Sinjar’s Yezidi Militias

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On June 14 the Turkish military (TSK) once again conducted airstrikes on the small rural district of Sinjar targeting what appears to be ammunition depots on the mountain range behind the modest city centre.1.https://twitter.com/ddsgf9876/status/1272434404976144384?s=20 The strikes occurred days after Turkish officials met with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and struck several areas in Iraq that the TSK views as inundated with PKK forces.2.https://twitter.com/abdullahawez/status/1272299437654773760?s=20 The strikes notably seemed to avoid bases co-operated with the PKK founded Yezidi Resistance Forces (YBS) and the Iraqi military. In recent years the Iraqi military has reigned in the PMUs which had constructed their own security apparatus in the wake of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s pullout in 2017. The Iraqi military has been able to slowly regain control of the area which lies along a strategic trade and smuggling route through Syria. Various defensive Yezidi militias inhabit enclaves of the district and its surrounding territory contending with external powers and regional rivalries. Each of these groups have competed for control over the small forsaken Yezidi enclave, yet facilities and administrative roles remain overlapping, contingent on political affiliation, provided by international aid organisations or, in most cases, disappeared since 2014. These patchwork and sometimes overlapping security structures have rooted out the majority of ISIS presence in the Nineveh Plains, but in the wake of the KRG pullout, rival militias still clash and fail to fill in the gaps of the federal government in the area.

A doctor takes the temperatures of members of Qassem Shisho’s forces as a COVID-19 precaution.
A health institution affiliated with the Khansour Council providing COVID-19 testing in coordination with the YBS.

This lack of facilities and administration could have devastating effects3.Middle East Eye, “Coronavirus: Medical workers warn of ‘disaster’ if pandemic hits Iraq’s Sinjar region,” 3 April 2020 for Sinjar as COVID-19 spreads across the region. Various actors have advertised their attempts to curb the spread of the virus. Qassem Shisho’s forces were pictured checking the temperature4.https://www.facebook.com/Shingalpeshmergah/videos/635158513937903/?v=635158513937903 of their soldiers. The pro-Sinjar Protection Units (YBS) Ezidixan Asayis posted a notice for the closure of roads in the north of Snuny5.https://www.facebook.com/asayishezidxan/ to encourage social distancing in a coordinated COVID response effort with the Iraqi government. 6.Interview with Matthew Travis Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago and the former director o f Yazda, an organisation founded to respond to the Yezidi Genocide  Yezidi Protection Force (HPE) representatives have also reported on their meeting with Iraqi national security officials7.https://www.facebook.com/Ezidi.Democratic.Party/posts/861476664280282?xts%5B0%5D=68.ARD_7T2i6ljjf0n0ZPc8qcMG70J26ICaSUkm9l7ux_CexTejGg-7w2lMcbUQhySVjZUYiTq8MJizT6hfMGhATwfTqssUmGTmP7nUfFY8Y7KAHO8Ht6MSW-1JR0XfWE_xKXm028ar0mnxaTmVL9TddbM40mQLw0nvdXILV46W9M4qiC3EJFojheu5haEpmhc-bB841Qy1izykjRctZmNSvnbV1ouCTIWPPUEGKdv4LvXJt8WLIAsekSNpl4hCYENuhhkkd4CFKU49Yq4In9GmqweTs__I4G192VoB4xDX7iuu7J-GHVOcuIiNg9Dnw7nSkJU9rm5xZJfV_xOOk7_jCjM&tn=-R to discuss the virus and a local Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary unit urged Nineveh residents to comply with COVID regulations8.https://www.facebook.com/qaes242/posts/121013232856802?xts%5B0%5D=68.ARALZA1kL176PZT5WHsUC1fpk3QjlMfYS9CNIHWrOdxImhFxCmfVgVxZtRaJJg9zojqLCL5OTl4aU2oL2-cLslkFv5PTTV0-BaGH7zlpUwIyuxLoLbSd-O7D3H87mlMeYtnUdoE5RSRnf87et7z7j2RvJndYYdhS1S6hAh40ia1JZGGV1Vefqg_SjZs_2JLgDSEfN4WSuHeIE5NS3-3LcwqWSb3AmWXSk5PsNk0Dd_9WUFfl3e6g_VSnGRBkBwDfwGJd-uyhcnB2I0-LQyWjg9bi0uswV7lSJsWA37VdizDnBTGoCgdXOfeodo3lcq_5Vp2MeJJ2afzZe52wX9w&tn=-R and procedures.

Ezixan Asayis alongside YBS soldiers, Traffic Police, and Iraqi Police hold signs enforcing a notice for the closure of roads in the north side of Snuny to encourage social distancing.

While numerous Yezidi militias have stepped into the fill the administrative gaps in Sinjar that predate the invasion of ISIS, many of these armed groups have caused internal conflict due to the uncertainty of the region’s political future and do not comprise a functional governance structure. Competing ideologies and identities in the region, from the PKK’s democratic confederalism to Kurdistan Regional Government loyalists, have put the livelihoods of the remaining residents in flux.

Methodology:

This report focuses on the recent activities and disputes of Yezidi militias in Sinjar after the withdrawal of KRG Peshmerga in the context of oscillating interregional rivalries. The research in this report draws from local social media to interpret the presence of these groups across the Sinjar district, scholarly and journalistic works as well as interviews. The report analyzes local militias in the context of external military power projections and not the humanitarian crisis taking place in the region or the broader political ramifications.

Under KRG Control

On November 14, 2015 President Masoud Barzani declared9.Guardian,
“Peshmerga forces enter Sinjar in fight against Isis,” 13 November 2015,
the province of Sinjar liberated from ISIS by Peshmerga forces, nearly 15 months after ISIS took control of the province and carried out a genocide against local Yezidis and other minorities. Anti-ISIS operations were carried out by US airsupport, the YPG, the PKK, and Yezidi militias. Despite the KRG’s eventual defeat of ISIS in the Nineveh province, many believe that the KRG’s military response in the region was too little and too late.

When ISIS began to threaten local minorities in 2014, Yezidis formed their own militias. Haidar Shisho and his uncle Qassem Shisho founded the Ezidihan Protection Units (HPE) in order to defend themselves against the not so distant threat. Haidar Shisho claims that he offered to formally incorporate his forces into the KRG Peshmerga but was denied. The KRG instead, contended that their Peshmerga would ward off any security threat to the region without the aid of illegally formed militias.

On August 3, 2014 the feared massacre of local Yezidis and other minorities took place in Sinjar and neighbouring villages. The events of that day and those that followed allotted to a horrific mass murder that their small demographic would never recover from. According to a UN Human Rights Council investigation10.OHCHR, “They came to destroy”: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis, 15 June 2016 published in 2016, the Peshmerga were the only security force in Nineveh during the genocide and when the seige began many Peshmerga “reportedly withdrew in the face of the ISIS advance, leaving much of the Sinjar region defenceless…No evacuation orders were issued and most villages were initially unaware of the collapse of the security situation.” Haidar Shisho and other Yezidi figures have described the retreat as a great betrayal. Some locals have even alleged that the KRG confiscated weapons and prevented the Yezidis from fleeing.11.Forbes, “Can The Peshmerga Fighters Be Held Liable For Abandoning The Yazidis In Sinjar?,” 31 July 2017 On August 3, militias rushed in in a desperate attempt to fend off the siege.

Those that survived were faced with a difficult reassessment of allegiance. Yezidis are distinct from other Kurds in their religious and cultural practices but have been courted by both the KRG and other pan-Kurdish movements. The Peshmerga’s desertion in 2014 led many Yezidis to consider themselves independent from the KRG and perhaps as a minority within greater Iraq rather than a subsect of Kurdistan.

