2014. But I don't think any Yazidi will hold a gun if there is no political decision behind this.
The Hashd Al-Shaabi committee in Sinjar had a meeting with Yazidi Sheikhs (Yazidi Tribal leaders) in Sinjar - they also refuse the return of the Peshmerga to the area.
But , it all very much depends on the specific area in which people live. The majority of those that live in the Sinjar mountain area want Iraqi government control, and the deployment of third forces not from the area, such as the Golden Division (Counter Terror Service) or the Federal Police. Also those who live under Kurdish authority are willing for the Peshmerga to return to their area.
Abdull-Karim Jarahall Al-Jarba, one of the leaders of the Al-Shammar tribe, and a Major General of the ‘Peninsular Hawks’ Brigade, (Amr Liwa Suqor Al-Jazeera) of the Hashd Al-Aashayiri (Tribal PMU), 51:
We didn't receive any letter or communication regarding the agreement between Erbil and Baghdad. We only heard about it from the media. Nothing else. We as the Shammar tribe don't want the situation to get more complicated. The good option is agreement. As long as there is an agreement between the KRG and Baghdad - it's really good. But, if they don’t agree and there is no basic understanding or agreement - the problems remain in this area. I as general commander of the tribal PMU have no specific information or content regarding the agreement that has been made. But, I do encourage agreement between the KRG and the Iraqi government. Most of the Arab tribes in the Sinjar area don't mind the agreement - especially we as Shammar. But there are Yazidi tribes that don't agree and don’t accept it. I am not representing any ethnic or minority community but I have direct contact with Kurds inside Sinjar town that accept the agreement and encourage it as well. We as Shammar encourage this agreement because we believe if Baghdad and Erbil make an agreement everything will be solved and there won't be further problems. It's just like a house with two brothers in it, if they are ok with each other everything will be ok and there will not be any conflicts in the house.
The ISIS invasion to Sinjar area created sensitivities and hatreds among the people in the area. As you know, many tribes joined ISIS. The Yazidis were the main victims of the ISIS occupation. Their women, children and families. They have been killed, raped, imprisoned, suffered genocide and many are missing until today. Therefore, they are very sensitive on this matter, they don't accept anyone involved with the crimes against them.
As a result, we now have many issues inside of Sinjar town. The issues that are happening now and are going to happen include killings, and kidnappings against Arabs and Yazidi as well. The PKK is in Sinjar, and they are making problems from time to time. For example, they carry weapons and go through the check-points, respecting neither the police nor army.
When we ask them about this, they say they are PKK fighters, and when we ask them for their ID or anything that proves they belong to the PKK - they have nothing with them. I used to run a check-point in Sinjar, they answer in this way and claim to belong to the PKK. They are acting like militias. PKK is mixed from Turkey, Syria, and Iran, they create problems in the area. If anyone makes a problem with someone who has a relative with the PKK, they will come and take that person. The person will disappear.
There is no need to exaggerate on the topic that if an agreement doesn't happen there will be a war. There will not be a war. We all want the agreement to be implemented, but if isn’t, there will not be a war. Instead, there will be mistrust among all in the area, there will not be peace. Its a fragile area and a lot of things will happen. If there is no agreement, there won't be stability. There will be too many issues, - killings, kidnappings, unknown people coming to the area, disorder with everyone doing what they want and acting as they want.
But if there is agreement and cooperation between the KRG and the central government - with their forces coming to the area and implementing their mandate and control, then there will be peace and stability. Iraqi forces and Peshmerga can control the area again. The Peshmerga liberated and fought just like the Iraqi army did.
There are some individuals that don't want the Peshmerga to come back to Sinjar. But the general opinion favors the Peshmerga’s return as well. The day that the Peshmerga withdraw from the area (in 2014, during the ISIS invasion) wasn't because they were afraid or scared. It was like in the other cities where the Iraqi forces withdrew against ISIS. They couldn't hold against ISIS due to the cutting of supply roads to bring military support. They knew they can't stand against ISIS, and if they had tried, they would have died. Even, when they withdrew they took most of the people in that area with them so they would not be killed. Khal is the Yazidi commander at Hashd al-Yazidi. It's similar to Hashd Al-Aashairi (Tribal PMU) under the Hashd Al-Shaabi committee, they don't want the Peshmerga coming back to Sinjar, similar to the PKK. Therefore, in order to control Sinjar it cannot be done by only one side. All parts must participate jointly in controlling Sinjar.
