September 24, 2017

What do Yazidis make of Kurdish independence?

Martyn Aim/IRIN

ERBIL, 19 September 2017



Tom Westcott 

Freelance journalist and regular IRIN contributor 

Author Note

Part of an in-depth IRIN series exploring the challenges facing Kurdish people throughout the Middle East as Iraqi Kurds vote on independence

Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence referendum hangs on tenterhooks, with Iraq’s prime minister promising military intervention should Monday’s vote lead to violence, the US, UK, and UN urging Kurdish leaders not to move forward, and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s parliament voting to do just that.

With much of society apparently in two minds about the referendum, especially its timing, one group the authorities long believed they could count on for a “yes” vote was the Yazidis, a Kurdish minority singled out by so-called Islamic State for especially cruel treatment in a campaign the UN has deemed genocide.

But Yazidis – displaced in different camps and mostly hailing from Sinjar, a contested area that could become a flashpoint for further conflict if the vote goes forward – are themselves divided on the independence question.


Many internally displaced Yazidis have taken shelter in camps or housing near Dohuk

“It’s the same for us if we vote or if we don’t vote,” Hassan, a Yazidi father of four living in a sprawling camp near the city of Dohuk, told IRIN. “Everyone treats us badly. Both the Arabs and the Kurds have treated us very badly. Both sides look out for their own interests and, meanwhile, nobody helps us.”  

He gestured around the small tent he and his family have called home for two years: “There are 6,000 Yazidis living like this here, in just this one camp, but no one is interested in helping us to rebuild our homes and return home.”

Backing for Iraq’s other armed force  

Hassan said many Yazidis have thrown their support behind the predominantly Shia Hashd al-Shaabi forces, also known as the Popular Mobilisation Units, or PMU.

Formed in 2014 of pre-existing militias and new volunteers with the express purpose of fighting IS and now officially under the authority of the Iraqi government, the PMU played a major role in liberating parts of Sinjar from IS, arming Yazidis who were willing to join. According to PMU spokesman Ahmed al-Asadi, 2,000 Yazidis have joined the force and are stationed in positions around Sinjar, mostly in areas still classed as military zones.

“It’s good that [Yazidi] people are joining the Hashd,” Hassan said, while older family members nodded sagely in agreement. “They are [a] good option and a better one for us than the Kurds.”

A key PMU leader has recently come out against the referendum. Iran, which supports the PMU with weapons, ammunition, and training, is also opposed to the vote. 

But a few kilometres down the road from Hassan and his scepticism, at a makeshift garage and petrol station, Yazidi mechanic Yusef, selling fuel from barrels, was brimming with enthusiasm. “This referendum is good for the Kurdish people and good for the Yazidis,” he said, beaming. “The Kurds are supported by the US and together they support us. I’ll absolutely be voting yes.”

History of persecution

Most of Iraq’s Yazidis hail from Sinjar, in Nineveh province. More than 275,000 people – including tens of thousands of Yazidis – were driven from their homes there in August 2014 as IS swept through, terrorising the Yazidi population, who they characterise as pagans. 

Innocent civilians were killed, abducted, and forced to convert under torture. Women were taken into sexual slavery, and many are believed to be still captive. Many fled IS slaughter to the top of Mount Sinjar, where some were dramatically rescued.

Yazidis who remained on the mountain split. Some joined forces with a militia that has ties to Turkish- and Syrian-based Kurdish groups, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), while others are loyal to KRG President Masoud Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Tom Robinson/IRIN

Some of the Yazidis who remained on Mount Sinjar joined up with various militias

In March this year, fierce fighting broke out between the groups, sending yet more civilians into flight. The split in the fighters – many of the first group have since joined the PMU – suggests how divided the Yazidis are politically and raises questions about who might control the territory in the future.

What becomes of the Yazidis matters even more for the future of Iraq as Sinjar – strategically located near the borders of Syria and Turkey – is one of the key disputed territories.