The Peshmerga, however, did return to Sinjar. Four months after the start of the attack on Sinjar the Peshmerga declared the siege broken.12.BBC, “Mount Sinjar: Islamic State siege broken, say Kurds,” 19 December 2014 On December 17th, the Peshmerga conducted a counter siege of the region aided by US air-support reclaiming Sinjar for the KRG. But by the time the KRG returned a new actor had assumed an important role in the region. The PKK and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) had come to the Yezidi’s aid providing survivors with a passageway off Mt. Sinjar and supporting them at a time when the international community and the KRG appeared unresponsive.

The KRG and the PKK are political rivals in a bid for two very different visions of “Kurdistan” and have previously collided in the western Qandil province where the PKK is known to have headquarters and training camps. After reclaiming the territory, the KRG sought to draw YBS fighters into its own ranks as Peshmerga soldiers. By 2017, the KRG announced that some,13.Kurdistan 24, “WATCH: 400 Ezidis finish 3-month Peshmerga military training,” 14 July 2017 had finished the first three months of their Peshmerga training. KRG officials repeatedly demanded the exodus of PKK and YPG forces from Sinjar while they held the territory.

KRG 2nd Regiment at base in Borek.

The Peshmerga sought to once again establish itself as the singular formal security apparatus in the region, denouncing local militias (particularly the PKK-aligned YBS) and denying cooperation with PKK elements in order to appease Turkey. In March 2017 the KRG briefly stationed members of the Roj Peshmerga, (a KRG backed Syrian Kurdish militia) in Khanasour.14.Kurdistan 24, “Clashes stop between Rojava Peshmerga, PKK affiliate fighters in Sinjar,” 3 March 2017 An altercation between the YBS and the Roj Peshmerga led to the death of one YBS soldier as well as several injured and the injury of four Roj Peshmerga. Both groups voiced their eagerness to come to an agreement and no further violent conflicts occurred. The altercation amounted essentially to a spillover of political discord between the PKK-aligned PYD and the KRG funded Kurdish National Council in Syria.

Yezidis have also expressed concern over the KRG’s attempts to envelop them into their pan-Kurdish government, irrespective of their unique Yezidi identity. Yezidi representatives have called for greater representation in the KRG government to reflect their relative proportion of the population. Sheikh Shamo, the advisor to the KRG on Yezidi Affairs said15.Yazidis.info, “Sheikh Shamo: Yazidis and Kurds hope for new government,” 12 September 2019 “Yezidis are looking forward to obtaining the right to representation in the provincial Council of Duhok. I am convinced that the government of the Kurdistan region will take good steps in this matter.” While Yezidis secured four new posts16.Kurdistan 24, “Ezidis to secure four posts in the new KRG cabinet: Source,” 8 July 2019 in the KRG’s cabinet, they were unable to make gains in parliamentary representation17.Baghdad Post, “Parliament refuses to increase quota of Yazidis in new election law: MP,” 22 January 2018 in either the Iraqi or KRG government.

KRG Withdrawal

The September 2017 referendum for independence in the KRG marked the beginning of the end of the KRG administration of Sinjar. The referendum reignited tensions and territorial disputes between the Iraqi federal government and the KDP-led federation. By October 2017 the KRG had nearly completely withdrawn its forces18.https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/922151742233509889.html from the area. The retreat was seen as a major sign of weakness for the KRG and a strategic failure, closing off important routes for trade and commerce. In December local Peshmerga units, such as Qassim Shesho’s recruits and the portion of Haidar Shesho’s recruits that had formally joined the Peshmerga were disbanded.19.Ezidi Press, “Irak: Kurdische Regierung löst êzîdîsche Peshmerga-Verbände auf,” 6 December 2017 The KRG’s retreat from the Nineveh province allowed both the Iraqi government and affiliated PMUs to take control of the area, causing further dissonance of pan-Kurdish identity among the local Yezidis

As the KRG attempts to strengthen their relationship with Turkey, (a tumultuous and complex alliance predicated on economic entanglement), Turkey has pressured the KRG to respond to the remaining presence of PKK affiliates in Sinjar. The KRG has repeatedly vocalised their disapproval of PKK presence in the region and stated20.Kurdistan 24, “PKK responsible for Turkish airstrikes in Shingal: Peshmerga Ministry,” 25 April 2017 that the “PKK is responsible for Turkish airstrikes in Shingal”. KDP member and former Sinjar Mayor Mahma Khalil explained that the KRG doesn’t “want Sinjar to become a regional conflict. This is why we ask all armed groups not from this region to leave, let them be PKK, let them be PMU…” Little remains of the Kurdish Peshmerga security apparatus in the Sinjar area and the KRG has limited political capital in the region given their retreat during the siege of ISIS in addition to their lack of humanitarian and administrative support.

Two years after the retreat, Baghdad and Erbil made an agreement to allow for the return of some KRG officials to the Sinjar region including former mayor Mahma Khalil21.Rudaw, “‘Legitimate’ Shingal administration to return under KRG-Baghdad deal,” 29 October 2018 the head of Sinjar district council, the mayor of Snuny, and other district officials. Yet it would be a massive overstatement to recognize this reassignment as the return of KRG administration. Mahma Khalil was met with protesters at the checkpoint between Tel Afar and Sinjar, who claimed former representatives had not provided services in Sinjar,22.NRT, “EZIDIS PROTEST AGAINST RETURN OF OFFICIALS TO SINJAR, SAYING THAT THEY HAVE NOT PROVIDED SERVICES,” 31 October 2018 and would only stir up trouble in the already politically volatile area.

In mid-2017 the Yezidi Peshmerga began to shed soldiers to the newly formed local Yezidi PMUs. The KRG attempted to dissuade further dissertation from their forces by ordering the forced expulsion23.Yezidi Press, “The End of the PKK in Sinjar? How the Hashd al-Sha’bi Can Help Resolve the Yazidi Genocide,” 1 June 2017 of any fighter now associated with the PMU and their family members. The KRG began to create barriers to PMUs’ movements in the region thereby obstructing their operations and accused the federal government of violating the constitution24.Yezidi Press, “The End of the PKK in Sinjar? How the Hashd al-Sha’bi Can Help Resolve the Yazidi Genocide,” 1 June 2017 and seizing disputed territory. 

The KRG’s loss of the disputed territory meant forfeiting their military presence in Sinjar, maintaining nominal solely Peshmerga presence in the Nineveh Province as a whole. As few as three battalions appear to remain in the area including the Second Regiment (Sinjar Regiment) operating out of their base in Borek,25.https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1049168488794623&id=370161313362014&xts%5B0%5D=68.ARDBGtxLwB2ZnvkoXy73sGqJa2jUEcvjuMB504N6nLew8rmOgjZjma-GTPLC6EaNqB2sIpblCbORo6T2l3fm-XgYpl6rNDGNdPGbYKpgreA9jLMf7KGlDAYhMBK1U4ISPQ4h94OnZf83h7IbttHSUCLBrQfsivOdxlYoH0oLPIYQq_c4Aee7N5vJI6VWIZnGwWv364-aY9G8dX-I-Sr6NZQoQzecy8rgyATxliEuCoJbvuwESk5GNcL5TZ_1W1gypKfl0k0CuaJcxreo7UR2rumcTiWJNMshgFJFdz0WDkeLh_NcNlHVz5vXM3Y0aDZyoBtvSE1ejxI1ef4kad0W53OWQw&tn=-R a village in the nearby al-Ba’aj district. Additionally local militia leader Qassem Shisho and his recruits26.https://www.facebook.com/Shingalpeshmergah/?comment_id=Y29tbWVudDoyNjg3MDc0NjA4MDA5MDc4XzI2ODcwNzY1OTQ2NzU1NDY%3D (a force of some 200-300 soldiers)27.Interview with Matthew Travis Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago and the former director of Yazda, an organisation founded to respond to the Yezidi Genocide still patrol near the Yezidi Sherefdin Shrine28.European Council on Foreign Relations, “When the weapons fall silent: Reconciliation in Sinjar after ISIS,” October 2018 alongside his nephew’s HPE fighters despite their reported disarmament after the KRG’s departure. Nevertheless KDP frontman Qassem Shisho remains a popular local figure maintaining a semblance of KRG representation in Sinjar. 

