On the night of Wednesday the 18th October 2017, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces withdrew, not for the first but the second time from the Yazidi town of Sinjar and other surrounding townships to the north. As the Peshmerga fled their positions a gap in security was filled by local Yazidi forces from the YBS, HPE and Yazidi PMU. This came directly after the Kirkuk was abandoned by the Peshmerga forces, giving way for the Iraqi federal government to move in to assert federal control of the region. Many other disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil consequently were abandoned by the Peshmerga. Minorities from both the Yazidi and Assyrian background have for several years now complained about Peshmerga forces occupying their territories and installing mayors and councils that serve only Kurdish political parties, namely the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Non-government observers from the Yazidi American Women’s (YAW) Organization saw Peshmerga convoy’s leaving from northeast Sinjar in the early morning. In addition to leaving the region many of the military bases they once held were burnt as they withdrew.
Staff from YAW reported that the Yazidi civilians in the region were elated. Here there appears to be a consensus that this withdrawal of Peshmerga was the city’s liberation from a KDP-led dictatorship “almost like that of ISIS”. Unfortunately, two days prior to the events unfolding in Sinjar the area witnessed a major pull-out of international NGOs that had been providing support for the locals as there was an assumption that the Peshmerga forces would fight for the territories rather than abandon them in the night. There has been a siege on Sinjar instigated by the KDP limiting the goods that enter the region, which in turn has limited rebuilding and return of service efforts.
This has left approximately 10,000 families in dire need of support, with more families expected to arrive to the city given its locally designated status as liberated. An assessment by YAW has listed medical aid as a number one priority, having been limited by the Peshmerga siege. In addition to medical aid there is a slew of basic requirements such as food, clean drinking water, schooling and potentially greater temporary housing given an expected influx of Yazidi families to the city. A representative from YAW stated, “I know many families in the town of Dugre that are adding tomato paste to oil and eating it” highlighting the great strain the community is under to make due in the circumstances. Given that winter is around the corner and most families are living in makeshift homes there is a dire need for international support. Without it, families risk death.
In the period that Sinjar was administered by the KDP there was a restriction on most International NGOs from working in the region. The NGOs permitted into the city were limited in their operational capacity by the KDP which has stifled rebuilding progress and left many families in the situation they are in today. Amongst many issues is the Asayish threats on NGOs with previous incidents including raids on Yazidi therapy sessions for rape victims at the Yazda organization.
In Sunone district, the director Naif Sedo as well as Sinjari director Shex Alyas were threatened by the KRG police force, Asayish, from signing paperwork through Baghdad allowing NGOs such as YAW to operate in Sinjar. Both directors have informed YAW that they have the paperwork ready to be signed but had fears due to the threats received. Staff at Yazidi American Women’s Organization say that Asayish informed them that the KDP forces of KRG leader Masoud Barzani did not want another Yazidi-American NGO in Sinjar like the Yazda organization. YAW had just set up a center for activities for women in the town of Borek where the highest number of Yazidi families had returned.
While previous calls to KRG staff in Washington fell on deaf ears Yazidis under KRG rulership suffered extensively. The prevention of aid and NGO support to the Yazidi people is tantamount to a continued genocide of the Yazidi people years after ISIS’s defeat. However, now that Iraqi federal forces have assumed control of the town as well as in many other Yazidi areas there is renewed hope that NGOs can operate and serve these people. YAW has resumed its registration to operate in Sinjar and has encouraged other NGOs to do the same, going as far as to offer their teams services to aid in the process. With such organizations being permitted to avail themselves in the region there is a different atmosphere in the Yazidi regions, which have had to undergo extreme hardship and suffering both under ISIS and the KDP. There is now an atmosphere of hope in seeing a real chance of a stable and secure future.
Donations and inquiries to YAW can be made at saveyazidis.org