Renad Mansour, an expert on Iraqi Kurds at Chatham House, told IRIN that Sinjar and other disputed territories – claimed by both Iraq and the KRG – are particularly important as the referendum is a “tactic to increase [the KRG’s] bargaining power in negotiations on post-IS [territorial] settlements.”

With a variety of interested parties – including Turkey because of the PKK presence and the PMU – Sinjar will be hotly contested and potentially dangerous.

In Sinjar and elsewhere, Mansour pointed out, “[Haider al-]Abadi will not want to be the [Iraqi] prime minister who lost territory to the Kurds.”

Arab vote issues

So far, very few Yazidis or Arabs from Sinjar have been able to return home. Those originally from the area, from both ethnicities, are theoretically eligible to vote in the referendum. Most Yazidi IDPs now live in camps in the KRG, where they should be able to vote. The more complex problem lies with Arab families originally from Sinjar, most of whom were forcibly relocated by IS and are now living in IDP camps outside Mosul, beyond Kurdish territorial borders.

“Of course we will invite the original Arabs from Sinjar to vote, but some of them supported Daesh [IS] in the beginning and I don’t think they will be allowed,” Jutyar Mahmoud, a member of the KRG’s Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission, told IRIN.

Mahmoud did not explain how these decisions on excluding certain voters would be reached, but indicated it would be a challenging process to include displaced Arabs from Sinjar in the vote.

“It’s a very complex situation because we can’t put ballot boxes outside Kurdistan,” he said. “So for these people to vote [from Mosul], they would either have to come back to Kurdistan or already be living in camps inside Kurdish territories.”

Arabs from Sinjar living in west Mosul camps told IRIN it was very difficult for them to leave the camps. They said they believed they would be prohibited from attempting to return to their former homes, most of which they claimed had been demolished by peshmerga forces – something peshmerga commanders have denied.

Even if they were eligible to vote and able to reach polling stations, Sinjar Arabs said they were not keen on the idea of an independent Kurdish state.

“Kurdistan can’t be independent,” 38-year-old Ahmed, a displaced Arab originally from the Sinjar village of Rabia, told IRIN. “There can’t be two countries in Iraq and, right now, we need unity to help each other rebuild Iraq.”

Hijacking the Yazidi cause?

One Western humanitarian worker based in the KRG for several years said he felt the suffering of the Yazidis had been manipulated in support of the referendum. After attending a recent commemoration of the 2014 Yazidi massacres, he described it as having been “hijacked by pro-referendum propaganda”.

The motto of the event was: “Yesterday was genocide, today is the referendum, and tomorrow will be an independent state”. It also included an elaborate dance performance that appeared to show peshmerga saving the Yazidis from IS.

The attendee said that given the fact that the peshmerga are alleged to have actually withdrawn from Sinjar in the face of IS advances, “the performance was quite embarrassing to watch and the whole event seemed far more focused on referendum propaganda than on the Yazidi genocide it was supposed to be commemorating”.

“The legacy of August 2014 is still in the memory of the Yazidis,” said Chatham House’s Mansour.

Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/IRIN

Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled Sinjar in 2014

He explained that various sides were using the issue – with pro-PKK forces claiming the peshmerga abandoned the Yazidis to IS as a tactical move, and the KDP finding loyal Yazidi allies, funding them, and effectively causing splits in the community.

“You see this with various minorities [in the KRG],” Mansour said. “What happens is they become divided politically, and those who are not receiving funds [from the government or KDP] become overtly critical of those who are.”

KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has emphasised that “the voice of Shingal (Kurdish for Sinjar) in this referendum is very important because it is the voice of the Anfal genocide and the voice of the pains of our people,” referring to Saddam Hussein’s anti-Kurdish campaign in the late 1980s that killed thousands of civillians, including Yazidis.
“It will be a call for freedom from subjugation and slavery,” he said.

Not all Yazidis agree with this sentiment.