Qassem Shisho’s Peshmerga Forces:

Qassem Shisho is well regarded amongst some Yezidis for his protection of the Yezidi Sherefdin Shrine and as one of the founders of the HPE in 2014. However Qassem Shisho has proven a more divisive politician than his nephew. Human Rights Watch29.Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Yezidi Fighters Allegedly Execute Civilians,” 27 December 2017 documented ethnic cleansing of local Arabs in June 2017 carried out by the Qassem Shisho’s militia. While Qassem denied involvement, and one survivor claims that he heard Shisho asking his militia not to burn the houses30.European Council on Foreign Relations, “When the weapons fall silent: Reconciliation in Sinjar after ISIS,” October 2018 but after his departure the acts of violence commenced. In addition to Shisho’s Peshmerga militia’s poor rapport with their Arab neighbours, Shisho has also vocalized his harsh stance against the PKK and the YBS. Shisho, like the KRG, considers the YBS and the PKK to be outside forces occupying Sinjar. After a Turkish airstrike killed YBS commander Zaki Shingali, the Iraqi border guards blocked mourning PKK and YPG affiliates from attending his funeral. Qassem Shisho commended the move.

Qassem Shisho’s forces in front of the Sherefdin Yezidi Shrine.

The KRG continues to partner with the TSK in anti-PKK operations, complicating local relationships with the YBS and politically dividing Yezidis in favor of either the Turkish attacks or the PKK’s political agenda in the region. Qassem Shisho’s remaining forces’ salaries are doled out by the KDP itself rather than their official funding from the Ministry of Peshmerga.[4] His militia is mainly symbolic of the KDP presence in the area and no longer represents a contending force in Sinjar.

HPE (Protection Force of Êzîdxan)

The HPE (Hêza Parastina Êzîdxanê or the Protection Force of Êzîdxan), formerly known as “HPS” and sometimes referred to as simply “Ezidihan” formed as a local defense militia preceding the invasion of ISIS in 2014. The group was founded by Haidar Shisho and his uncle Qassem Shisho who returned to their native Sinjar from Germany upon learning of the impending invasion. The militia was hastily constructed from a group of some 3,500 volunteers to defend Yezidis fleeing ISIS’s ethnic cleansing across the Nineveh plains. The group was funded and supported by PMUs31.Yezidi Press, “The End of the PKK in Sinjar? How the Hashd al-Sha’bi Can Help Resolve the Yazidi Genocide,” 1 June 2017 in 2014-15 but funding was withdrawn over allegations of mismanagement of funds 32.In March 2019 Haidar Shisho addressed accusations of embezzlement of HPE funds. Shisho claims that a Yezidi responsible for distributing  4,484,000 US dollars to the HPE from the Iraqi government Murad Sheru Sulaiman Kalu,  embezzled 1,654000 USD in the name of HPE distributed to Murad Sheru Sulaiman Kalu. The HPE called on the Iraqi Government to investigate Murad.

A delegation from HPE at the headquarters of the (20) division commander in Sinjar.

Qassem Shisho and his nephew became popular figures of resistance in Sinjar in their initial struggle against ISIS in Sinjar. Haidar and his uncle have contrasting political allegiances but share the primary objective of providing Sinjar with a local security structure. Haidar Shisho maintained his ties to the PUK, where he was a member of the central council33.Ekurd Daily, “Haider Shesho resigns from PUK, to form new Yazidi Democratic Party,” 18 April 2017 while Qassem Shesho is a KDP party member.

Haidar Shisho, leader of the HPE, meets with American Ambassador in Erbil

Qassem Shisho created his own faction of fighters and broke with the HPE early on leaving Haidar to subsume leadership of the organisation. Haidar Shisho has continually emphasised that the HPE was established as an independent local defence unit with a distinctly Yezidi identity. Currently the HPE is funded by the Ministry of the Peshmerga as well as through illicit activities such as smuggling into Syria and cannabis crops34.Interview with Matthew Travis Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago and the former director of Yazda, Interview with Syrian- Kurdish activist living in Iraq.The HPE claims to amount to a force of about 1,000 salaried employees but the number of active soldiers is likely much lower35.Interview with Matthew Travis Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago and the former director of Yazda, Interview with Syrian- Kurdish activist living in Iraq.

The HPE established a base36.Yezidi Press, “Shingal-Stadt: Neuer Stützpunkt der Verteidigungskraft Êzîdxan (HPÊ) errichtet,” 14 January 2016 under the HPE flag adjacent to the Sharafdin Shrine in Sinjar in January 2016 between Snuny and Digure. This base, a modest three story building37.https://www.facebook.com/HPEziedchane/videos/658643717956380/?xts%5B0%5D=68.ARAkteqPeApvXWlyEVwm2TgEooTfPu9yWZ12NbpXqyWWHYaTRIdFq-T8PB-Ejd1wWxkuoiJ8iODI-4dhhKca0D45oTx22fpTuNE7NgkXhRi-064g0592NI2sYwcUQB76V_v1zlpo4tJkz6QXxJ4biVnkzyC4pB9KdBHf9Lkuby4BGfNdhx2XK8TzxYAzYPCLYk5NXjEo3Q2opSOHKEbEK2gQdMkWIkfM8znc5sNEdddlZTKdEA22Z0bfftKyd3UxazeG5GHrQ2LFCBHR9xl9-KYuuKHjHDztPqpeZwhF53LIQqggkjNWdIMJP53UwK2GV_N7Q5GxZIUXDZYRyG1ly4inXVMhayEpMe9X_w&tn=-R, is considered HPE headquarters. According38.International Crisis Group, “Winning the Post-ISIS Battle for Iraq in Sinjar,” 20 February 2018 to the International Crisis Group, in 2018 Haidar Shisho began “bringing electrical power from Mosul to Sinjar north of the mountain, where he has his headquarters.” The HPE also operates out of a base in the Dohola intersection39.Interview with Matthew Travis Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago and the former director of Yazda. The HPE is “active in all the northeastern collective towns, from Snuny to Hardan, and they run checkpoints in some of them.40.Interview with Matthew Travis Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago and the former director of Yazda

Although the HPE has always considered itself a local and independent Yezidi militia, the KRG withdrawal diminished their influence in the region. The withdrawal of the Peshmerga came just months after Haidar Shisho relented and began to implement the incorporation of the local militia into the Peshmerga forces (albeit only 1,000 had been registered.41.Ekurd, “Part of Yazidi Ezidkhan forces officially incorporated into Peshmerga forces,” 13 March 2017 The move to incorporate his militia came only after the KRG arrested Haidar42.Ezidi Press, “Kurdish government: Shesho arrested by official order,” 6 April 2015 and accused him of creating an illegal militia. Haidar had less than perfect relations with the KRG in its earlier days but the influx of PMUs has proven equally, if not more, hostile to their group.

Three store building converted into the HPE base in between Digure and Sunny.

