For Iraq’s persecuted Yazidis, return plan is fraught with risk

A displaced woman sits on the road as she heads back to Sinjar following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and economic crisis, near Dohuk, Iraq. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 October 2020

For Iraq’s persecuted Yazidis, return plan is fraught with risk

  • Under the plan for Sinjar, the Baghdad and Irbil governments would choose a new mayor and administrators and appoint 2,500 new local security personnel

DOHUK/IRAQ: The Yazidis of northern Iraq, an ancient religious minority brutally persecuted by Daesh, want nothing more than peace, security and a better life in their home town of Sinjar — but they want it on their terms.
Many there distrust a new security and reconstruction plan unveiled this week by the Baghdad government and Kurdish regional authorities which hailed it as a “historic” agreement.
“The deal could pacify Sinjar — but it might also make the situation even worse,” said Talal Saleh, a Yazidi in exile in nearby Kurdistan.
The Yazidis have suffered since Daesh marauded into Sinjar in 2014, one of the extremist group’s conquests that shocked the West into military action to stop it.
Daesh viewed the Yazidis as devil worshippers for their faith that combines Zoroastrian, Christian, Manichean, Jewish and Muslim beliefs.
It slaughtered more than 3,000 Yazidis, enslaved 7,000 women and girls and displaced most of its 550,000-strong community.
Since Daesh was driven out of Sinjar by US-backed Kurdish forces in 2015, the town and its surrounding areas are controlled by a patchwork of armed groups including the Iraqi Army, Shiite militia, and Yazidi and Kurdish militants with different loyalties.
The government plan would enforce security and allow the return of tens of thousands of Yazidis afraid to go back because of a lack of security and basic services, according to the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.
But many Sinjar natives feel the plan is vague, dictated by Baghdad and the Kurdish capital of Irbil. They say it has not included them and entails security reforms that could mean more division and violence.

SPEEDREAD

Yazidis distrust a new security and reconstruction plan unveiled this week by the Baghdad government and Kurdish regional authorities which hailed it as a ‘historic’ agreement.

“The PKK and their Yazidi allies are not just going to leave Sinjar without a fight,” Saleh said.
The security arrangements include booting out the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that has fought a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and bases itself in northern Iraq.
It would also drive out PKK “affiliates,” an apparent reference to a Yazidi force of hundreds of fighters.

Escape
The PKK with Yazidi volunteers helped thousands of Yazidis escape the Daesh onslaught to Syria after the Iraqi Army fled many areas of Nineveh province and Irbil’s peshmerga forces retreated. The peshmerga returned to help recapture Sinjar with US air support.
The PKK is under attack by Turkish forces in Iraq and exists uneasily alongside the peshmerga and the Iraqi Army.
The army and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Iraq’s state paramilitary body dominated by Shiite militias, would oversee the ejection of the PKK, according to a copy the plan seen by Reuters.
Some locals fear this could split up families where siblings sometimes belong to different militias, forces and groups. The Yazidis also have their own force in the PMF, separate to the Yazidi PKK affiliate.
“There are about six political groups in Sinjar now. Brothers belonging to the same family each join different parties,” said Akram Rasho, another displaced Yazidi in Kurdistan. Baghdad and Irbil defend the plan. “This is a good step to solve problems,” said Kurdistan government spokesman Jotiar Adil. Sinjar has also been caught up in a territorial dispute between Baghdad and Irbil since a failed Kurdish bid for full independence in 2017.
Under the plan for Sinjar, the Baghdad and Irbil governments would choose a new mayor and administrators and appoint 2,500 new local security personnel.
Supporters of the PKK suspect those would include returning Yazidis affiliated with the peshmerga.
At a demonstration against the deal in Sinjar on Sunday, Yazidi tribal leader Shamo Khadida shouted, “Sinjar belongs to its people and we are the people.”
Others distance themselves from the politics and simply want to see delivery of services on the ground.
“If actual efforts are made to improve our situation, the people of Sinjar will find agreement,” said Rasho.


US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

Updated 22 October 2020

US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

  • Intelligence director: “These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries”

WASHINGTON: US officials accused Iran on Wednesday of being behind a flurry of emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that appeared to be aimed at intimidating them into voting for President Donald Trump.
The announcement at a rare, hastily called news conference just two weeks before the election underscored the concern within the US government about efforts by foreign countries to spread false information meant to suppress voter turnout and undermine American confidence in the vote.
The activities attributed to Iran would mark a significant escalation for a nation that some cybersecurity experts regard as a second-rate player in online espionage, with the announcement coming as most public discussion surrounding election interference has centered on Russia, which hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 election, and China, a Trump administration adversary.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” said John Ratcliffe, the government’s top intelligence official, who, along with FBI Director Chris Wray, insisted the US would impose costs on any foreign countries that interfere in the 2020 US election and that the integrity of the election is still sound.
“You should be confident that your vote counts,” Wray said. “Early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.”
Wray and Ratcliffe did not describe the emails linked to Iran, but officials familiar with the matter said the US has linked Tehran to messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four battleground states that falsely purported to be from the neo-fascist group Proud Boys and that warned “we will come after you” if the recipients didn’t vote for Trump.
The officials also said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration data, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Ratcliffe said the spoofed emails were intended to hurt Trump, though he did not elaborate on how. An intelligence assessment released in August said: “Iran seeks to undermine US democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections. Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-US content.”
Trump, speaking at a rally in North Carolina, made no reference to the press conference but repeated a familiar campaign assertion that Iran is opposed to his reelection. He promised that if he wins another term he will swiftly reach a new accord with Iran over its nuclear program.
“Iran doesn’t want to let me win. China doesn’t want to let me win,” Trump said. “The first call I’ll get after we win, the first call I’ll get will be from Iran saying let’s make a deal.”
Both Russia and Iran also obtained voter registration information, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Asked about the emails during an online forum Wednesday, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said she lacked specific information. “I am aware that they were sent to voters in multiple swing states and we are working closely with the attorney general on these types of things and others,” she said.
While state-backed Russian hackers are known to have infiltrated US election infrastructure in 2016, there is no evidence that Iran has ever done so.
The voter intimidation operation apparently used email addresses obtained from state voter registration lists, which include party affiliation and home addresses and can include email addresses and phone numbers. Those addresses were then used in an apparently widespread targeted spamming operation. The senders claimed they would know which candidate the recipient was voting for in the Nov. 3 election, for which early voting is ongoing.
Federal officials have long warned about the possibility of this type of operation, as such registration lists are not difficult to obtain.
“These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections,” Christopher Krebs, the top election security official at the Department of Homeland Security, tweeted Tuesday night after reports of the emails first surfaced.