(TOP PHOTO: A Yazidi shrine in Niveneh Province, northern Iraq. Martyn Aim/IRIN

FreeBalochistan posters rattled Swiss Pak relationship

Sitrep | Arjan Singh laid foundations of 1971 Victory

‘Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh’s strategic vision, foresight and hard work provided the framework for the strategic victory in 1971’

The then Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh visiting the MiG-21 squadrons based at Tezpur in Assam in the late 1960s.(

Updated: Sep 24, 2017 15:29 IST

By Mandeep Singh Bajwa, Hindustan Times

Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh made an outstanding contribution to the country’s defence and air force. By far, his most exceptional role was in analysing the IAF’s strengths and weaknesses, which showed up during the 1965 war, and applying necessary correctives. The major lesson learned was that the Service had been preparing for a medium to long-duration war. What was needed was a change in mindset, planning, logistics and operational dynamics for a short war of intense proportions. This was done through detailed planning and operational discussions. Personnel at all levels were briefed on the changed strategy for future wars. We saw that this worked perfectly in 1971 as the IAF achieved air supremacy over East Pakistan within three days and caused heavy attrition to the Pakistan Air Force in the West.

The Army had been crying itself hoarse about the lack of adequate air support with some reason. The reasons therein were analysed and solutions produced after joint consultations. Arjan Singh went down to micro-levels in this matter. He correctly deduced that the unreliability of World War-2 vintage wireless sets prevented forward air controllers from communicating with the aircraft and providing targets and feedback. Therefore, state-of-the-art communications equipment was sourced. The Army was thoroughly impressed with the ground support provided in East Pakistan in 1971.

Focusing on leadership at the higher level, Arjan Singh advocated joint planning with other Services, which was lacking in 1965. This paid rich dividends during the later confrontation with Pakistan. The IAF embarked on a concentrated period of modernisation, expansion and solidification. Many new fighter aircraft, equipment and systems such as the MiG-21, Sukhoi-7, HF-24 and SAM-3 surface-to-air missiles were inducted. Arjan Singh’s foresight, hard work and strategic vision truly provided the underpinnings of our stirring victory in 1971.

1st Maharaja Yadvindra Singh lecture

Tony McClenaghan will deliver the 1st Maharaja Yadvindra Singh Memorial Lecture on the princely states’ contribution to World War 1 under the aegis of the Centre for Indian Military History at the CRRID auditorium on Tuesday, September 26. He is a world authority on the Indian States Forces and is currently the secretary of the Indian Military Historical Society.

Dograi Day commemoration

It was an emotional moment to represent my late father at his old formation’s Dograi Day commemoration, place a wreath on the war memorial and interact with officers and Jawans. Located in a neat and clean new military station, the formation organised the remembrance in the Army’s usual style with grace and meticulousness. Defending a vital sector of the border, we can be rest assured that the conquerors of Dograi in 1965 will perform their tasks with the same aplomb and grit.

Women’s AFPI

The Armed Forces Preparatory Institute for Women at Mohali has grown from strength to strength. The efforts of it’s dynamic director, General IP Singh and his staff are soon to bear fruit. I’m informed that the first batch to appear for the Combined Defence Services examination will do so in November this year. The best of luck to them! The girls are currently studying for their graduation at MCM DAV College, Chandigarh.

Nathu La

Why is there no commemoration of the bloody nose given by our troops to the Chinese fifty years ago at Nathu La?

(Please write in with your narratives of war and military life to or call/WhatsApp on 093161-35343)

September 23, 2017

Double-Edged Sword: Vigilantes in African Counter-Insurgencies

7 Sep 2017

According to this report, African states confronting insurgent groups face a dilemma when civilians mobilize and take up arms to protect their local communities. Such vigilante forces can provide effective support in enhancing local security, but they also carry inherent risks, including the potential to transform into insurgent forces themselves. So how should African states make use of such vigilante groups? To help answer this question, the text’s authors examine four illustrative cases from Sierra Leone, Uganda’s Teso region, South Sudan’s former Western Equatoria State and Nigeria’s north east.

English (PDF, 43 pages, 1.16 MB)

Author International Crisis Group (ICG)
Series Crisis Group Africa ReportsIssue251PublisherInternational Crisis Group (ICG)Copyright© 2017 International Crisis Group (ICG)