In 2017 PMUs reportedly attempted to strike a deal with Haidar43.International Crisis Group, “Winning the Post-ISIS Battle for Iraq in Sinjar,” 20 February 2018 and incorporate some of his combatants into their own forces. The group retained its relative independence as one of the only groups operating without formal incorporation into the Iraqi government or affiliated PMUs. As a result on December 2018 the Badr Organisation, arguably the most powerful PMU, raided and HPE44.https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=563978037399111&id=325329864597264 base confiscating various weapons and arresting 30 HPE members. The PMU, like the KRG, claimed that the HPE was an illegal unregistered militia, while Haidar Shesho claimed they were arrested because the group is not “not under their command.”45.Kurdistan 24, “Iraqi militia releases 30 Yezidi Peshmerga, after detaining them for 12 hours,” 24 December 2018 In response Haidar Shisho threatened to surround all the streets of Sinjar with HPE fighters if the HPE members were not released by noon the next day.46.https://www.facebook.com/MalaEizidxan/videos/372363213520392/?xts%5B0%5D=68.ARDUL_ndaWxA2dAk4_fh_vR6LBG44UyoCSHmIVTImoSh53y2oTdBcoxArIEoOzhiVS8RE3NGZK1zdSYuuzkikvcdHpKaJNNdaHtc2O91kxPcaB8J94qf-SsYS74spvCfaE8TrMrZZQ_KM2bcLZl-YWdDm1h_JK8nMHonoZLnJoZsXozQPhVYiCkMK5bPs53TpoaFnCcpP9XHW5MqLmhz_KLhP4wpcmik1rm1WA8lHrlHB-Km59_XrZJaXTP4a8CICjSkgkTxjDbsJ9E7El7-GA8g7ogRGYm1lmRUT_zobxAz_x0uQVdJHP35i3Rr7u0bqrycEq8HoT3wPTRoFO9b5rs3H4u3IxjUeVawmA&tn=-R His demands were quickly met.47.PUK Media, “حيدر ششو يؤكد لـPUKmedia اطلاق سراح جميع المقاتلين الايزيديين 24,” December 2018

Later that month the HPE was invited to a meeting between officials from the YBS, local Arab tribes, and PMU representatives. The HPE announced its disapproval of the formation of the committee48.Kurdistan 24, “PKK-affiliate, Sunni, Shia Arabs form parallel administrative body in Shingal: official,” 27 December 2018 despite its inclusion and Shisho stated “administration of the Popular Mobilisation Units [Hashd al-Shaabi] is not very good, the situation is bad.” Shesho claimed that they would have supported the formation of the committee had it come from the Nineveh Provincial Council.49.Kurdistan 24, “PKK-affiliate, Sunni, Shia Arabs form parallel administrative body in Shingal: official,” 27 December 2018 Shisho appears to have more friendly relations with local Yezidi PMUs like the Lalish Brigade.50.https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/922151742233509889.html

Haidar Shisho also lamented that the absence of the Kurdish Peshmerga “has contributed to the increase in PKK movements/”51.Yekiti Media, “حيدر ششو: حزب العمال الكُردستاني “PKK” يزيد من أنشطته وتحركاته في شنگال 2,” December 2017 Like his uncle, he considers the PKK to be one of the many occupying forces in Sinjar despite their military support against ISIS in 2014 and beyond. The HPE denounced Turkey’s offensives in Syria and airstrikes in Sinjar but holds the PKK responsible for their continued presence and its consequences for locals. Regardless, the HPE continues to cooperate and collaborate with the pro-PKK YBS.

Unlike the TSK and the KRG, the HPE distinguishes between the PKK and the YBS. The YBS is mostly composed of local fighters and acts as a local security force but it has been undeniably led, trained and ideologically influenced by the PKK perhaps in an even more transparent way than the Syrian YPG. The HPE tolerates YBS backed-political parties, administration local councils, and the Asayis police force. HPE and YBS forces inhabit similar and overlapping areas including Snuny, Sinjar City centre, Mt. Sinjar, Khanasour,52.https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=573518096509008&id=305781319949355&xts%5B0%5D=68.ARBTyezxucxLJaWE6aszfSc1YsUs-afWa24ZEQqyTwhkIWt9Rpjlwa6ada8PtpmASz85R9fRDHW3dOr6vL1qIw0szmNkhqJ4QbNe6tBGL8pOXlCE1n1U6ZnS6Pp6Lp9Fn9UoP6y4MdFdDZkkDojfAft_GelmonpOTkU4_cateun5W6-kbRoi1-dwqoY-yB8_917ARMAymIhBgMzd-EmPXE-8_e4hVNEGz4bDO1VRw4zyOdtWHwt3w-8k0WoZKRBjldaU80X0UDCD0_wDzncxG_b_EelTsBvCmaCNGhWl-hBEg06WlMT51iQHHJXkt_UK8VQBUlnIPgR8jxRuBEWiUfA&tn=-R as well as operations in the al-Ba’aj area. The Yezidi Alliance, a military partnership formed under Qaseem Shisho in 201453.Rudaw, “Peshmerga and Syrian Kurdish Forces Agree to Fight Together for Shingal,” 10 September 2014 to unite local Yezidi militias in their fight against ISIS has for the most part bound the groups in solidarity. The alliance moved beyond security partnership to develop a political coalition of Yezidi parties each unofficially connected to local militias. The only instance of tension between the two groups in recent years arose from allegations that the HPE had provided information to Turkish intelligence, excepting this allegation the groups have coexisted peacefully54.Interview with Matthew Travis Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago and the former director of Yazda, Interview with Syrian-Kurdish activist living in Iraq.

HPE commander Eido Haidar meets with members of the Iraqi 20th Division.

Alongside the YBS, the HPE openly coordinates with the Iraqi military. In December 2019 the commander of the HPE, Eido Haidar,55.https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=693655904495226&id=305781319949355&tn=-R met with Iraqi officials from the 20th Division56.https://www.facebook.com/HPEziedchane/posts/1762174957250050?tn=-R and in 2018 HPE documented their visit to the 92nd Brigade’s57.https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=337149760105267&id=100014307369193 base in Tal Afar. Most recently the HPE met with Iraqi security officials58.https://www.facebook.com/Ezidi.Democratic.Party/posts/861476664280282?tn=-R and police at the Yezidi Democratic Party Headquarters in Bashika in order to develop a strategy to combat the spread of COVID 19. Nevertheless Iraqi military said in 2019 that they do not support the continuity of militia presence in the region but seek to incorporate the militias into the Iraqi Police.59.https://www.facebook.com/MalaEizidxan/videos/306072686773226/?xts%5B0%5D=68.ARCWORHIcpJHPb369-2bVmRUkAgwVymTIdpEBuP4A_bPLTbqH_X-L2jbv1C57l-xqBiD8_TqLAKCRJTBiMzXA2kUP5ELcy_-RyCbP4SGI6B9N1MqsKH2CWtPe4kMT1JDDrxL2FcPCCNV2XXbtldSXRYN1qkzQZ6AgIEY_aOtzq8ZO2ZQ3Wqyb3I4I2GI4h0N4e1oBR-Nmot4DtFL6XXIdnmS5jG9b6qcAWLBFjl7X6wPhYdqjjUl6ZnRn8AxRdM61NmOpHpc21fC2EJQMqE3FKTc8oq21WC-D-3FxBT9Pj7pkcsVKEPCQo9EeARttCGl7il9VLJ8aWgaqYjTt20t5Yt2W3qVGlmHEfQeuA&tn=-R

Yezidi Democratic Party

Haidar Shisho speaks at PDE event.

In April 2017, Haydar Shesho left his position60.Ekurd Daily, “Haider Shesho resigns from PUK, to form new Yazidi Democratic Party,” 18 April 2017 as a central council member of the PUK and formed his own party, the Yezidi Democratic Party (PDE). The new party essentially amounts to the political arm of the HPE. Quickly after the party formed, they joined the Yezidi Alliance,61.Kani Press, “الإعلان عن إتفاق إيزيدي موحد في سنجار”, August 2019 a collection of Yezidi political parties including the YBS backed BADI party. Haidar Shesho met with the US ambassador to the KRG as a representative of the PDE in June 2019 and February 2020.62.https://www.facebook.com/pedemocratic/photos/a.1266532316770839/2274167746007286/?type=3&theater The party has offices outside of Sinjar including in Bahsika and Bazhani.63.https://www.facebook.com/Ezidi.Democratic.Party/

YBS (Yezidi Protection Units)

The YBS was formed as a defensive militia trained and organised by PKK and YPG combatants. The group proved an effective force in taking back territory from the so-called Islamic State but stood in defiance of KRG control to the east. The YBS capitalised on the KRG withdrawal by aligning itself with both the Iraqi military and the influx of PMUs to the region. PMUs began funding the YBS in 2015, having previously supported the HPE. The funding was halted in October 2016 in order to appease the KRG but resumed in May 201764.Yezidi Press, “The End of the PKK in Sinjar? How the Hashd al-Sha’bi Can Help Resolve the Yazidi Genocide,” 1 June 2017 through the Iraqi government using the same channels of funding in Baghdad as the PMUs. The YBS reportedly welcomed65.Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “Building a “Joint Force” to Control Liberated Yazidi Towns,” 6 June 2017 PMUs to join in their fight against the remaining ISIS enclaves. The PKK-aligned YBS is somewhat of a natural ally to Iraqi military in their territorial dispute with the KRG. The KRG coordinates with Turkey on operations against the PKK in their territory while the Iraqi government has been much more lenient towards the group though it as a whole opposes PKK governance in the region.

