Kurdish forces gained control of Shingal, a predominantly Yezidi town, assisted by US-led coalition airstrikes on Saturday. The fighting ensued on Sunday, and to date Kurdish news agencies report Islamic State militants (IS/ISIS) have maintained their positions in several neighbourhoods, their numbers roughly amounts to 100 militants.
On August 2014, Shingal town fell into the hands of notorious extremists, who had seized control of Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul. The ISIS onslaught of Shingal town led to the mass-killing of thousands of people, whereby many women were kidnapped, and later sold as sex slaves in the civil-war stricken Syria.
The town has long been considered as disputed, and thereby falling under Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution. The town’s population amounted to nearly 30,000 people prior to ISIS seizing swathes of territory.
Challenges facing KRG
There are multiple challenges facing Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) following the Peshmerga advancement into Shingal. Thousands of people have become victims, displaced, property demolished or vandalised, valuables stolen, families separated, and entire villages massacred.
It is essential that the KRG initiates a town-wide effort to rebuild public services, return civil servants to their positions, ensure basic services are accessible, and work towards winning the local people’s trust in Kurdish security forces. The KRG is responsible in ensuring the Yezidi community have faith in the Kurdish Peshmerga (military equivalent).
The fall of Shingal led to the emergence of local volunteer fighters in the face of an absent and ineffective national army, which could potentially pose a security threat in the future. Minority groups have established armed groups to protect their towns, and in the short-run it has proved to be effective, but in the long-run they could cause instability.
Yezidi volunteer fighters, a security risk?
The Ministry of Peshmerga (MoP) has incorporated special units and battalions within its forces for minorities, the process is ongoing. The recruitment process lacks organisation because armed volunteers filled the vacuum. The current armed groups were not trained professionally, their professional background or criminal background(s) checks were not conducted. The security posts in Shingal town are occupied by people that have not been assessed, and do not have any military background or qualification to perform their job.
In the short-term, the existence of such armed groups are necessary because of the ongoing threat of ISIS, but in the long-run the threat of these groups are imminent. It is necessary that the KRG analyses the security risks of armed volunteer fighters, and whether they will be trained or replaced by professional security forces.
The recruitment or deployment of professional security forces in shingal requires vast resources, and the MoP must be able to sustain any initiative attempted for the sake of maintaining law and order.
Lessons from Sahwa militiamen
The Sahwa militiamen, which are also known as Anbar’s Salvation, Anbar awakening and several others names were established and funded by the US army in 2006, and were roughly 50,000 by 2011. The army was later dissolved by the former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and has become virtually non-existent since 2013.
They were not integrated into the national security forces completely, despite their large numbers because they were perceived as a threat, undermining the Iraqi army. The militiamen that were not provided with governmental-paid jobs became unemployed, or as a result joined groups such as ISIS, leading to a country-wide crisis.
Although it is noteworthy to point out that the Sahwa militiamen reduced violence in areas they operated initially, but the problems later caused by the lack of control over the group were catastrophic. Consequently, the effectiveness of any volunteer army or militiamen is questionable.
The Peshmerga forces suffer from lack of arms, and ammunition, despite increasing aid. The challenges facing Kurdistan Region, and its disputed territories are vast, in need of contingency plans. The KRG must assess future consequences of allowing militiamen to operate in the region, particularly in areas such as Shingal, where the people have already sustained lengthy massacres, and humiliation at hands of extremist groups.
Furthermore, it is essential that the KRG ensures locals in Shingal and villages in the outskirts forge good relations, given the increasing allegations that Sunni-Arabs assisted ISIS in the fall of Shingal. The priority should be to return social stability, while promoting coexistence which has been damaged by ISIS.
This article was co-authored by Sarkawt Shamsulddin and Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar.