Shingal – Villages and towns still lie in ruins, many of the mass graves have not yet been uncovered while over 95% of Shingal´s population continues to live in refugee camps. And yet, Iraqi Kurdistan´s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and its president Massoud Barzani have imposed sanctions on northern Iraq´s Shingal region. Activists warn of escalation.
The political climate has become rougher in the power struggle over influence in the region between the KDP and its traditional rival, the Kurdistan Workers´ Party (PKK) and its affiliated Shingal Resistance Units (YBS), a resistance force made up of Ezidis and founded by the PKK after the Islamic State´s onslaught on August 3, 2014.
Mahma Khalil, a KDP politician and self-proclaimed mayor of Shingal, as well as other Ezidi KDP loyalists have started to threaten the PKK and YBS more directly than they used to do a few months ago. The PKK had been officially warned to leave the region, Khalil announced.
Khalil´s threats mark a power struggle which the Foreign Policy magazine recently described as “The war between the Islamic State´s enemies“. “We’re just pawns in this game and don’t trust anyone,” Mahmoud Hamad was quoted as saying. Like many other Ezidis, Hamad fears they may get caught in the crossfire of intra-Kurdish conflict.
This concern is justified: The KDP government uses loyal, non-Ezidi militias to control the roads from Dohuk to Shingal as well as the Syrian-Iraqi border crossing in Rabia. The blockade against the Shingal region has been going on for nearly five months now.
Ezidis refugees are – without any reason being given – prevented from returning to their areas. Goods destined for the region, such as construction materials for the reconstruction of the destroyed villages, are prevented from reaching their destination. Other refugees who want to return to their villages are subjected to reprisals by KDP militias whose militiamen killed an Ezidi youth just a few weeks ago.
Even for Ezidi Peshmerga troops led by Qasim Shesho who is loyal to the KDP, the Kurdish government´s policy is no longer reasonable. Ezidi Peshmergas could be easily deployed at the checkpoints. The commander of Ezidkhan´s Protection Force (HPE), Heydar Shesho, who is the nephew of Qasim Shesho, therefore criticized his uncle during a speech in Dortmund, Germany for the first time in public.
Qasim Shesho had paved the way for the KDP to act as an authoritarian power in Shingal again, Shesho stated. The party which had enabled the genocide against the Ezidis through its soldiers´ escape, would now try to bring the region under its control by all means, he added.
Medical equipment which has been provided by the Iraqi central government and is supposed to be used in Shingal is also blocked from reaching the area. The few market operators in Shingal are furthermore not allowed to import common consumer products. Mechanics who are supposed to maintain the important power generators are prevented from importing the necessary spares. Even vegetable sellers are deliberately and for no apparent reason forced to unload their trucks at the checkpoints before the eyes of KDP militiamen – pure harassment. Goods destined for the Peshmerga, however, are allowed to pass without complications. A demonstration of power Ezidis do not have a counter for.
Activists of non-governmental organizations who have contributed most of the civilian aid from the beginning of the genocide are also prevented from traveling to Shingal. The aim of this blockade is, on the one hand, to bleed oppositional forces, which includes the PKK, YBS and HPE, to death and, on the other, to continue to misuse Ezidi refugees as an instrument against Ezidi officials. The Religious Council of the Ezidis, however, only dares to voice criticism behind closed doors.
Heydar Shesho further criticized the KDP government which he accused of blocking active support for the HPE, adding that many of his fighters would be denied entry to Shingal after visiting their families at the refugee camps in Dohuk.
For most Ezidis, the only way out seems to be emigration from Iraq. About 100,000 of the 600,000 Ezidis in Iraq have already left the country. An estimated number of 30,000 have sought asylum in Germany alone since 2014.