The YBS, like all KCK established militias, has a female equivalent known as the YJS. The YJS is also a member of the Yezidi Alliance and participates with the YBS in operations. The group adheres to “jineology”, the feminist idealogy of Abdullah Ocalan. Similar to the PKK, the YBS has also faced allegations of child recruitment and in the same vein of internationalisation as the YPG, the YBS has an English language Facebook page dedicated to international recruitment.66.https://www.facebook.com/YBSinternationalgroup/photos/a.105641747507875/187027549369294/?type=3&theater Foreign fighters comprise their own unit in the YBS, some of which are former YPG recruits.67.Interview with YBS foreign fighter Martin Klamper

YBS soldiers surrounded by Iraqi, YBS, YJE, and Ocalan flags.

The YBS has grown since the Peshmerga’s retreat. Their forces now include roughly 5,000- 6,000 soldiers. 68.Interview with Matthew Travis Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago and the former director of YazdaAccording to Yezidi activist Matthew Travis Barber, the YBS has begun incorporating Arab recruits into their militia primarily from the Shammar tribe which has a history of closer ties to the PKK and YPG. Arab recruits are employed in Arab majority villages seeking to incorporate the Arab demographic into the Sinjar security apparatus.The YBS has indicated its presence on social media across Til Ezer, Khanasour, Sinjar city center, Mt. Sinjar, Al-Qadisiya69.https://www.facebook.com/asayishezidxan/posts/1133899830284310?xts%5B0%5D=68.ARAAXpvxvyc-esri37v4Uv7F_436v8Fb82zGEZ84LCVVbSy61cPaC7Whl_zPNdAnmvJThc3YGo2p5Crk6-AAU5DtNjCS36L70vpxuCsD1eS8tuuXe2Ho5p-Qpi_QTl9BtYSWiwe5M76RhMPYWzv6iFdw_oLDGhRzr39f8J0MK12WL3X1rm3bRaYtGYmlmDlXuHMEMEHNB_du0DVESRYnOIJSlpzCXYuBj69yI0wqPnKpZtyKntjYRISVfMnFw2YKnh7Mw7P9h1SQy1I7WjMaZMcCP5eGgB7bV_O2voVsX2AvOAMlG_sQj_pmugJ0OmAqyG-r8cNkMYI4W6dyOGwtzQHHjA&tn=-R and Snuny and acts as the “main authority in the southern collectives except for Tal Banat and Tal Qassab.”70.Interview with Matthew Travis Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago and the former director of Yazda While the YBS functions alongside Iraqi police in most villages, they are the sole presence in the southern enclaves of Til Ezer, al- Adnaniyah, Siba Shaykh Khidr, and the northern Khanasour area.71.Interview with Matthew Travis Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago and the former director of Yazda

YBS Asayis in front of Iraqi, BADI Party, YBS flags and Ocalan image.

The YBS has both clashed and coordinated with the Iraqi military, though in recent years the relationship has developed into a collaborative security structure. The Iraqi military primarily operates in rural areas while Iraqi police and YBS forces carry out security operations inside cities.72.Interview with Matthew Travis Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago and the former director of Yazda YBS bases are adorned with both the YBS flag and the Iraqi flag, signaling their dual allegiance. The PKK flag is sometimes raised during funerals and other ceremonies73.https://www.facebook.com/sengalybs/photos/pcb.1084399391920986/1084398978587694/?type=3&theater&ifg=1 but has not appeared above YBS bases since their incorporation into the Iraqi military. The YBS, YJE74.Similar to the YPG, the YBS also has a separate unit for women known as the Ezidixan Women’s Units (YJE) making up a smaller portion of their armed forces. and Iraqi Military frequently carry out anti-ISIS operations75.Ronahi TV, “LI DIJÎ ÇETEYÊN DAIŞ’Ê LI ŞENGALÊ OPERASYONEKE HEVBEŞ DAN DESTPÊKIRIN,” 26 July 2019 together. Likewise the Iraqi police, YBS Asayis, and YBS work together76.https://rb.gy/xkhpk9 to man checkpoints and provide internal security.77.YBS Press, “Paqijkirina mayinan berdewam e – YBŞ,” 19 September 2019 According to a YBS foreign fighter, over half of YBS checkpoints are co-operated with the Iraqi military.78.Interview with YBS foreign fighter Martin Klamper In June 2019 the YBS reported that a car bomb had killed two of their soldiers79.https://twitter.com/SinjarYBS/status/1138822876897959936 at an Iraqi police recruitment center in Kisak confirming a direct relationship between the YBS and the police force.

Recently constructed YBS checkpoint flying the Iraqi flag and donning the Asayis emblem.

In spite of their cohesive security structure, in the past the YBS and the Iraqi military have clashed over movement across borders and the involvement of the PKK in the region. According to The New Arab the PKK relinquished control of the checkpoint on March 2880.Iraqi News, “Newspaper: PKK hands border crossing with Syria to Iraqi army,” 28 March 2018 and “brought down the group’s posters, flags and bunkers in the area before pulling out from Tal al-Banat area.” The checkpoint was reportedly handed over to the Iraqi military and “Yezidi mobilisation forces”. Yet one year later Iraqi forces and the YBS collided in the Snuny district near the Hasawik border crossing and in the nearby village of Om Diban.81.Kurdistan 24, “Iraq deploys 3 army brigades to Sinjar, new clashes with Yezidi fighters affiliated to PKK,” 19 March 2019 In Hasawik two Iraqi soldiers and five YBS soldiers82.Kurdistan 24, “Iraqi forces, Yezidi PKK-affiliated militia clash near Syrian border,” 18 March 2019 were killed alongside many injured. The Iraqi military’s attempt to take the illegal border crossing appeared to be a violent expression of their discontent with PKK smuggling83.https://www.facebook.com/Tactic.cell/posts/2332776307045349 activities. The next morning the military deployed three brigades to the border in a brute show of force but the conflict ended shortly afterwards through a meeting with YBS and Iraqi military officials the next day. The International Crisis Group alleges that the closure or reassertion of the Iraqi military’s control of the border crossings into Syria disrupted aid distribution to the US allied YPG and thus the US took measures to reopen84.International Crisis Group, “Winning the Post-ISIS Battle for Iraq in Sinjar,” 20 February 2018 the illegal crossings. This was of course deemed unacceptable to Turkish authorities.

Current leader of YBS, Fakir Dashwar speaking to Ezidi24 about recent Turkish airstrikes in Sinjar.

Yezidi Freedom and Democracy Party (BADI):

On May 6, 2017 the newly permitted Yezidi Freedom and Democracy Party (BADI) raised their flag in Sinjar alongside the Iraqi national flag. Previously the PKK-supported party was referred to as TEVGA or the Yezidi Democractic Party. The party was founded in 2004 as the Iraqi branch of the PKK-led KCK. TEVGA did not have any seats in Iraqi parliament and was not popular among Yezidis. The BADI Party was founded in the wake of newfound gratitude to PKK forces after the siege of Sinjar in 2014 and thereby became a more relevant political force85.Tomas Kavalek, Middle East Research Institute, “Competing Interests in Shingal District: Examining the PKK-linked Structures, Defusing Tensions” 2017. Unlike the YPG and the PYD, the party is not officially the political branch of the militia. Qatan Ali, leader of the party stated that the party belongs to Iraq and did not have an accompanying armed force. Nevertheless, the party is clearly supportive of YBS ideology and the PKK. The party frequently organises protests against Turkish airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Demonstrators carry YBS flags, Apo flags, Asayis flags, and PKK flags.86.https://www.facebook.com/wwwshingal75/photos/pcb.2595534394024014/2595534337357353/?type=3&theater BADI maintains a close relationship with the YBS but their media also praises the Iraqi government for their anti-ISIS operations. 

