Alkis Konstantinidis / REUTERS

The Struggle Over Sinjar

Who Wants the Territory, and Why It Matters

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.

Control over this mountainous territory could mean that PKK affiliates would, for the first time, get seats in the Iraqi parliament.

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 (YBS), to eventually govern the territory. The PKK, which arose among Kurds in Turkey, sees the Yazidis as Kurds (one of the PKK’s top leaders is a Yazidi from the area), and many Yazidis are loyal to the PKK, believing it to be the only force that defended them from ISIS in 2014. 

Control over this mountainous territory could mean that PKK affiliates would, for the first time, get seats in the Iraqi parliament. In preparation, the PKK has struck up ties to a one-month-old political party, the Yazidis’ Democracy and Freedom Party (PADY), which plans to participate in elections in late 2017. “Sinjar is our land,” YBS spokesman Zardasht Shangali said. “Our political party is supported by 80 percent of the population of the region, and in any election in Sinjar, PADY will get at least 80 percent of the Yazidi population’s votes.”

But the PKK and YBS aren’t the only Kurdish forces in the region. The Iraq-based Kurdistan Democrats’

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