Iraqi forces take back Sinjar in latest effort to roll back Kurdish gains of the past years – Washington Post
BAGHDAD — Militia forces affiliated with the Iraqi government seized control of the Kurdish held-town of Sinjar near the border with Syria on Tuesday, continuing a push by the federal government in Baghdad to reassert its authority in disputed territories.
A force of local Yazidis, part of Iraq’s popular mobilization movement of militias, took control of the town early on Tuesday morning, local residents and fighters said. A few hours later Shiite militia forces from Baghdad also entered, they added.
The push comes as Baghdad moves to reassert its authority in areas it disputes with the autonomous Kurdish region in the north after it held a referendum for independence last month.
Iraqi forces also announced Tuesday retaking the oil fields of Bai Hassan and Avana near the oil production hub of Kirkuk.
In a triumphant press conference two years ago after Kurdish forces took Sinjar from Islamic State militants, Iraqi Kurdistan’s president, Massoud Barzani, vowed that no flag other than the Kurdish one would fly over Sinjar.
But on Tuesday, the Iraqi national flag went up, residents said.
Sheikh Khalaf Bahri, a Yazidi religious leader, said the situation was calm but residents were staying in their houses.
“It’s too early for them to know if they are safe,” he said. “We hope that this will be resolved soon and we hope that the Yazidi people will not be subject to any attacks.”
Local resident Elias Sinjari said that the Kurdish peshmerga forces withdrew in the night, except for those originally from Sinjar. They were replaced by the Baghdad-backed Yazidi militia known as the Lalish Force.
“I don’t care who holds our city, whether it’s peshmerga or Iraqis, what we care about is living in peace and to be protected,” he said by phone. “Everybody claims they care about Sinjar when in fact no one did anything for Sinjar, we are just a card they use when they need and then can throw away.”
Since retaking Sinjar two years ago, Barzani has tried to assert control over a wide swath of the country bordering the Kurdish region and stamp out the influence of Baghdad and other rival Kurdish groups.
While many Yazidis consider themselves ethnically Kurdish, not all do. Some blame Barzani, whose peshmerga fighters guarded the area before Islamic State conquest, for abandoning them in 2014.
When the peshmerga withdrew, the Islamic State slaughtered thousands of Yazidi men and captured thousands of Yazidi women to hold as sex slaves.
Many Sinjar residents found the arrival of new forces, particularly Iraqi Shiite militias from a different part of the country, an uncomfortable reminder of that trauma.
“Unfortunately again the forces that were expected to protect the Yazidis, left the Yazidis alone again without firing a single bullet,” said Haider Shesho, a local Yazidi commander.
He said that Yazidi leaders were trying to negotiate for the forces from outside the region to leave the town center. “We have no problem with the Yazidi force,” he said. “We would like international intervention,” he said. “The Yazidis have suffered a lot.”
Ali Khudaida, a local teacher in Sinuni, was upset. “This was not expected, the people in Sinjar are scared,” he said, adding that about 150 families fled.
Shwan reported from Irbil, Iraq. Mustafa Salim contributed from Baghdad
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