YBS demonstrators protesting Turkish operations.

The YBS functions in a variety of platforms beyond the BADI party and the militia. The Yezidi Youth Union, the Yezidi Asayis, and the Yezidi Autonomous Administration Project are affiliated or supporters of the YBS and the KCK. These organisations often employ imagery associated with the PKK lead KCK  including Apo flags87.https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=484794759066898 and banners and YPG flags.

The Yezidi Youth Union (YCE):

Newly founded YCE community center celebration.

The Yezidi Youth Union (YCE) aims to “train young people on the ideas and philosophy of Leader Apo.”88.https://www.facebook.com/Yekitiya.Ciwanen.Ezidi.YCE/posts/104230851211120?tn=-R The organization was formed in July 2017 and has documented events in Snuny, Khanasour and Sinjar. The group posts videos of anti-ISIS operations89.https://www.facebook.com/Yekitiya.Ciwanen.Ezidi.YCE/videos/3323355341049198/ as well as pro-YBS and pro-PKK material.90.https://www.facebook.com/Yekitiya.Ciwanen.Ezidi.YCE/photos/a.101038898196982/135233288110876/?type=3&xts%5B0%5D=68.ARAPISiNnqse8PLj4aVk3AItO1evgMLZzwcFzVRxKvfWjjAO9p7FTsLKkOFOxUYiuWmwyBff8DDICTfQrcX0PeZXoAX82448RkXYdJoiGjwtlQbgwTW0e0TPGxQPkIM3gKpBXjDRY1h47TQXVt0bG3ZJg3QMBc4ERSbgZTl9ps0DBSd1UgrvsoF4fIU3g6R5Ppxb889Zw9QC9mlhjzJ2UdDkWXS66Gw-OcmqBWULtC4Gqdt4ZucndRsh2ahUoXb8fySaRJOUp3gpAFYWF8XZMEbh_Ze_G0N1YzMkOiYiPidk6R2zY7Spisx38PWWV_2SAFbiCFYt_S4c_KIP8VHivQo&tn=-R The YCE organises youth group activities including plays, rallies, and memorial ceremonies.

Ezidixan Asayis

The Ezidixan Asayis, not to be mistaken for HPE which is sometimes referred to as simply “Ezidihan”, is the local security force (operating as neighbourhood police) working in tandem with the Traffic Police. The Ezidixan Asayis posts in Kurdish and Arabic. The name is usually printed in Latin characters indicating its adherence to the KCK’s Kurmanji language initiative. As previously mentioned, the Ezdixan Asayis cooperate with the Iraqi military and Iraqi police in most areas but function independently in YBS strongholds.  In May 2020 sixty Ezidixan Asayis graduated from a new program named after the former YBS commander Bir Hamid Shengali at the Martyr Shankal Academy in Khansour.91.https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=462264137893264&id=217857569000590 The members of the new course received “intellectual and military lessons in addition to lessons on various light and medium weapons in addition to how to deal with emergency situations”.

Autonomous Administration of Shingal

In 2015 YBS affiliates established the Autonomous Administration of Shingal, a system of local councils similar to the PYD-led Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria[Tomas Kavalek, Middle East Research Institute “Competing Interests in Shingal District: Examining the PKK-linked Structures, Defusing Tensions“ 2017 http://www.meri-k.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Shingal-Report.pdf]]. The AA of Shingal is linked to the BADI political party (BADI flags are often flown outside AA of Shingal offices). The local council or ‘mecli’ “views itself as an embryonic governance and administrative structure that in the future should serve as a base for a governorate administration established within the scope of Iraqi law.”92.Tomas Kavalek, Middle East Research Institute, “Competing Interests in Shingal District: Examining the PKK-linked Structures, Defusing Tensions”, 2017

The AA of Shingal has formed on a more local basis than that of Rojava. The local councils, police force, political party, and YBS militia function within the framework of the Iraqi government. Moreover, most Yezidis seem to consider themselves Yezidi and Kurdish or simply Yezidi rather than succumbing to the KCK pan-Kurdish identity. The PKK has also frequently mischaracterised Yezidism with that of Zoroastrians, an identity most Yezidis not affiliated with the PKK resent.93.The Yezidi Oral Tradition in Iraqi Kurdistan Christine Allison, The Royal Asiatic Society, 2003, pg 41 When compared to the AA of Northeast Syria, the YBS has allowed for greater plurality of political bodies and militias via both the Yezidi Alliance and coordinated anti-ISIS operations. The movement is focused around a Yezidi identity rather than Kurdish and has not waged a viable insurgency against the federal government but rather served to fill the “administrative vacuum.”94.https://pydrojava.net/arabic/archives/23996 A PYD media outlet95.https://pydrojava.net/arabic/archives/23996 described the AA of Shingal as a democratic self-governance council and called for autonomy.

Turkish airstrikes

Unsurprisingly Turkey perceived the PKK’s entrance into Sinjar in 2014 as a new security threat linked to PKK presence in Syria. Sinjar became a point of contention for Turkey mainly on the basis of smuggling to and from Syria, allowing the PKK and its allies to coordinate across borders. In 2017 Turkey began conducting airstrikes in Sinjar. One of the most deadly airstrikes that year killed five Peshmerga soldiers96.Jerusalem Post, “Analysis: Why is Turkey bombing Yazidis in Iraq?,” 26 April 2017 and nine others after downing a communications tower (according to Turkish authorities, unintentionally). The targets of the strikes, YPG and PKK bases, were described by Turkish authorities as “terror nests”.97.New York Times, “Turkish Strikes Target Kurdish Allies of U.S. in Iraq and Syria,” 25 April 2017 The strikes were the first of many, initiating a pattern of routine attacks with devastating civilian tolls. These strikes frequently kill and injure civilians and their property. According to a YBS foreign fighter interviewed for this report, drones can be heard overhead constantly in Sinjar, sowing resentment and fear among civilians and soldiers alike. In addition to airstrikes in northern Iraq and Sinjar, the TSK has also carried out attacks98.Rudaw, “Turkey carries out multiple strikes in northern Iraq: officials,” 15 April 2020 on the Makhmour refugee camp99.Middle East Center, “Exclusive photos of Turkish airstrike in Iraq’s Makhmour camp,” 27 November 2019  where the TSK claims PKK insurgents hide and exert their influence over locals.

