KRG and Baghdad reach administrative, security agreement on Sinjar

The Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on Friday announced they had reached an agreement to restore and normalize the situation in the Sinjar (Shingal) area, where competing armed groups are active.
author_image Wladimir van Wilgenburg

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on Friday announced they had reached an agreement to restore and normalize the situation in the Sinjar (Shingal) area, where competing armed groups are active.

The KRG Interior Minister, Reber Ahmed, said on Thursday that he would visit Baghdad on Friday to finalize an agreement on Sinjar. 

Read More: Baghdad, Erbil to finalize new Sinjar security plan: KRG official 

The agreement involves understandings on security, civil administration, reconstruction and service rehabilitation, and the return of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs.)

Notably, the agreement includes understandings to withdraw all armed groups from the area; restore the local administration; and appoint a new mayor.

Almost five years have passed since November 2015, when Sinjar was freed from ISIS’ reign of terror by Kurdish forces, backed by the US-led Coalition.

Since late 2017, however, the area has been under the control of Iraqi forces and Hashd al-Shaabi (PMF) militias, after they drove out Peshmerga forces in the Iranian-orchestrated attack that followed the Kurdistan independence referendum.

In addition, the Shingal Resistance Units (YBS), the local wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), is active in the area and receives salaries from the PMF.

Much of the city remains uninhabitable rubble, and very few of its former residents have returned to their homes.

Following its 2017 assault, Baghdad appointed new officials in the Sinjar district in place of the elected officials who had withdrawn from the area to relocate in the Kurdistan Region’s Duhok province, where they still conduct district business.

There are, thus, currently two local governments for Sinjar: one appointed by Baghdad and the other elected before October 2017 by the people of the area.

The Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region, Masrour Barzani, explained in a statement issued by his office that the agreement was reached after long negotiations between the KRG and the Iraqi federal government.

“This important agreement is the result of months of hard work and negotiations between officials in Erbil and Baghdad,” Barzani stated. “It will help to allow the people of Sinjar – including Yazidis and others who suffered so appallingly at the hands of ISIS – to return to their ancestral homes in safety and with dignity. The normalization of Sinjar will ensure that its people can determine their own future.”

He also thanked UN Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, for “her support and personal involvement in this process.”

The media office of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi issued a similar statement, saying that the deal was “agreed upon with the Kurdistan Regional Government and Nineveh Governorate, taking into consideration the demands of the people of the district.”

“The security aspect falls within the scope and powers of the federal government in coordination with the Kurdistan Regional Government,” Kadhimi explained. ”As for the service aspect, it will be the responsibility of a joint committee between the federal government, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and Nineveh Governorate.”

Hennis-Plasschaert welcomed the agreement on Twitter, calling it “a first and important step in the right direction.” 

“High time to reach out to the people of Sinjar and to make them feel that they are, indeed, part of the broader community,” she added.

Last year, she also called upon Baghdad and Erbil to establish stable governance and security without delay in Sinjar, in coordination with local Yezidi (Ezidi) community leaders. However, no agreement was reached then.

The US Embassy in Iraq joined in expressing its support for the Sinjar accord. “We look forward to its full implementation and hope this agreement will lead to lasting security and stability for the Iraqi people in northern Iraq,” it said.

Joey Hood, the US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, during an online webinar in August, expressed America’s firm opposition to the presence of irregular forces in Yezidi areas of Iraq. 

Read More: US: Militias need to leave Yezidi areas 

When ISIS overran Sinjar in August 2014, the city was home to some 88,000 residents, most of them Yezidis. The terrorist group proceeded to kidnap and massacre untold numbers of people, and thousands of women and girls were forced into sexual slavery. Those atrocities are now widely recognized as genocide. 

Read More: UNITAD identifies over 160 ISIS suspects who will face justice for Yezidi crimes 

Tens of thousands of Yezidis from Sinjar and surrounding areas remain displaced in the Kurdistan Region. Others fled to Europe and other areas abroad. Thousands are still missing.

So far, Yezidi organizations have reacted cautiously to the agreement.

Pari Ibrahim, Founder and Executive Director of the Free Yezidi Foundation (FYF), explained to Kurdistan 24 that all Yezidis want security and safety in Sinjar, but “from our perspective, it is best to wait and see what the details of the agreement are, before making any judgment.”

Murad Ismael, Co-founder and Executive Director of Yazda Organization, similarly told Kurdistan 24, “In principle, we support any agreement between Baghdad and Erbil that normalizes the security and administration of Sinjar — something we have been demanding for 6 years.”

However, he added, “Before judging it, we need to know the full details of the agreement.”

Editing by Laurie Mylroie