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For Iraq's Yazidis, Return Plan Is Full of Risk

    2020/10/27

    The Yazidis of northern Iraq are an ancient religious minority. Islamic State forces brought suffering to the group in a series of targeted attacks six years ago. Now, many Yazidis want peace, security and a better life in their hometown of Sinjar, but a new plan for the area has them worried.

    Iraq’s central government and Kurdish officials released the new security and reconstruction plan last week. The two praised the measure as a “historic” agreement.

    Displaced Iraqi men from the minority Yazidi sect, who fled the Iraqi town of Sinjar, are seen at the Khanki camp on the outskirts of Dohuk province, July 31, 2019.
    Displaced Iraqi men from the minority Yazidi sect, who fled the Iraqi town of Sinjar, are seen at the Khanki camp on the outskirts of Dohuk province, July 31, 2019.

    Many Yazidis distrust the plan.

    “The deal could pacify Sinjar - but it might also make the situation even worse,” said Talal Saleh, a Yazidi who lives in Iraqi Kurdistan.

    The Yazidis have suffered since Islamic State (IS) fighters invaded Sinjar in 2014. The invasion and its violence shocked Western countries into military action to stop it.

    IS considered the Yazidis as devil worshippers for their religion, which combines Zoroastrian, Christian, Manichean, Jewish and Muslim beliefs.

    The Islamic State killed more than 3,000 Yazidis and enslaved 7,000 women and girls. The invasion pushed the 550,000 community of Yazidis off their homeland. Most now live in refugee camps in Kurdistan.

    United States-supported Kurdish forces ousted IS fighters from Sinjar in 2015. Since then, the Iraqi army and competing armed groups have taken control of the town and surrounding areas. The groups include Shi’ite Muslim militia, and Yazidi and Kurdish militants with different loyalties.

    Under the government plan, Iraqi forces would guarantee security and permit the return of tens of thousands of Yazidis. Many have been afraid to return because of a lack of security and services, said the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

    But many Yazidis feel the plan is unclear and created by officials in Baghdad and Erbil, the Kurdish capital. The Yazidis say they were not included in the planning, and the security reforms could lead to more division and violence.

    “The PKK and their Yazidi allies are not just going to leave Sinjar without a fight,” Saleh said.

    The security plan includes the removal of the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group. It has long fought against Turkey’s government and bases itself in northern Iraq.

    The plans also call for the ouster of PKK supporters, which includes a Yazidi force of hundreds of fighters.

    The PKK helped thousands of Yazidis escape to Syria during the IS invasion after the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga forces retreated. The peshmerga returned to help recapture Sinjar.

    The PKK is under attack by Turkish forces in Iraq. It exists uneasily alongside the peshmerga and the Iraqi army.

    The plan says the Iraqi army and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) would oversee the removal of the PKK. That information comes from a copy of the plan seen by Reuters news agency.

    The PMF is a paramilitary group made up mostly of Shi’ite militias.

    Some people fear this could split up families where members sometimes belong to different militias, armed forces and groups. The Yazidis have their own force in the PMF.

    “There are about six political groups in Sinjar now. Brothers belonging to the same family each join different parties,” said Akram Rasho. He is another displaced Yazidi living in Kurdistan.

    But Iraqi and Kurdish officials are defending the plan.

    “This is a good step to solve problems,” said a Kurdish government spokesman.

    Sinjar has also been caught up in a land dispute between Iraq’s central government and Kurdistan since a failed Kurdish attempt for full independence in 2017.

    The plan calls for the Baghdad and Erbil governments to choose new leaders for Sinjar and appoint a 2,500-member security force. Supporters of the PKK suspect that force would include returning Yazidis who are with the peshmerga.

    I’m Susan Shand.

    The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    reconstruction – n. to recreate or rebuild

    pacify – v. to calm or to soothe

    devil – n. the most powerful spirit of evil in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam who is often represented as the ruler of hell

    worship – v. to revere as a god or to practice one's religion

    retreat – v. to pull back from a confrontation