YBS Commander Zaki Shengali (Ismail Ozden).
  • August 2018: Turkey conducts several airstrikes in Sinjar that killed YBS commander (Ismail Ozden)100.Kurdistan 24, “Group confirms death of PKK Commander in Turkish airstrikes on Shingal,” 16 August 2016 Zaki Shengali. Shengali was born in Batman, Turkey. He was a member of the PKK and joined the YBS after the 2014 massacre. Zaki was killed near Baraa village in Sinjar district on his return from a memorial service for those killed in the Kojo massacre. The airstrike killed five YBS fighters and took place one day after a meeting101.Kurdistan 24, “Abadi visits Erdogan, discusses new border gate to circumvent Kurdistan,” 14 August 2018 between Prime Minister Abadi and President Erdogan, though the Iraqi government later denied coordinating102.Kurdistan 24, “Iraq condemns Turkish airstrikes in Shingal, denies coordinating with Ankara,” 17 August 2018 the attack.
  • December 2018: “Turkey’s Defense Ministry says the military has conducted airstrikes against Kurdish rebel targets in Iraq’s Sinjar and Mount Karajak regions.”103.AP News, “Turkey conducts airstrikes against PKK targets in Iraq,” 13 December 2018
  • November 2019: A Turkish airstrike in Khanasour injured two104.Kurdistan 24, “Turkish jets target Yezidi militias in Sinjar, injure 2: sources,” 4 November 2019 YBS fighters.
  • January 2020: A Turkish airstrike killed the senior commander of the YBS, Zardasht Shingali and his brother as well as two other YBS soldiers. Five people were injured including a civilian.105.https://airwars.org/civilian-casualties/?belligerent=turkish-military&country=iraq The local commander was mourned across Yezidi Facebook pages as a local who fought to defend Yezidis from ISIS. Shortly before conducting the airstrike Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with Iraqi officials, possibly106.al-Monitor, “Turkey Bombs Yazidi Militia in Iraq Affiliated with PKK,” 24 January 2020 receiving the go-ahead for the strike. Saed Khadr, a member of Iraqi Parliament representing Yezidis, described the event as an attack on an Iraqi citizen107.al-Monitor, “Turkey Bombs Yazidi Militia in Iraq Affiliated with PKK,” 24 January 2020 and thereby a violation of sovereignty.
  • June 14 2020: Turkey announced a new operation in Iraq named “Claw-Eagle”. The operation reportedly targeted 28 locations108.https://twitter.com/mutludc/status/1272286415750139907?s=20 in the Sinjar area. The TSK also targeted the mountains adjacent to the Mahkmour Refugee Camp, Haftanin, and Qandil. 
Sinjar local and YBS Commander Zardasht Shingali before he was assassinated in a Turkish airstrike.

PMUs:

When the KRG exited in 2017 PMUs rushed in to fill the void. PMUs combined forces with the YBS and Iraqi military to carry out anti-ISIS operations in the region as well as day-to-day local security functions. In May 2017 many soldiers in the Yezidi Peshmerga109.Yezidi Press, “The End of the PKK in Sinjar? How the Hashd al-Sha’bi Can Help Resolve the Yazidi Genocide,” 1 June 2017 took up arms with the newly formed Yezidi PMUs including former leaders Nayef and Talib Jassou. PMUs operated in Sinjar previous to the KRG withdrawal but the withdrawal allowed PMUs to establish a more synchronised presence in the region, recruit locally, and coordinate at a greater level with the YBS. PMUs also appointed a new district director to replace KRG officials and other administrators, a move that was criticised by a YBS commander as “serving the personal interests of a few Yezidi figures connected to them.”110.International Crisis Group, “Winning the Post-ISIS Battle for Iraq in Sinjar,” 20 February 2018

In August 2018111.Kurdistan 24, “Official: Hashd al-Shaabi withdraws from Shingal,” 22 August 2018 the PMUs began to slowly exit the region retaining only local Yezidi PMUs like the Lalish Brigade after reportedly deeming the “stability and security situation”112.Kurdistan 24, “Official: Hashd al-Shaabi withdraws from Shingal,” 22 August 2018 to no longer require their presence.  By April of this year the remaining non-local PMUs had exited the city giving up their authority to the Iraqi military. While larger PMUs have a heavy military presence in some areas in the Nineveh province113.Jerusalem Post, “Is Iraq’s Nineveh boiling over?,” 12 August 2019 (Bashika, al-Baaj, Tal Qassab, Bartella, etc.), Sinjar itself is controlled by Iraqi military and police.114.Interview with Matthew Travis Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago and the former director of Yazda Yezidi PMUs conduct operations in coordination with Iraqi military as well as other Yezidi militias but are primarily confined to their local village such as Kojo.

The PMUs profiled below are composed of locals. The Lalish Brigade, Kojo Martyrs Brigade, and August 3 Brigade identify themselves as Yezidi PMUs defending their own locales. These PMUs are often seen conducting anti-ISIS operations together. Yezidi PMUs operate checkpoints in Sinjar, albeit less than the aforementioned groups.115.Interview with YBS foreign fighter Martin Klamper

Lalish Brigade

  • Group Leader: Ali Khali (Ali Serhan Eissa):116.Yezidi Press, “The End of the PKK in Sinjar? How the Hashd al-Sha’bi Can Help Resolve the Yazidi Genocide,” 1 June 2017 “Shingal117.https://twitter.com/hashtag/Shingal?src=hashtag_click is the home of Ezidis. Only Ezidi PMU are here and will remain. Something else is unacceptable.” Ali Khali synthesised his group’s relationship with both the Iraqi government and the KRG stating118.European Council on Foreign Relations, “When the weapons fall silent: Reconciliation in Sinjar after ISIS,” October 2018 “after 2003, the Americans handed us over to the KDP. The Iraqi state hasn’t considered us first-class citizens since 2003, and Kurdistan sells us every few years for [KDP] interests based on what’s happening between it and Baghdad.” 
Lalish Brigade Commander Ali Khali meets with 33rd Brigade during operation to put out fires in Kojo.
  • Based in: Sinjar city, Tal Qassab122. Interview with Matthew Travis Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago and the former director of Yazda

Kojo Martyrs Brigade

Members of the Kojo Martyrs Brigade.
  • Based in: Kojo and Tall Qassab130.Interview with Matthew Travis Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago and the former director of Yazda
  • Nayef formerly belonged to a Yezidi Peshmerga battalion132.Yezidi Press, “The End of the PKK in Sinjar? How the Hashd al-Sha’bi Can Help Resolve the Yazidi Genocide,” 1 June 2017 named after him stationed near the cement factory in Sinjar. The unit was commanded by his son Talib. Nayef and Talib formed their own brigade with the Hashd al Shaabi on May 15 2017.
Kojo Martyrs Brigade seizes explosive devices from ISIS.
  • Operations: Anti-ISIS operation on Mt. Sinjar, putting out fires in Kojo.

Qassem Shifan – August 3rd Brigade

  • Qassem Shifan fought with HPE in 2014. He was a PUK central committee member and joined the PMU forces in 2017 after the withdrawal of the Peshmerga. According to the director of the Sinjar Asayis, many of Shifan’s recruits were former YBS members.136.Rudaw, “Many PKK Yezidi recruits join Hashd al-Shaabi in Shingal region,” 6 Decemer 2017

Other PMUs Operating in the Nineveh Plains:

  • 30th Brigade – Quwat Sahl Ninewa: The 30th Brigade is composed of primarily Shabak, an indigenous ethnic/religious minority in the Nineveh Province, volunteers. In its earlier years the group carried out anti-ISIS140.https://www.facebook.com/Ali860u/photos/a.246440049120817/259275027837319/?type=3 operations. After the withdrawal of the KRG Peshmerga the Shabak majority PMU, Liwa al-Shabak/Quwat Sahl141.Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi’s Blog, “Hashd Brigade Numbers Index,” 31 October 2017 quickly moved into the Nineveh Plain. The PMU, also known as the 30th Brigade, has carried out various administrative/charity142.https://www.facebook.com/groups/231172677742992/permalink/576500369876886/ tasks as well as security/military functions in the region. The group is present in Bashika where the Shabak make up a sizeable portion of the population as well as Yezidis. The 30th Brigade has clashed with the military143.DW, “Iraq: Caught between militias and ‘Islamic State’,” 7 August 2019 and operates as the local police force144.DW, “Iraq: Caught between militias and ‘Islamic State’,” 7 August 2019 in villages surrounding Bashika. 
  • Kata’ib Babilyun: Operates as the 50th Brigade of the PMUs. Allegedly non local forces posing as a local Christian militia.145.Washington Institute for Near East Policu, “Normalizing Security in the Nineveh Plains,” 5 July 2019

Conclusion:

