SHINGAL – On 3 August 2014, militants of the Islamic State (ISIS) stormed Kurdish-controlled areas inhabited by the Yezidi minority in Shingal [Sinjar] district in northern Iraq, massacring thousands of Yezidis and enslaving their women, what according to the UN amounts to genocide. Although the city of Shingal is liberated from ISIS, Yezidis still want the US-led coalition to liberate southern Shingal so that the displaced Yezidi Kurds could return home.
In southern Shingal, several massacres took place at hands of ISIS extremists. For instance, in the village of Kocho, on 15 August 2014, ISIS executed more than 100 men. But after the city of Shingal was liberated in November 2015, the Kurdish forces did not push further to liberate all of Shingal region.
The anti-ISIS forces in Shingal say the problem is that there is no plan yet by the US-led coalition forces to free that district, saying the coalition is now focusing on liberating Mosul from ISIS. Yet some local sources suggested the possibility of having a new operation to liberate the last part of Shingal.
Speaking to ARA News, Naif Saido, the mayor of Sinone, said that it will be easier for displaced Yezidis to return if all areas are liberated. “Most of southern Shingal is still controlled by Daesh [ISIS],” he said. “When southern Shingal is liberated, more people will come back.”
Yezidi citizen Emin Dahar Daud, 36, told that ARA News that many Yezidi villages in northern Iraq are still under ISIS control. “Who will return? Daesh is still bombing Shingal with mortars and artillery. They attack with chemical weapons and chlorine gas,” he said.
However, many Yezidis say they will not return until Mosul is liberated. Also they say Muslims should not be allowed to enter Shingal anymore, after losing all trust in the local Muslim population in the Shingal region.
On Wednesday, the Iraqi Kurdish president said that a new Shingal city should be built next to the old one, while the old Shingal will stay as a reminder of the Yezidi genocide.
According to Haydar Shesho, the leader of the Protection Forces of Ezidxan (HPE), the decision lies with the US-led coalition forces. “The plan is from the coalition forces, and the decision belongs to them, not the Iraqi government or the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government],” he said.
“According to our information, neither the Peshmerga nor the Iraqi government are able to do anything for Shingal at the moment,” he said.
Speaking to ARA News, Peshmerga commander Qashim Shesho said that more Yezidi families are returning to their areas, but not to Shingal city itself.
“ISIS is still attacking Shingal by mortars. It’s not safe yet,” he said.
“After the liberation of the villages in southern Shingal, it will be easier and safer for the displaced people to return to Shingal,” Shesho said.
“We are ready as Peshmerga, but the decision belongs to the US, if they attack ISIS [in southern Shingal], we will launch our ground operations and control the area in a few hours,” the Kurdish official told ARA News.
However, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) thinks the reason is that the Peshmerga forces do not want to liberate these areas yet.
“We have a plan to liberate more villages, such as Baaj, Tel Uzair and all the Yezidi villages, we are ready to liberate all of them,” PKK member Agid Kalari said.
“They [Peshmerga] should decide, not America. They have the army here and they are on the ground. If they make a decision, we will support them,” said Zeki Shingali, another PKK member.
However, a US-coalition spokesperson denied that the coalition makes the decision. “No, Coalition forces provide advice and assistance to Peshmerga forces,” Colonel Steve Warren told ARA News in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.
“They assist with planning ground operations, intelligence sharing, integrating air support into their operations, logistics planning, command and control, and communications. The Government of Iraq and the Iraqi Security Forces, including the Peshmerga, make all decisions,” Colonel Warren said.
Shemo Xidr Hassan, a Peshmerga officer whose village is still under ISIS control, told ARA News that they want more help. “The most dangerous thing is that those ISIS terrorists still control our lands, we still have many villages under ISIS control,” he said.
“The coalition just supports us with airstrikes, it’s not enough,” Hassan said.
Yasser Kaalo, a displaced Yezidi man, spoke to ARA News in the Shariya camp [in Duhok] for Yezidi refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan, saying that most of people fear to face a similar scenario as thousands of women and children are still held hostages at the hands of the terror group.
“Also, the fate of hundreds of people is still unknown,” he added. “This had put a negative impact on us.”
Kaalo emphasized that also the land-mines planted by ISIS terrorists in Shingal region hinder his return with his family to their hometown.
Asfar Darman, another displaced Yezidi, told ARA News: “I believe that there were no guarantees and protection from international powers under a UN resolution to protect the Yezidis in Shingal region, they will not go back home and this will encourage them leave Iraq heading the European countries in search of a better and secured life.”
“Unfortunately, Yezidis have lost confidence in everything, they would not easily come back to Shingal, especially if the situation continues as it is,” Darman concluded, saying “the international community should bear its responsibility to regain security and stability in the whole region.”
Human Rights Watch called on ISIS to urgently release Yezidi women and girls abducted since 2014. “The longer they are held by ISIS, the more horrific life becomes for Yezidi women, bought and sold, brutally raped, their children torn from them,” said Skye Wheeler, women’s rights emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch.
According to officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria continue to hold about 1,800 abducted Yezidi women and girls.
The United Nations has cited allegations, based on Yezidi officials’ estimates, that as many as 3,500 people remained in ISIS captivity as of October 2015.
“Many of the abuses, including torture, sexual slavery, and arbitrary detention, would be war crimes if committed in the context of the armed conflict, or crimes against humanity if they were part of ISIS policy during a systematic or widespread attack on the civilian population,” the HRW said. “The abuses against Yezidi women and girls documented by Human Rights Watch, including the practice of abducting women and girls and forcibly converting them to Islam and/or forcibly marrying them to ISIS members, may be part of a genocide against Yezidis.”
In August 2014, ISIS radicals took over the Yezidi region of Shingal in northern Iraq, causing a mass displacement of nearly 400,000 people to Duhok and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Tens of thousands of Yezidis remained trapped in Mount Sinjar, suffering mass killings, kidnappings and rape cases, according to local and military sources. Also, more than 3000 Yezidi girls have been taken by the radical group as sex slaves.
On November 13, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraqi Kurdistan, backed by an air cover from the US-led coalition forces, announced the liberation of Shingal after fierce battles with ISIS extremists. The Kurdish forces have recently discovered more than five mass graves in the Yezidi region, where hundreds of Yezidi civilians have been summarily executed and buried by ISIS jihadis. Yet, thousands of Yezidi women remain in ISIS captivity after being sold as sex slaves across the group’s territory in Iraq and Syria.
Reporting by: Ali Issa and Wladimir van Wilgenburg
Source: ARA News
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