I visited Shingal four times in April, May and June, 2016. I talked to a lot of people in Sinony, in tents on the mountain, and living in Shingal (Sinjar) city on the south side. I am trying to understand how I can help the displaced Ezidis and also the situation for Ezidis fighting the Islamic State terrorists, referred to as Daesh.
Here are ten things that shocked me. Number 10, especially, has caused me intense cognitive dissonance.
- Twenty days before Shingal was attacked on August 3, 2014, all Iraqi defense forces living in Shingal were instructed to report to the PDK party headquarters in Shingal. They had previously had their weapons taken from them at security check points or by actual visits to their homes after Daesh occupied Mosul, June 9, 2014. At PKD headquarters, they stood in three lines: one line for Iraqi police, one for Iraqi border patrol, and one for Iraqi Army soldiers. A list was made of their names, phone numbers, and ID badge numbers. They were then told they were officially in the Peshmerga. After this process, Sarbast Bapiri, the Peshmerga commander in Shingal, said there were now 20,000 men in Peshmerga in Shingal. They were promised they would get guns later and pay checks. Until then, they were told to go home and “have a sleep.”
- I asked everyone “Who ordered Peshmerga to withdraw from Shingal before Daesh attacked? ” The answer I got from a Peshmerga was, “The Americans ordered Peshmerga to retreat until coalition planes could strike. It is true Peshmerga blocked residents from escaping on the road from Shingal city onto the mountain so that the Peshmerga convoy could get away to live to fight another day.”When both Qassim Shesho (commander of Peshmerga Shingal forces) and Haider Shesho (commander of Ezidi Defense Forces) were asked the same question, they both conjectured that there might have been an international conspiracy.
- The Peshmerga who were armed and posted in Shingal villages and cities on August 2 and 3, 2014, are gone. They have been replaced by all Ezidi forces. Qassim Shesho commands 8000 Peshmerga of whom all but 200 are Ezidis. Haider Shesho commands a few thousand volunteers. Even though Qassim and Haider are uncle and nephew, Qassim Shesho stated he believes it will be impossible to ever unite these forces because of pressures from other countries.
- Sunni Arabs living inside Shingal raised the black flags of Daesh even before Daesh from the outside could drive to the city and enter it on August 3, 2014. An Ezidi man showed me the 60-meter tunnel under his neighborhood and the room above where the Daesh emir slept behind sand bags. Did this Daesh emir come from Saudi Arabia or Mosul or even Tal Afar? No. He was the Arab neighbor who lived right in the center of Shingal city. According to the neighbor, his name is Ali Khuder Al Latayf, from the Sunni Metewati tribe. He moved to Sinjar in 2007.
- An Ezidi Peshmerga commander dressed in his KRG Peshmerga uniform, displaying the Kurdistan flag, told me he wants an Ezidi country or territory with international protection. “We cannot live with Arabs,” he explained. When questioned about loyalty to Peshmerga, he said, “We are volunteers anyway, because we have never been paid by the Kurdistan government. Every three months we get about $300.”
- Qassim Shesho told me he does not like my work getting passports for Ezidis to leave the country, but he conceded that the survivors of Daesh kidnapping should be allowed to go to Germany for therapy. All other Ezidis, he argued, should be blocked by law from leaving the country.
- An Ezidi family had returned to their house in Solaugh after Shingal was liberated November 12, 2015. Their house was in perfect condition with nothing disturbed or missing. Daesh had lived there and had punched holes in the concrete wall on the second floor. The Daesh snipers could have a clear shot at the mountain from there. The owners of the house returned to Duhok to their tent. When they returned to their house in Solaugh several months later, it was burned out, all belongings were gone, and the windows and doors were broken. They guessed that PKK had lived in the house after Daesh left, because there was a new hole punched in the wall on the ground floor. They do not know who trashed and burned their house which they found empty.
- Most of the buildings on the south half of Shingal city are structurally sound. However, the big, expensive new houses where Sunni Muslims lived have been trashed. About every fifth house has been burned to a black crisp on the inside. All kitchens and furniture are gone in all houses in Shingal (except Ezidi houses guarded by Peshmerga Special Forces). Only broken glass and clothing is left strewn on the floors. All electrical wiring has been pulled out of every house, burned, and the copper wire sold in Duhok for 3,000 dinar per kilo.
- The fields surrounding the city and towns on the south side of Shingal Mountain are burning. Black smoke fills the sky and black soot is settled on everything in the city. For a second year in a row, the fields are being burned off in order to explode the IEDs and bullets on the ground.
- The most shocking thing of all I heard came from an Ezidi elder in a red and white turban and a long white beard. “Why are Americans letting Muslims in their country build mosques?” he wanted to know. I patiently explained the core American values of freedom of religion, and equality for all races, sexes, ethnic groups and sexual orientation. He replied, “That is the stupidest thing I ever heard of. Giving equal rights to Muslims in America will cause the end of your country. Muslims will destroy the western countries like they are doing in the Middle East.”
Dr. Amy L. Beam is executive director and founder of AAJ ngo in Kurdistan. She has been assisting the displaced Yazidis since the Islamic State jihadists attacked them August3, 2014. She writes political and historical commentary on Kurds and Yezidis in Turkey and Kurdistan at Kurdistan Tribune and her public Facebook page. Twitter @amybeam; email@example.com.