The shakey security and governance system in the Nineveh plains have warranted fear of the reemergence and growth of existing ISIS cells in the rural province. Asharq Al-Awsat reported146.al-Sharq al-Awsat, “Iraq Launches Operation to Pursue ISIS Elements After Recent Attacks,” 4 May 2020 this month “according to the confessions of detainees from the western Nineveh areas, ISIS had completed organizing its self-financing network in late 2019.” ISIS is also likely to be responsible for brutal executions of several Nineveh local religious figures.147.https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=463576901095321&id=217857569000590&xts%5B0%5D=68.ARB5uBl7QVpb3A4aEQGQZYg0t9FW_I1yOiliDpExjfp3kOfEKT5mCXlgPGhW1owTGD714CIcoIUurJ8qWTcut2e0iKlFvJoxHpIqYbVi1w2TLLEmX-qJt5Y-IX8sE0nh5u-OpTWrau8DI80ik3VEkrfAevdm1GFcPxgoSihgmP_g9BfSwu99RkqzQ4JYh-e6JOUn9vAafhbyazwBzwiPSwG2rP0qnqNWsFt4NZ31EYH9yoe6bhAZPfJfw43zM-MR6U37UpzjYEFmg8A2Vj1ACmRao4nRhseuSGTZ71hSbNQYQKh3PhLmKHdYdhUA3N3PkxW2q_dZZBM7oHMDTBF_ljE&tn=-R ISIS continues to carry out attacks across Nineveh, occasionally carrying out attacks in Sinjar. Last month two YBS members were killed148.Kurdistan 24, “2 Yezidi fighters killed in blast during ISIS operation near Sinjar Mountai,” 14 April 2020  by an IED during a joint security operation near Mt. Sinjar. The terrorist group also continues to kidnap civilians and extort money from locals.

Nevertheless as anti-ISIS operations became less and less frequent the glue binding the competing military bodies in the area began to soften. The Iraqi police and military have been able to retake the contested district bolstering (and seeking to envelop) the YBS while weakening the HPE and PMUs. Consequently administrative and political needs are certain to raise new questions of allegiance. The Yezidi Alliance serves as a reminder that despite security alliances and outside forces Yezidis have the ability to express themselves as a singular political force in order to gain representation. Most Yezidi militias shared a common goal since 2014, but incorporation into the Iraqi military is an ideologically difficult to stomach survival strategy. For now they remain fragmented along the lines of their backers but ever collaborative in their anti-ISIS operations.

Kayla Koontz

Kayla Koontz is a recent graduate from UC Berkeley’s Global Studies MA Program and former researcher at the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center. She received her B.A. in International Relations with a minor in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies from San Francisco State University in 2016. She has studied and worked in Turkey and her past research has focused on Kurdish insurgent groups and Turkish foreign policy.

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32. In March 2019 Haidar Shisho addressed accusations of embezzlement of HPE funds. Shisho claims that a Yezidi responsible for distributing  4,484,000 US dollars to the HPE from the Iraqi government Murad Sheru Sulaiman Kalu,  embezzled 1,654000 USD in the name of HPE distributed to Murad Sheru Sulaiman Kalu. The HPE called on the Iraqi Government to investigate Murad.
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51. Yekiti Media, “حيدر ششو: حزب العمال الكُردستاني “PKK” يزيد من أنشطته وتحركاته في شنگال 2,” December 2017
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63. https://www.facebook.com/Ezidi.Democratic.Party/
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66. https://www.facebook.com/YBSinternationalgroup/photos/a.105641747507875/187027549369294/?type=3&theater
67, 78, 115. Interview with YBS foreign fighter Martin Klamper
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73. https://www.facebook.com/sengalybs/photos/pcb.1084399391920986/1084398978587694/?type=3&theater&ifg=1
74. Similar to the YPG, the YBS also has a separate unit for women known as the Ezidixan Women’s Units (YJE) making up a smaller portion of their armed forces.
75. Ronahi TV, “LI DIJÎ ÇETEYÊN DAIŞ’Ê LI ŞENGALÊ OPERASYONEKE HEVBEŞ DAN DESTPÊKIRIN,” 26 July 2019
76. https://rb.gy/xkhpk9
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82. Kurdistan 24, “Iraqi forces, Yezidi PKK-affiliated militia clash near Syrian border,” 18 March 2019
83. https://www.facebook.com/Tactic.cell/posts/2332776307045349
85. Tomas Kavalek, Middle East Research Institute, “Competing Interests in Shingal District: Examining the PKK-linked Structures, Defusing Tensions” 2017
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87. https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=484794759066898
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94, 95. https://pydrojava.net/arabic/archives/23996
96. Jerusalem Post, “Analysis: Why is Turkey bombing Yazidis in Iraq?,” 26 April 2017
97. New York Times, “Turkish Strikes Target Kurdish Allies of U.S. in Iraq and Syria,” 25 April 2017
98. Rudaw, “Turkey carries out multiple strikes in northern Iraq: officials,” 15 April 2020
99. Middle East Center, “Exclusive photos of Turkish airstrike in Iraq’s Makhmour camp,” 27 November 2019
100. Kurdistan 24, “Group confirms death of PKK Commander in Turkish airstrikes on Shingal,” 16 August 2016
101. Kurdistan 24, “Abadi visits Erdogan, discusses new border gate to circumvent Kurdistan,” 14 August 2018
102. Kurdistan 24, “Iraq condemns Turkish airstrikes in Shingal, denies coordinating with Ankara,” 17 August 2018
103. AP News, “Turkey conducts airstrikes against PKK targets in Iraq,” 13 December 2018
104. Kurdistan 24, “Turkish jets target Yezidi militias in Sinjar, injure 2: sources,” 4 November 2019
105. https://airwars.org/civilian-casualties/?belligerent=turkish-military&country=iraq
106, 107. al-Monitor, “Turkey Bombs Yazidi Militia in Iraq Affiliated with PKK,” 24 January 2020
108. https://twitter.com/mutludc/status/1272286415750139907?s=20
111, 112. Kurdistan 24, “Official: Hashd al-Shaabi withdraws from Shingal,” 22 August 2018
113. Jerusalem Post, “Is Iraq’s Nineveh boiling over?,” 12 August 2019
117, 128. https://twitter.com/hashtag/Shingal?src=hashtag_click
119, 124, 134. https://www.facebook.com/dange.honari/videos/728828950907129/
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122.  Interview with Matthew Travis Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago and the former director of Yazda
123. https://www.facebook.com/aljehadalkfaay/posts/1533778216641648?xts%5B0%5D=68.ARB8X9qhjmdG8AilzVtTLJoglBZ0he0UlRKh_vLqeyBV-HivSXIbK3O_03lqg4l15gPexdSCYW_gfYC9wzOhyPXr7nlvWNJKQRFVcyDetD6V2uBUwUcI09SBFaGVkFulhPoqlw_vEGeWQLwNTZPFX8jYF7YqTXbuZzP1HiAIL2tJgoxRLEV3cDEzrxGTiogLGW5i1Gis-tKrC6IYVNB5kWU-HVV33sTQtO8kkbQs9NC7pcfe6swnfrVlsnk_P4DxNzUQqpRG_ebzsb-6e6e4V5NE1xwoZtg8c4IRMcLuQHTlEar9pRBzEU8-RQRwQh1FvIh4K0M1tBUHHTDiBa0O9OnEvg&xts%5B1%5D=68.ARCmBjs7ZkMRLnYQV_cBXwI6zopOt8lQ0fhwhX1i3Eq40VOGYn5LNvE2dA3j2FPmFJmGS_LH2c4FhCAfngcBre_R08WWlB1C0R8AY9ft1st7XOldrHfSfIiPEZsal4T6o4RInnkN6eo00NPgNUZpd3hShvDMEoQ0IGMTjwW_6ySxy5-6PIMJSEqIXUnUGjXrTbjH99UMzq77l-3lp699Z784b32QPWmHVTWN1JneNoiEyDuNO5qn51ZDZSLenct0eakxZNrVOiJnV5L4tzjahqp0O3YRTZKryIc8ysLKE8ZBrhDaEH5DYJAqjMRae8TTtm0hydj8buNbqvKWNdaFbBP3NQ&tn=-R
125, 141. Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi’s Blog, “Hashd Brigade Numbers Index,” 31 October 2017
126. https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1303495386470278&id=798996200253535
127. https://twitter.com/EzidiPress/status/922065171668963328
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