There is no Shia PMU in the area, but there is the Yazidi element of the Hashd Al-Shaabi. They are all Yazidi people from the Sinjar area but they belong to the forces of the Hashd Al-Shaabi committee.
Most of the people will go back to Sinjar after they see the Peshmerga there. They will know there will be no Hashd Al-Shaabi and PKK at that time. But people still at Sinjar area they don't want Hashd Al-Shaabi nor Peshmerga and some of them say they don't want PKK as well but actually they are with PKK and want them. They are saying they want the Iraqi army but in reality they more want the PKK, because the majority of them are PKK supporters.
We are as Al-Shammar always with peace and stability, and we want trust to exist among others. It's not easy. It will take time. The most important thing is security. If there is a security and peace everything will go back to normal. Displaced people, workers and others will all go back to their work and daily life when we have peace and security. And we can have peace and security by having the Peshmerga and the Iraqi army in Sinjar.
Aaisa Shamoun, a Christian member of the Judicial Council and a former assistant police officer, 65 year old:
We didn't get any official letter from anyone. According to what has been announced on the media the agreement seems positive, and we see a hope to bring things back to the right path. Gathering all together again, in my opinion is really good. But others have sensitivity on the agreement with regard to such points as the return of the Peshmerga to Sinjar.
Regarding tribal leaders, Kurds (Muslim and Yazidi) and Arabs around Sinjar are happy with the agreement for Peshmerga and Iraqi forces to protect the area. And taking out irregular forces such as Hashd and PKK from Sinjar area is the demand of all tribes in the area in the area except Yazidi people inside Sinjar who have political and military loyalty to the PKK.
In my opinion, if there is truly a state, it should be capable of taking out all forces that are not acknowledged (irregular forces) of Sinjar area. Also, all militias that have foreign loyalty such as Hashd or others. For example, forces came from Turkey and Iran. They should be considered not from Iraq. Forces that has loyalty to PKK and are supporting them should be out of Sinjar. Then the Iraqi army should take control of the border and the police control Sinjar and the areas around it. This is the demand of most people in the area. Even, if there is any element that has sensitivity against Peshmerga, then Iraq will take measures to prevent any conflicts that contain Yazidi people around Sinjar, if Iraqi army is capable of it.
Probably there will be issues if Peshmerga and Iraqi army control the area, issues such as killings, assassinations, kidnapping.
People don't like the Hashd Al-Shaabi because they are supporting YPJ,YPG,PKK, and Tribal PMU. There is a contradiction in terms of administration, a dual authority. - in everything you have to have two sides to visit to finish your daily work in governmental sectors.
The people are loyal to the KDP, they are against Hashd and PKK. At the same time, there are many Yazidi people still living in Kurdistan in the camp and elsewhere in KRG. They still tend towards the KDP.
Currently, people that lives in Sinjar are ok, but the one who is in the camp and other places they have sensitivity against the Hashd and PKK.
Sinjar are is very important place in the Middle East, we couldn't recognize that only lately. If Hashd Al-Shaabi withdraw from the area Iran will have lost a very important and strategic place to it, as the area is considered to be part of the Shia crescent from Iraq to Syria. Iran has a very strong presence in the Sinjar area. Iran has a presence through Hashd Al-Yazidi under the commander of Khal who has a high sensitivity against the Peshmerga brigade Qasim Shasho which is linked to the ministry of Peshmerga and KDP and more than a few times there were clashes between them.
