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Published On: Mon, Oct 23rd, 2017

Hashd al-Shaabi take Mount Shingal: Uncertain future for Iraq’s Yazidi

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : The Iran-backed Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi have climbed Mount Shingal just days after the group entered the Yezidi town of Shingal. The development prompts grave concerns about the risk that the Shiite militants will continue the oppression Yezidi suffered during ISIS’s reign of terror and the historical oppression.

Mount Shingal_Iraq_(archives)Iraqi – Kurdish Peshmerga commander Qasim Derbo said on Monday that “A Hashd al-Shaabi unit along with the Iraqi army has been stationed near Chilmeran on the Mount Shingal.” The strategically important Mount Shingal is located outside the town of Shingal and is 1400 kilometers above sea level. It also borders Syria on Kurdistan Region’s far western front.

Iraqi forces entered Shingal last week as part of a larger operation aimed at bringing so-called disputed territories under central government control. A Yezidi official in the Hashd al-Shaabi confirmed to the Rudaw news agency the presence of their troops on the Mount.

“After October 17, many Hashd al-Shaabi and Iraqi army officials have visited the town of Shingal, one of whom was Mahdi al-Muhandis,” Naif Jasim of Ezidkhan Regiment, associated with the Hashd al-Shaabi, told Rudaw. Muhandis is the deputy leader of the Hashd al-Shaabi.

Yezidi (Yazidi) have suffered oppression, repression and persecution from both Shia and Sunni as well as Christian communities. Yazidi tradition and religion is mainly passed on orally from generation to generation via family, communities, Sheiks (Shacks), and by practice. Especially Muslims insist that Yazidi are “not people of the book”. Some Muslims and Christians also denounce the Yazidi as “devil worshippers”. Yazidi practice a very rich tradition and religion with many esoteric teachings and practices. The most, if not all “literature” about their religion, rites and ceremonies, their deities and more has been written by non-Yazidi with very limited knowledge.

Yazidi were experiencing “relative freedom from oppression” while Shingal was under the de-facto authority of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Kurdistan Autonomous Region (KAR). The presence of Iraqi – Dhiite, Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi in Shingal and on Mount Shingal provokes fears of renewed repression by religious zealots.

Yazidi Yezidi refugee camp_Iraq_YAZADAIn September 2017 YAZDA released a report entitled “AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE FOR YAZIDIS: A REPORT MARKING THREE YEARS OF AN ONGOING GENOCIDE“. The report stressed that the Central Government of Iraq (CGI) is reliant on Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) a.k.a. Hashd al-Shaabi to achieve its goals and to repel strong Kurdish influences and efforts for territorial control of Sinjar and the region of Kurdistan more broadly.

The YAZDA report also stressed that the CGI has not allocated funds to re-establish life in Sinjar for its former inhabitants, as it has done in other areas of Iraq that have been liberated from IS control. As a result, it is a commonly-held view among the Yazidi population that the CGI has neglected its responsibility for ensuring that the inhabitants of the Sinjar region are able to return to their homes and to aid in the repair and rebuilding of crucial infrastructure, such as roads, schools, medical facilities, etc.

The report also stressed the potential for conflict with Yazidi being caught in the middle of conflicting interests stating:

The PMU is the second most influential force in Sinjar and the principal political presence in southern Sinjar. The PMU controls a swathe of land along the Iraq-Syria border and most of Nineveh Province. The two most prominent groups of the PMU in Sinjar are Kata’ib al-Imam Ali (the Imam Ali Battalions) and theBadar Organization. The PMU is said to be under the authority of Deputy Commander, Mahdi al Muhandis. Its presence has drawn further Turkish interests into Sinjar and created a potentially combustible situation with the PDK, as the latter reportedly perceives PMU as its ‘next generation’ enemy.

However, Yazidi are also aiming to assert themselves within the Hashd al-Shaabi. The report notes among others that:

The PMU in Sinjar comprises mostly Shi’a fighters from different brigades. However, a new Yazidi force is being established and is currently made up of approximately 2,000 Yazidi fighters under three organized battalions – Kocho, Lalish, and Ezidkhan. These are likely to increase in size in the coming months. A training base has been established in southern Sinjar to train Yazidi fighters in the battalions.

Two Yazidi commanders, Murad Shero and Naif Jaso, are the highest-ranking Yazidi leaders within the PMU. Other tribal leaders have also joined. Both the Yazidi Movement for Reform and Progress and the Yazidi Progress Party are supporting the CGI, the presence of the PMU forces and the Iraqi Military in Sinjar, but they oppose all Kurdish politics in Sinjar and all Yazidi areas. Some civil and independent groups as well as NGOs hold a similar position.

The report also noted that the PMU, at least according to its public statements, appears to conform with Yazidi objectives for the population in Sinjar. It has promised Yezidi self-rule for their areas; the formation of a force under Yazidi leadership; and the bringing to justice of all those who participated in the genocide.

However, now that the Central Government of Iraq, with the help of Iranian – backed Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, has pushed Kurdish Peshmerga out of Shingal again, it remains to be seen whether the Hashd (and by implication Tehran) will honor their promises, if the Central Government in Baghdad will honor its promises, or if Baghdad reverts to is culture and policy of oppression. Finally, there is a risk of Yazidi infighting as different armed Yezidi organizations have different affiliations, some of them being allied with the PKK and YPG, others with other Iraqi Kurdish parties and groups, and yet others again with the Hashd or the central government.

Yazidi communities are, in other words, caught in the middle of regional and geopolitical rivalries involving the Central Government of Iraq, the Shiite government in Iraq, the uncompromisingly anti-Kurdish and increasingly Islamist Sunni Turkey, various – including rivaling – Kurdish groups from Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey, an increasingly Iranian-dominated Syria, as well as the UK, other EU member States, the USA and Russia. The potential for a genocide and even an intra-Yazidi conflict is not only present but constitutes an acute risk.

CH/L – nsnbc 23.10.2017

About the Author

- Dr. Christof Lehmann is the founder and editor of nsnbc. He is a psychologist and former independent political consultant on conflict, conflict resolution and a wide range of other political issues. In March 2013 he established nsnbc as a daily, independent, international on-line newspaper. He can be contacted at nsnbc international at nsnbc.wordpress@gmail.com

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