Looking for Their Women, Yezidi Fighters May Have Raided an Arab Village
Volunteer fighters dispense their own brand of justice
On Jan. 3, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters announced they were investigating an alleged incident in Bu Hanaya, a Sunni Arab town near the Iraqi-Syrian border town of Rabia.
Details are scarce, but it appears that as many as 20 armed Yezidis stormed the town in a violent raid. Al Jazeera reported that both the Peshmerga and Yezidi leadership deny having any prior knowledge of the raid.
Both say that if the raid happened, the attackers acted on their own.
It seems the men were searching for Yezidi women and girls that Islamic State abducted during its conquest of Sinjar in August.
Yezidi volunteer forces formed almost immediately after Sinjar fell. Qasim Shasho, a local Peshmerga veteran and politician, was one of the first to take up arms. He became the Yezidi fighters’ de facto leader.
The volunteers took up positions around Mount Sinjar in order to protect refugees and religious shrines. Along with a loose alliance of Peshmerga and PKK fighters, the Yezidi held out for months with only light weaponry and meager supplies.
But the Yezidi fighters are far from a professional force. They have their own way of doing things, their own code of honor and—now that they’ve helped to liberate the mountain—their own scores to settle.
Although some of the Yezidis’ leaders—including Shasho—have military experience fighting the Ba’athist regime of late Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, many of the younger Yezidis have never fought in a war and have no formal training.
They’re an army of farmers, merchants and fishermen.
Their tactics are often improvisational—and harsh. In an exclusive interview with War Is Boring correspondent Vager Saadullah, Shasho openly discussed how he and his men executed four Islamic State militants they had captured in Gohbale.
Shasho told Saadullah that the men were all local Arabs—traitors who had turned on their Yezidi neighbors.
The Yezidis have historically stayed within their own villages. But some members of the sect lived in mixed communities and traded with local Arab tribes. Many Yezidi and Arabs formed deep friendships.
That’s why this fight has saddened many Yezidis—and enraged others.
But many Arabs have also risked their lives to help Yezidis escape—and received much less attention for it. Still, many Arabs are too fearful to stand up to the militants.
Some Kurds see empowering moderate Sunni Arabs as critical to turning the tide of the war. It’s unlikely Peshmerga leaders have any appetite for violent sectarian feuds as they try to liberate militant-held villages around Sinjar.
Problems with Shia militias have already complicated the Peshmerga’s southern front.
There’s something cruelly ironic about the alleged Yezidi raid near Rabia. Shortly before Kurdish forces liberated the town this fall, militants rounded up and executed several local Sunni Arab villagers.
The villagers had been scouting and gathering intel for Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters—in hopes that the Kurds could help them drive out the militants.