Monday, April 13, 2015

UPDATED Kurdistan Democratic Party Attempts To Maintain Control Over Yazidis In Iraq’s Ninewa

At the start of April 2015 the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) arrested Haider Sesho, the head of the Sinjar Protection Unit (HPS). The official reason for his detention was that he created an illegal militia that was not under peshmerga control. Further statements by Kurdish officials including President Massoud Barzani showed that the KDP was also concerned that Sesho was working with Baghdad rather than it. Sinjar remains largely under Islamic State (IS) control, and the HPS was one of the few groups in the area fighting them. The KDP’s actions showed that it was more interested in controlling the politics of the area than facing the insurgents.

On April 5, peshmerga from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) arrested Sinjar Protection Unit (HPS) leader Haider Sesho. Sesho had created his own armed unit to confront the Islamic State in Ninewa’s Sinjar district. The KDP told him he could only set up the HPS if it was under its control, and was given a two month deadline to join the peshmerga. Instead Sesho went to Baghdad to ask for assistance and allegedly asked to be registered as part of the Hashd al-Shaabi, Popular Mobilization Units. Sesho has a reported 3,000 armed men under his command. As one peshmerga commander told Bas News, the KDP took Sesho’s move towards Baghdad as a threat. He went on to say that the peshmerga were the only ones that should be providing security in Sinjar. Similarly, President Massoud Barzani’s office issued a statement attacking Sesho’s relationship with the Hashd, stating that no flag but the Kurdish one was allowed in Sinjar, and that only the peshmerga were allowed in area. The reference to the flag was the fact that Sesho and others had been flying Yazidi flags in Sinjar. 

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Yazidis protested Sesho’s detention. The PUK condemned the arrest, and there was said to have been a political deal with the KDP to get him released, but that has not happened. Several Yazidi members of the peshmerga reportedly left their units in protest as well.

The Sesho incident was part of a larger crackdown by the KDP against Yazidi activists in Sinjar. Several people have been arrested and others left Iraq because they were critical of the KDP, demanded the right to fly the Yazidi flag, and were denied arms by the KRG.

In August 2014, the Islamic State attacked the Sinjar region of Ninewa. The KDP, which ran the administration abandoned the area without putting up a fight or telling locals. Before that Yazidis had asked the KDP for arms to protect themselves from any impending threat from insurgents, but were denied. What happened afterward has been well documented as the IS went from village to village, separating the men and executing them, while taking the women and children away to be made into slaves or forcing them into marriages with its fighters. That in part explains the bad relations between Sesho and the KDP.

The KDP claims the Sinjar district as part of the disputed territories, and had long been trying to co-opt the Yazidi community there as part of its plans to annex the area. Sesho going to Baghdad was seen as a threat to the KDP’s long term plans to re-establish its control over the territory and the Yazidi. If they were able to find another patron they would not have to rely upon the KDP. Bringing in the central government might also lead it to claim administrative power over Sinjar. The KDP has responded with a carrot and stick approach. It has offered weapons to the Yazidi, but only as part of its peshmerga. Those that do not comply have been arrested or driven off. Ironically this isn’t coming after Sinjar has been freed. Only Mount Sinjar is not under IS control, and that was largely due to the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and Syrian People’s Protection Units (YPG). Otherwise the KRG has talked about liberating the rest of the district, but has done little about it so far. Its main priority seems to be re-establishing its paternalistic control over the Yazidis rather than confronting the insurgency.

Sesho was released April 13. He apparently gave into KDP pressure during his arrest and said that his men would work with the Peshmerga Ministry and no longer seek assistance from Baghdad.


Bas News, "Haider Shasho Released and Joins Peshmerga," 4/13/15
- “KRG: Haider Shasho Wanted to Create “Illegitimate Militia Group” in Sinjar,” 4/7/15

eKurd, “Death threats against Kurdish Yazidi activists in Iraqi Kurdistan,” 4/6/15
- “Iraqi Kurdistan News in brief – April 8, 2015,” 4/8/15
- "Iraqi Kurdistan News in brief - April 13, 2015," 4/13/15
- “Kurdistan president: No independent Yazidi unit nor flag will be accepted,” 4/9/15

Ezidi Press, “Breaking news: HPS Supreme Commander Haydar Sesho arrested,” 4/6/15

Hawrami, Karzan Sabah, “Yazidi Commander: Haider Shasho Received “Huge Sum of Money” From Baghdad,” Bas News, 4/8/15

Millet, “KDP to Release Kidnapped PUK Official & German Source Reveals KDP Worried About Information Leak,” 4/8/15


Carl Henriksson - Sweden said...

My Yezidi friends in Sweden are furious at the KDP. How do you think this will end? Is Turkey playing a role in this since this involves the PKK?

Joel Wing said...

Apparently Sesho just got released this morning and cut a deal with the KDP to be integrated into their peshmerga. It only took his arrest to get him to agree!

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