Anger and apprehension haunt ruined Sinjar

A Yazidi man walks through the ruins of his house, destroyed by Daesh militants near Sinjar, Iraq on Feb. 5, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 26 February 2019
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Anger and apprehension haunt ruined Sinjar

  • Sinjar lies in a sensitive area straddling the borders of Iraq’s Kurdistan region and neighboring Syria, Iran and Turkey

SINJAR: It is dawn in Sinjar and the only sounds are the footsteps of guards patrolling a golden-domed shrine on a hill overlooking a vista of collapsed rooftops.

More than three years after Daesh was driven out of this city in northern Iraq, all that remains in the once bustling market are the bomb-scarred facades of shops. Dozens of streets are blocked by metal barrels — a sign of unexploded ordnance that has yet to be cleared.

In a city whose former occupiers slaughtered thousands of minority Yazidis, water is scarce and power intermittent. The closest hospital to reopen is a 45-minute drive away. There are only two schools.

The physical devastation is extreme, but it is not the city’s only challenge. Caught in a power tussle between Iraq’s central government and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, the city also struggles with a political impasse.

“It is in ruins. There has been no progress at all,” said Ibrahim Mahmoud Ezzo, 55, the Yazidi owner of about a dozen shops, all of which are damaged.

Overrun by Daesh in 2014 and liberated by an array of forces the following year, little has been rebuilt and only a fraction of the population has returned. Residents say both the Kurdish regional government and the central government have made no effort at construction.

Sinjar lies in a sensitive area straddling the borders of Iraq’s Kurdistan region and neighboring Syria, Iran and Turkey.

“The PKK are here, the police are here, the Popular Mobilization Units are here, the army is here,” Ezzo said, listing the names of various units of the Iraqi government forces and militias that are in the city and around it.

“We don’t understand what the situation is,” Ezzo said.

The KRG had controlled the region without much objection from Baghdad since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 until 2017 when, in retaliation for an independence bid, the central government pushed out the KRG, its Peshmerga forces and allies, and brought in their own.

These included a Shiite paramilitary force, the Popular Mobilization Units known as PMU, as well as the national army and the police.

Dindar Zebari, the KRG coordinator for international advocacy, said: “In Sinjar today, there is no legitimate authority, there are no official and decisive security forces.”

“The KRG is not ignoring the problem in Sinjar,” he said, urging Baghdad to share responsibility for this area with Peshmerga and ensure the removal of militias including the PMU.

A central government spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment. Officials privately attribute the slow pace of rebuilding to security problems in the area and red tape in approving a reconstruction budget for Nineveh province.


Turkey: EU sanctions over gas drilling ‘worthless’

Updated 14 min 25 sec ago
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Turkey: EU sanctions over gas drilling ‘worthless’

  • EU foreign ministers said they are suspending talks with Turkey over air transport agreement
  • They backed EU’s proposal to decrease financial assistance to Turkey

ANKARA: Turkey on Tuesday rejected as “worthless” an initial set of sanctions approved by the European Union against Ankara, and vowed to send a new vessel to the eastern Mediterranean to reinforce its efforts to drill for hydrocarbons off the island of Cyprus.
EU foreign ministers on Monday approved sanctions against Turkey over its drilling for gas in waters where EU member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights. They said they were suspending talks on an air transport agreement, as well as high-level Turkey-EU dialogues, and would call on the European Investment Bank to review its lending to the country.
They also backed a proposal by the EU’s executive branch to reduce financial assistance to Turkey for next year. The ministers warned that additional “targeted measures” were being worked on to penalize Turkey, which started negotiations to join the EU in 2005.
Speaking at a news conference in Macedonia, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the sanctions aimed to “appease” Cyprus and were of “no importance.”
“The EU needs us concerning the migration issue or other issues,” he said. “They will come to us and hold contacts; there is no escaping that.”
“They know that the decisions they took cannot be applied,” he said. “They were forced to take the worthless decisions under pressure from the Greek Cypriots and Greece.”
Cavusoglu added: “If you take such decisions against Turkey, we will increase our activities. We have three ships in the eastern Mediterranean, will with send a fourth.”
Earlier, the Turkish Foreign Ministry criticized the EU for ignoring the rights of Turkish Cypriots and accused the 28-nation bloc of “prejudice and bias.”
It added that Turkey was determined to protect its rights and the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
Two Turkish vessels escorted by warships are drilling for gas on either end of ethnically divided Cyprus. A third Turkish exploration ship is also in the area. Turkey insists that it has rights over certain offshore zones and that Turkish Cypriots have rights over others.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey, which keeps more than 35,000 troops in the breakaway north. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the internationally recognized south enjoys full membership benefits.
Cypriot officials accuse Turkey of using the minority Turkish Cypriots in order to pursue its goal of exerting control over the eastern Mediterranean region.
The Cypriot government says it will take legal action against any oil and gas companies supporting Turkish vessels in any repeat attempt to drill for gas. Cyprus has already issued around 20 international arrest warrants against three international companies assisting one of the two Turkish vessels now drilling 68 kilometers off the island’s west coast.