ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Five Yezidi fighters of the Shingal Protections Units (YBS) who were arrested by the Rojava Peshmerga in the Friday clashes between the two sides have been released on Saturday evening, following a press conference in which Jamal Iminiki, Chief of General Staff of Peshmerga, warned that any force who prevents the free movement of Peshmerga forces within Kurdistan Region will face a “harsh response.”
Rojava Peshmerga, also known as Roj force, are formally part of the KRG’s Peshmerga forces.
Iminiki said that the five were released based on an order from the Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, as a sign of goodwill, emphasizing that the recent deployment of forces was to fight ISIS who still holds some remaining areas in Shingal.
“The main objective of [deploying forces to Shingal] is to liberate the remaining areas from ISIS,” Iminiki said, in reference to the deployment of 500 Peshmerga soldiers to Shingal on the border with Syria.
This comes as the YBS said in an announcement Saturday that seven of its fighters were killed in the clashes, and another 20 were injured.
Both sides accuse one another of having initiated the deadly confrontation which lasted for more than an hour.
A 24-hour ceasefire was reached late Friday after meetings between the leadership of both sides, which among others included Iminiki and Agid Civian, the commander of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with whom the YBS has close ties. The meetings were said to continue on Saturday, but no announcements have been made yet.
The YBS said on Saturday morning that the situation remained fluid despite the ceasefire as they claimed that the Peshmerga, whom they describe as forces of the ruling Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP), were preparing to launch another attack on their positions.
Iminiki warned that no armed group has the right to set up checkpoints in Kurdistan Region and stop the movement of Peshmerga forces.
“Any force that prevents the movement of the Peshmerga will face a harsh response,” he warned.
The clashes happened near Khanassor, located in Shingal, a mainly Yezidi area. It is part of the so-called disputed areas, claimed both by Erbil and Baghdad.
Shingal is not officially within the Kurdistan Region, but the Kurdish government has run the area for about a decade, eventually becoming the de facto authority in the area.
Also on Saturday President Barzani has given “relevant parties” and the Peshmerga ministry instructions regarding the Friday clashes “to bring the situation under control.”
The Kurdish presidency said in a statement that President Barzani is “saddened” with the unfolding events in Shingal, warning that “only” the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) institutions have the right to administer the areas in Kurdistan Region.
‘[President Barzani] has given necessary directives to relevant parties and the Ministry of Peshmerga to bring the situation under control and prevent it from escalation,” the statement said.
The YBS and the PKK’s umbrella organization, the Group of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), have said in separate statements that they believe the events come after President Barzani’s recent visit to Turkey where he held meetings with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
The issue of security was among the topics discussed in Barzani’s meetings with the Turkish side in late February, meetings that were described as “very good” and satisfactory by the Kurdish president.
ISIS captured Shingal on August 3, 2014, committing genocide against the Yezidi population. The town was liberated in November 2015 by a coalition of Kurdish forces, including KRG Peshmerga and PKK fighters. The PKK has maintained a presence in the area, refusing calls from KRG to leave.