Will Baghdad and Erbil come to an agreement on Sinjar?
New reports indicate that the leadership of the Kurdistan Regional Government is seeking an understanding with Baghdad about Sinjar (Shingal). The discussion revolves around returning the administration and possibly the return eventually of Peshmerga, although the latter is not mentioned in reports but has been hinted at by sources.
Sinjar is a large area in northern Iraq that borders Syria and also abuts the KRG and Nineveh. It was the site of the ISIS-led genocide of Yazidis in 2014 and includes more than 30 mass graves. Many of the Yazidi towns were destroyed by ISIS or laced with tunnels and IEDs. Since the area was partially liberated in 2015 and then fully liberated in 2017 it has not seen the return of its inhabitants. This is despite the pleas of many Yazidi activists such as Nadia Murad who won the Nobel Peace Prize. Murad Ismael wrote on October 10 "ave asked the Iraqi Prime MinisterI have asked repeatedly to open Sahela road to allow Yazidis commute between Sinjar and Dohuk and allow IDPs to return home if they wish. For one year and half we have been asking and asking. Nadia asked yesterday for this road to be opened."
October 2018 was the one year anniversary of the battles between Peshmerga and the Hashd al-Shaabi units that were trying to reach Faysh Khabour and cut the link between the KRG and Syria. These battles were called Sahela and Mahmoudiya and after a year the question is what comes next. The Sinjar region is considered one of disputed areas between Erbil and Baghdad. Disputes about its fall to ISIS in 2014 still impact its future.
The potential agreement would foresee a joint administration the army. "The reality in Shingal is difficult and complex because of the destruction of the infrastructure by the terrorists [ISIS] and the failure to return the displaced people," said an knowledgable source. There are current four armed factions of Yazidis, including those connected to the KDP and PUK which are linked to the KRG, as well as those related to the YPS and YJE which are linked to the PKK and the forces connected to the PMU as well as Haider Shesho's HPE. The multiplicity of groups and their different alliances create a complex web. In March 2017 clashes broke out in Sinjar between the YBS and Rojava Peshmerga near Khanasor. In April Turkey carried out airstrikes it said targeted the PKK in Sinjar, but several Peshmerga were killed. Then in October the Iraqi army and PMU pushed the Peshmerga out of Sinjar, turning it over mostly to local PMU groups.
In August 2018 Zaki Shingali, a PKK leader was killed in a Turkish airstrike as he left a memorial ceremony commemorating the 2014 genocide in Kocho. Turkey has threatened to intervene in Sinjar if Iraq does not make sure the PKK is not present there. In October Turkish media said the US was trying to turn Sinjar into a "second Qandil," a reference to the mountainous area in northern Iraq where Turkey has carried out raids against the PKK. Meanwhile the US has been supporting efforts to clear IEDs in Sinjar. "Another U.S.-funded team recently cleared 21 ISIS IEDs from fertile land next to Route 47, which runs east to west just south of Mount Sinjar," a report noted on October 23, 2018. Murad keeps calls for more rebuilding efforts.
Late October has also seen other small changes on the ground. The village of Sîba Şêx Xidir was reportedly handed over to a local Shingal Autonomous Council on October 24 under and agreement with the PMU. Another villages called Tilezer was also turned over to the Autonomous Council of Shingal and the Êzîdxan Asayish (Yazidi Land Security Forces).
It is in the wake of these issues that there are new discussions with the KRG. THe report says that a deal between Erbil, Baghdad and the Nineveh Provincial Council has been sorted out. Rudaw noted that "Saydo Chato, the Yezidi head of Nineveh provincial council, told Rudaw its members met with security officials, police, intelligence services, army brigades, and Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitias on Sunday evening at the Nineveh Operations Command headquarters. " This meeting would see the KDP's Shingal administration that was forced to leave in October 2017. Rudaw names the following individuals "The returnees include Mahma Khalil, mayor of Shingal, Ways Nayif, head of Shingal district council, Nayif Saydo, mayor of Snune, and other district officials"
Jockeying for power in Nineveh and Sinjar
But there are other problems overshadowing this deal. In August former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi tried to re-arrange the forces controlling Shingal and Nineveh. His plan was part of an attempt to reduce the power of the PMU. In late August many Yazidis began to complain that Sunni Arab tribes were being permitted to return to some areas in Sinjar, and said that some former ISIS members were among them. Together the complexity shows that things in Sinjar move at a snails pace. A humanitarian aid worker told MECRA in May about the difficulty of just bringing medical aid to Sinjar. Paul Iddon also covered the struggles in Sinjar in June for MECRA. The sources contacted for this report said that the threat of extremists from ISIS returning to areas around Sinjar is real. He said they are moving in from several directions. "It is true that they [local administration] are ready to go back but the PMU is opposed. It was always opposed to the of the local administration to Sinjar. This is a good move [the current agreement for administration to return], but the most important is the return of the Peshmerga and the support of the international coalition because the danger [of ISIS] still exists and threatens the security of Sinjar from Arab extremists and chauvinists."
Yazidis still held by ISIS
As the KRG and Baghdad discuss the return of local control, there are also reports that Yazidis who were kidnapped by ISIS are still being held in Mosul. A Joint Coordination Center for the Liberation of Yazidis said last week that they are aware of the "existence of dozens of girls abducted from families [being kept] in Nineveh homes." This is four years after the ISIS-led genocide. The families who apparently bought the children "refuse to extradite them and threaten to liquidate [kill] them if they go to their families."
According to what MECRA learned, some former ISIS members had shaved their beards and returned to daily civilian life after last years defeat of ISIS around Mosul. But the extremist ideology still exists. Indeed ISIS has carried on insurgency operations throughout Diyala, Salah-a-Din provinces and elsewhere, which MECRA reported in June. The alleged existence of Yazidi minors being held in and around Mosul is one of the legacies of the unresolved conflict against ISIS. A source who has worked to free Yazidis told MECRA, "according to the information, some of the kidnapped girls in Mosul contacted and told their parents that we had hoped to return to our families but because we had children from terrorists we can not go back. They also warned their Yazidi families not to go to Mosul because the terrorists are still free." They alleged that local laws have protected the terrorists and that some who of whose who were kidnapped in 2014 and had children with ISIS members are not permitted to return under the laws logic that sees the former ISIS member as having rights to the children. Documents placed online on October 29 alleged to show corruption involving ISIS members being freed from prison. A MECRA researcher heard the same thing from locals in Qaraqosh (Bakhdida) last year.
The concern about ISIS members in Nineveh, insurgents active in and around Nineveh, as well as local government asking for aid against ISIS activities shows that whatever agreement is made between Baghdad and Erbil will also have to relate to security in Sinjar's southern flank, along the desert and roads leading to Mosul. This is the area ISIS exploited in 2014 and it appears threatened again. Hathalyoum reported the information which is confirmed by others. A car bombing in Qayyara in mid-October shows the threat may be growing.