WASHINGTON - The Iraqi government has reached a deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over security in the northern city of Sinjar, Iraqi officials said Friday.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi “sponsored a historic agreement which will strengthen the federal authority in Sinjar based on the constitution in terms of governance and security,” Kadhimi’s spokesperson Ahmad Mulla Talal said on Twitter.
The agreement “ends the authority of intruding groups and paves the way for the reconstruction of the city and the full return of its people in coordination with the Kurdistan Regional Government,” Talal added.
Sinjar, home to the Yazidi religious minority, was seized by the Islamic State (IS) in 2014 when the terror group carried out a genocidal campaign against the Yazidis, killing many men and enslaving thousands of Yazidi women and girls.
Nearly 3,000 kidnapped women and girls are still missing after many were trafficked and enslaved in other IS-held territory, according to the U.N.
Since the military defeat of IS, many groups have been competing to claim the Yazidi town, including Iraqi forces, Kurdish Peshmerga, Shiite militias and armed groups affiliated with the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terror group.
Tensions among these groups have reportedly caused security challenges in Sinjar, delaying the return of thousands of Yazidi survivors to their homes.
The U.N. Special Representative for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, said in a statement the agreement would usher in “a new chapter for Sinjar” and help “displaced people to return to their homes, accelerate reconstruction and improve public service delivery.”
Masrour Barzani, KRG’s prime minister, said in a statement, “the normalization of Sinjar will ensure that its people can determine their own future,” adding that, “Baghdad and Erbil have agreed to work together to solve all issues around security, governance and service provision in Sinjar under the terms of the agreement.”
The United States has welcomed the deal, describing it as an important step toward resolving Sinjar’s longstanding political and security challenges.
“We hope the agreement announced Oct. 9 will create conditions that foster the revival of Sinjar and the safe and voluntary return of those who were displaced by ISIS,” U.S. State Department spokesperson, Morgan Ortagus, said in a statement Saturday, using another acronym for IS. “The interests of Sinjaris, particularly the victims of genocide, should remain at the heart of any plan to restore lasting peace and security.”
Desire to return
Activists said Yazidis have been eagerly waiting for an agreement between Iraqi and Kurdish authorities over Sinjar for many reasons.
“One is that Yazidis have been living in camps in Kurdistan for over four years now after the genocide and they want to go back to their homeland so desperately,” said Dawood Saleh, a Yazidi survivor of the IS 2014 onslaught.
Another reason, Saleh told VOA, is that “Yazidis cannot defend their rights unless they are back in Sinjar. It is their homeland and the only castle that Yazidis use as a shelter whenever there is a risk.”
The agreement, however, lacks the inclusion of many Yazidis, he said, and it’s also unclear the impact some sections of the agreement will have on the public.
But one article in the deal stipulates the recruitment of 2,500 men to be part of a new security force in Sinjar. For that purpose, Iraqi spokesperson Talal said 1,500 Yazidi men would be recruited from displacement camps.
The PKK factor
Turkey, which views the PKK as a terrorist organization, also welcomed the agreement between Baghdad and the KRG.
“We hope this agreement to be carried out in a way that would enable re-instating the control of the Iraqi authorities in Sinjar, the eradication of DAESH and PKK terrorist organizations and their extensions in the region …” Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
Turkey has occasionally conducted bombing campaigns against PKK militants and their affiliates in Sinjar and other parts of northern Iraq.
Yerevan Saeed, a researcher at the Middle East Research Institute in Erbil, says while the agreement is important, it doesn’t seem comprehensive.
“For example, the Autonomous Administration Council in Sinjar, which has governed the area since 2014, was not included,” he told VOA.
“The question is whether the agreement was really to pave the way for the people of Sinjar to take care of their own affairs, return home and live in peace or it was to make Turkey happy,” Saeed said.
The Autonomous Administration Council in Sinjar was established by Sinjar Resistance Units (YPS), an armed group affiliated with the PKK. The Iraqi government regards the council as part of the PKK.