In Rudaw

Iraq in uphill battle to clear militias from Shingal

The Iraqi government is trying to remove militia groups from the Yezidi heartland of Shingal and replace them with federal police, the governor of Nineveh said on Thursday, but the militias are holding their ground.

Najim al-Jabouri, governor of Nineveh, told Rudaw on Thursday that Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein have discussed the problem in “international forums.”

“The Iraqi government has taken some measures in this regard,” he said, without going into detail.

There are six different armed groups or forces operating in the Shingal district of northern Iraq, according to a security official from the area: the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, locally known as Hashd al-Shaabi), the Shingal Resistance Units (YBS, linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party), Iraqi army, federal police, Yezidkhan Protection Forces (founded by a local Yezidi leader), and Peshmerga.

The official, who spoke to Rudaw on the condition of anonymity, estimated all the forces together number around 15,000. The breakdown is roughly 4,000 from the Yezidkhan, 3,000 from the Peshmerga forces who protect a Yezidi religious site Sharfaddin, and some 1,000 each from the PMF and YBS. The rest are federal forces, either Iraqi Army or police.

This week, the United States called on Iraq, the Kurdistan Region, and Turkey to work together to clear the militias from Shingal, with support from the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS).

“If you could have the Kurdistan Regional Government, the federal government in Baghdad, and Turkey working together with advice and support from the United States and other coalition countries, you could see where maybe a place like Sinjar (Shingal) could be cleared out of militias including the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party],” the US State Department’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood said on Tuesday.

Fighters with the Shingal Resistance Units (YBS) are seen in Shingal. Photo: Rudaw

On Wednesday, Turkey attacked Shingal for the second time since it launched an air and ground offensive against the PKK in mid-June. The Iraqi Security Media Cell reported two civilians were killed in the airstrike that targeted the YBS. The PKK is an armed Kurdish group, fighting for Kurdish political and cultural rights in Turkey.

Shingal lies within territory claimed by both the regional government in Erbil and the central government in Baghdad. ISIS overran Shingal in 2014, committing genocide against the Yezidi minority. Hundreds of thousands of people fled their homes and most still have not returned, but are living in camps in the Kurdistan Region or have left Iraq. The KRG has complained that the presence of militia groups like the PKK have hindered the return of the civilian population.

“There is no security or basic services. Our return is going to be very difficult,” Hayfa Qasim, who lives in a tent camp in Kurdistan Region’s Duhok province, told Rudaw.

Nawaf Sulaimani said he has not visited Shingal city for four years “due to the lack of security, although we have shops there.”

The KRG banned travel between its provinces and the rest of Iraq for several months because of the coronavirus pandemic, the measure was lifted last week. The ban did not apply to people returning to Shingal, however.

Shingal belongs to us

Baghdad will have a difficult time clearing the armed groups out of Shingal were the militias have staked their claim.

Khal Ali is a Kurdish commander in the ranks of the PMF. He told Rudaw they came to the city voluntarily and will not obey any orders to leave. “Hashd did not come here through anyone’s order or an administrative order. Hashd came here voluntarily to save Iraq… as Hashd believes it owns the whole of Iraq,” he said.

Haso Ibrahim, a YBS official, said the PMF presence in Shingal “is not in the interests of Yezidis as they do not accept any Yezidis. When we formed our force, Iraqi troops were not present here. That time, Shingal was surrounded by the enemy. This force [YBS] saved Shingal with blood. Police cannot protect Shingal.” Source