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The Struggle Over Sinjar

Who Wants the Territory, and Why It Matters

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters line up at a defensive point near Sinjar, Iraq, June 2017. Alkis Konstantinidis / REUTERS

The Iraqi town of Sinjar first became widely known in August 2014 thanks to an Islamic State (ISIS)-led genocide of much of its Yazidi population. But now, this remote area in northern Iraq is prominent for another reason. Although the territory is not rich in natural resources or population, geopolitically, it is invaluable. In fact, it is probably the most contested thousand square miles in the Middle East.

Kurdistan and the Iraqi federal government both claim the territory. But on the ground, Shiite militias (or Popular Mobilization Units), ISIS militants fleeing Mosul, and different Kurdish groups are fighting over it. Meanwhile, from the air, Turkey is shelling the area.

Although Kurds have been in de facto control of Sinjar since 2003, it is not clear which particular Kurdish group the territory belongs to. For its part, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) wants affiliated Yazidi organizations, such as the Shangal Resistance Units (

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