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

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.


French FM holds Iraq talks on Daesh prisoners in Syria

Updated 39 min 35 sec ago

French FM holds Iraq talks on Daesh prisoners in Syria

  • One of the issues is Iraq’s use of death penalty, which is outlawed throughout EU
  • Several EU countries sent technical missions to Baghdad to assess the situation

BAGHDAD: France’s top diplomat held talks in Baghdad on Thursday about transferring foreign militants from northern Syria, where a Turkish offensive has triggered fears of mass jailbreaks, to be tried in Iraq.
European governments are worried that the Turkish operation will allow the escape of some of the 12,000 suspected Daesh group fighters — including thousands of foreigners — held by Syrian Kurds.
The issue was top of the agenda for French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in his talks with his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed Ali Al-Hakim, President Barham Saleh and Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.
“We need to work things out with the Iraqi authorities so that we can find a way to have a judicial mechanism that is able to judge all these fighters, including obviously the French fighters,” Le Drian told French TV channel BFM on Wednesday.
The aim is for foreign militants to be tried in Iraqi courts while upholding certain principles of justice and respect for human rights, a French diplomatic source said.
One issue will be Iraq’s use of the death penalty, which is outlawed throughout the EU.
Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden sent officials on a technical mission to Baghdad this week to assess the situation.
“There are talks between the Americans, the British, French and Iraqis about funding the construction of prisons,” Hisham Al-Hashemi, an Iraqi expert on Daesh, told AFP.
Hundreds of foreigners have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment in Iraq for belonging to Daesh.
Eleven French militants handed over to Iraqi authorities early this year by US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria were sentenced to death by a court in Baghdad.
In April, Iraq offered to try foreign Daesh suspects in exchange for operational costs.
One Iraqi official said Baghdad had requested $2 billion to put the suspects on trial.
Turkey on Monday accused Kurdish forces of deliberately releasing Daesh prisoners held at a prison in the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad “in an attempt to fuel chaos in the area.”
Kurdish officials claimed that Turkish bombardments had allowed nearly 800 relatives of foreign Daesh fighters to escape from a camp for the displaced.
According to the Kurdish administration, there are around 12,000 suspected Daesh fighters in the custody of Kurdish security forces across northeastern Syria.
At least 2,500 of them are non-Iraqi foreigners of more than 50 different nationalities. Tunisia is thought to have the biggest contingent.
Officials in Paris say 60 to 70 French nationals are among those held.
The rest are around 4,000 Syrians and roughly the same number of Iraqis.
The fighters, who were detained mostly in the course of operations led by Kurdish forces and backed by the US-led coalition against Daesh, are detained in at least seven facilities.
Western governments such as France have been reluctant to take them back, for lack of a clear legal framework and fears of a public backlash.
Le Drian said Wednesday that the security of Kurdish-run prisons holding suspected militants in northern Syria was “currently” not threatened by the Turkish military operation.