By Sarteep Qashqayee
For many people, including the elites, intellectuals, and the Yazidis the questions of why Sinjar [Shingal in Kurdish] was fallen? Who was responsible for that? Why there was not any resistance in the city? Was conquering Sinjar by self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) a scenario? And many other questions it remains a puzzle. However, there are untold stories about it which I am trying to explain some of them below, based on my intensive research, talking to high-ranking politicians, getting access to some sensitive information. Here is what happened in Sinjar before ISIL conducted the genocide of the Yazidis in August 2014.
It was the first week of August 2014, Mosul and Tal Afar were taken by ISIL for over two months. ISIL militants were few kilometers away from Sinjar, northwest Mosul. In addition to the civilian who took arms to defend the city, there was over 11,000 peshmerga who were divided between various battalions and divisions. Three persons had the top responsibility in the city. To avoid a legal issue, I am using first letters of their names, but I will mention their positions. The three persons are S. B., S. K,, and Sh. K. The first one was head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the second one was head of Asayish, and the last one was head of Peshmerga forces in Sinjar.
Before ISIL took over Tal Afar, the commander of Iraqi troops, who was known as “tiger of Nuri al-Maliki, former Prime Minister of Iraq,” deserted the city and reached Sinjar. He “surrendered” himself to S. B. and Sh. K in Sinjar. The two Kurdish officials in Sinjar confiscated all weapons and vehicles such as 40 armored military vehicles, hundred of light and heavy weapons, and other types of military equipment. Later, the Iraqi military commander was transferred to Erbil and from there to Baghdad via Erbil International Airport to along with the Iraqi soldiers who made to escape from Tal Afar to Sinjar.
According to the intelligence reports, the two Kurdish officials in Sinjar sold the vehicles and the weapons to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and People’s Defence Unit (YPG) who were deployed near Iraqi and Syrian port of entry, Rabia. Later the Turkish Government knew about it and complained about it to KDP President Masoud Barzani. Then, after the fall of Sinjar, Barzani investigated with these officials who were committed in the smuggling weapons and delivering them to the YPG.
About 48 hours before the fall of Sinjar to ISIL militants, the Kurdish officials in Sinjar were hesitated and awaiting an order from above. On August 1st, B.S., who was top KDP official in the city, left Sinjar to Duhok, but his departure got media attention and made him return to Sinjar. When he came back to Sinjar, many people, especially the Yazidis, tried to attack him for creating fear in the city. However, other people in the city stopped the mob and saved B. S. life, justifying that S. B. did not have a government title; he was head of the KDP in Sinjar.
The civilians were evacuating from the city to Mount Sinjar and take refuge there as ISIL militants were getting closer to the city borders. A large group of Yazidis gathered by the KDP headquarters and asking for weapons and ammunition to defend the city, but the KDP officials refused to arm them. The KDP officials said to them that “no one can protect the city as ISIL militants are very well equipped.”
The ISIL units were getting close to Sinjar. The KDP official did not make any communication with Peshmerga commanders. He only talked to Asayish official. The Peshmerga commanders were awaiting an order from Peshmerga commandment. The militants reached city’s suburbs, but no decision was made from any side to either defend or leave the city.
S. B. contacted Fazil Mirani, KDP Political Bureau Secretary, to discuss the situation in Sinjar with him, but Mirani did not have any update. He later called Masrour Barzani, Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council, and was on the line with Barzani for couple hours. The Peshmerga commanders were making phone calls with the leadership as well, but nothing was clear.
Before ISIL unfold, there were disputes between KDP officials in Sinjar and some Yazidi tribal leaders in the area, particularly the leaders at Kucho and Tal Banat villages. The disputes were on the connections these tribal leaders had with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Baghdad. The KDP officials informed the KDP leadership about the differences with these tribal leaders, but no attempt made to restore the relations with them.
The bad relations with these tribal leaders and some of the Yazidis got complicated in the final hours before the fall of Sinjar, especially when these leaders refused to listen to the KDP official and decided to stay in their houses. Some of these people who did not have a good relation with the KDP left Mount Sinjar and returned to the city.
Hours before ISIL militants reach Sinjar, the Yazidi leaders told the KDP officials that the Yazidis consider ISIL as Baathists. The said: “We prefer the Baathists than you because we lived with the Baathists for decades without an issue. They are way better than you.”
The disputes with KDP and the stubbornness of some Yazidi leaders made many people choose ISIL to rule over the KDP. Later, about 110 non-Yazidi tribal leaders, who vowed ISIL to cooperate with them, left Sinjar and other areas and this made ISIL review its decision on tolerating those who surrender without resistance. Consequently, ISIL lost trust in the locals and conducted a massacre in both Kocho and Tal Banat villages.
While the disputes between KDP officials and some of the Yazidis continued, the Peshmerga forces retreated from the city without informed anyone, and no one knew who gave them the order except S. K.
The KDP officials and some Yazidis were still in the city when Peshmerga forces made a surprising retreat. Once the KDP official heard about Peshmerga retreat, he left the city with his troops. After that, ISIL militants entered the town and arrested thousands of Yazidis in few hours. Once the fighters came, they killed thousands of people, including children, women and elderly, and enslaved the young females. Many of the arrestees were transferred to Mosul and other cities under ISIL rule.
The debate on Sinjar and how the forces left the city without fighting was underway in Kurdistan Region. Under the pressure of the public, a committee was formed to investigate the fall of Sinjar. After the fall of Sinar, a committee was formed by Barzani and Ministry of Peshmerga to follow up on the fall of Sinjar. The three officials, whom we mentioned above, might be responsible for smuggling and delivering arms to PKK and YPG, but the fall of Sinjar was beyond their responsibility.
The fall of Sinjar still remains a puzzle. Even if the truth is known for some, but it is hard to swallow. The three officials remain in shock and still do not know why they were told not to defend the city. According to some information, which is hard to publish it due to the safety of the sources, the three officials question the sanity of the decision makers who told them to leave the city. They only thing they know is that they think Sinjar’s fall was “used” to promote Kurdish cause and bring international community’s attention to Kurdistan.
One year after the fall of Sinjar, one of the three officials, S. B. appeared in front of Masoud Barzani. In an hour long meeting where Masrour Barzani was present, he told Barzani that he received an order from Barzani’s son, Masrour Barzani to withdraw from the city and Masrour Barzani confirmed S. B. statements. He presented much evidence for his statements, too.
Before the fall of Sinjar, S. B. submitted a report to Barzani about the KDP’s popularity among the Yazidis. In the report, S. B. indicated that the Yazidis “do not want to consider themselves as Kurds and they are not willing to join the KDP.” Bath then, Barzani told S. B. that he sent him to Sinjar to change Yazidis view about KDP and Kurdistan.
On August 3, 2014, ISIL conquered Sinjar and killed thousands of Yazidis. The tragedy is about to be recognized as genocide. However, the Yazidis lost trust in Kurdistan Region and wound might not be healed ever unless those who were behind the fall of Sinjar prosecuted.
*Sarteep is a journalist from Erbil. He is writing about Kurdish internal politics. He works for Dwarozh outlet, a private media outlet based in Sulaymaniyah.