ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A high-level Iraqi security delegation on Saturday arrived in the predominantly Yezidi (Ezidi) town of Sinjar (Shingal) to meet with various disparate local parties and forces in the area to discuss the formation of a unified Ezidi force to secure the region.
The delegation was headed by Iraq’s National Security Adviser Falih al-Fayyadh who met with key Ezidi leaders and commanders.
“The purpose of the visit was to bring all the local forces and fighters together and unify the security forces that are currently present in the region,” a source who attended the meeting told Kurdistan 24.
The effort is believed to have come as a result of a prior request by Haider Shasho, the Commander of the Ezidkhan Protection Force in Shingal, who favors the incorporation of a single security force under one command as the most effective way forward to protect civilians in the area from future potential security threats.
Following the fall of Shingal in 2014 to the Islamic State, a number of local fighting groups were formed in the area. Larger, more dominant forces were deployed to the region from other areas, including the Iraqi military and Iran-backed Shia militia groups known as the Hashd al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
The emergence of the Islamic State and its violent assault on Shingal led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of members of the Ezidi religious minority. Most of them fled to the Kurdistan Region, while others resettled in neighboring countries in the region or in Western states.
Others were not as lucky and remained stranded in the war zone, where they experienced atrocities and mass executions at the hands of the extremist group for years. Militants subjected women and girls to sexual slavery, kidnapped children, forced religious conversions, executed scores of men, and abused, sold, and trafficked women across areas they controlled in Iraq and Syria.
Prior to the 2014 attack, there were roughly 550,000 Ezidis in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq. As the jihadist group took over large swaths of territory in Nineveh Province, 360,000 Ezidis escaped and found refuge elsewhere, according to the Kurdistan Region’s Ezidi Rescue Office.
So far, 69 mass graves which contain the remains of Ezidis have been excavated along with untold numbers of individual graves.
The Kurdish and Ezidi Peshmerga forces, with the support of the US-led coalition, liberated Shingal from the Islamic State in November 2015, but the town remains a ghost-town, with little to no basic services available, which caused very few displaced Ezidis to return to their homes.
Shingal, one of the disputed territories between Erbil and Baghdad, is currently under the control of Iraqi forces and the PFM. They, plus a limited amount of Kurdish fighters including Peshmerga, are present in Shingal and its outskirts, with tensions between them over who will control the strategic town that lies near the Syrian border.
In recent weeks, a number of Ezidis have been rescued by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the Islamic State’s last bastion, some of whom have been brought back to Iraq.
On Friday, Ezidi Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad called on the US-led coalition and its local partners in Syria to create a task force charged with rescuing Ezidis who are still held captive by the militant group.
Editing by John J. Catherine