I personally think to go to Sinjar but I hesitate on that because if anything happened to me I do not know to whom I shall go to protect me. There is not sufficient or powerful government forces to protect you. I wish to have a powerful government to be present so I or my neighbors and relatives all can go to our home. For example, I was deputy police officer in Sinjar before but now I am retired, PKK took control of our police station they refuse to leave it. So, our fears are that if the police can't stop them, what chance do I have? There should be a strong government to protect people if anything happened to them. People can't go back to Sinjar if there is no strong government that can protect civilians in the area from militias.
Haval Qasim Shasho, Major General of Yazidi Peshmerga forces in Sinjar:
As we heard the agreement between Baghdad and Erbil is for the benefit of our people in the area. It's good for the people who live in the area, it's good for the public in the area. The agreement says that the people of Sinjar (Yazidi) area will protect themselves. The Yazidi will protect and control the area by themselves, and they will rule and administrate their area. The Iraqi government will employ 2500 Yazidis as police for Sinjar, and its area. Also, there will be Peshmerga and Iraqi army to control the area as well.
We as Peshmerga never did and will not cooperate with PKK forces and the Hashd Al-Shaabi in the area. According to the agreement the YPJ, YPG, PKK and Hashd Al-Shaabi must not remain in the Sinjar area, and it is the Iraqi government’ responsibility to take them out. Even the Iraqi government said that any foreign forces that came from came outside of Iraqi have to go out of the Sinjar area, so they have to go out in way or another.
We will reject the agreement if they didn't go out of the Sinjar area. If they don’t leave Sinjar the situation will get worse. There will be a civil war, the worst things could happen.
The majority of the Yazidi in Sinjar area are in agreement to the Peshmerga with the Iraqi army. Those who went back to Sinjar are only those who are speaking in PKK media. The agreement must be implemented, so people can go back to their places and back to their normal life.
The PKK/KCK position
In its public statement on October 11 the KCK Council for Foreign Relations criticized the deal between Baghdad and Erbil and stated that “any agreement that does not include the Democratic Autonomous Administration of Sinjar is unacceptable”. It called “the status of the Democratic Autonomous Administration of Sinjar [...] legitimate and official” thus rejecting the call for the implementation of a new structure controlled by Baghdad or KDP. Regarding the claims that PKK forces were still in Sinjar the KCK made clear that “the HPG forces saved our Ezidi people from a genocide. Having completed their task, they handed over the protection of Sinjar to the YBS/YJS forces and withdrew from the region” and criticized “the latest claims which follow the propaganda line of the Turkish state”. The KCK called “it absolutely natural for the Ezidi people of Sinjar to play the central role in the discussion about the future of the Autonomous Administration” and asked for the setting up of a “mechanism for negotiations and decision making regarding the Autonomous Administration”. The KCK called on “all international institutions – first and foremost the UN – to adopt a clear stance against these wrong policies”.
In its first reaction, the Council of the (PKK associated) Democratic Autonomous Administration of Sinjar stated: “We will not accept any changes or discussions that we are not a party to”, and added, “for the talks to be successful, we must be one of the main parties so that our rights are recognized, otherwise we do not accept any discussion or negotiation.” In a joint statement the Central Association of Ezidi Associations (NAV-YÊK), the Umbrella Organization of the Ezidi Women`s Council (SMJE), Exile Council Sinjar (MSD), the Association of the Ezidi Youth (HCE), the Alliance of Ezidis from Syria (YES) and the Coordination of the Ezidi Village Communities from Turkey (KMGE) voiced their criticism: “We see with great dismay that the Iraqi government is giving in to pressure from the despot Erdogan by concluding agreements regarding the Ezidis, which completely undermine the interests of the Ezidis. It is more than astonishing to see that the Iraqi government, together with the KDP, makes decisions for the “protection of the Ezidis” without consulting the Ezidis and their representatives.” The organizations blamed the KDP for withdrawing “thousands of Peshmerga without fighting during the genocide in Sinjar on August 3, 2014 and thus [handing] over hundreds of thousands of Ezidis to the Islamic State.
To make matters worse, an agreement has been reached which fully corresponds to Erdogan’s wishes and his political and geostrategic objectives. This is a catastrophic development for the Ezidi society and, therefore, completely unacceptable.”