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Kurdish official: ISIS Capture of Shingal ‘was part of Arabization campaign’

By Judit Neurink 29/12/2014
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Kurdish official: ISIS Capture of Shingal ‘was part of Arabization campaign’
Dr Noori Abdulrahman, the Kurdish government coordinator for Yezidi affairs. Photo by author

It will only take a couple of months for the Shingal area, which was liberated from the Islamic State (ISIS) by Peshmerga forces earlier this month, to return to normal, says Noori Abdulrahman (Also known as Nuri Osman), the head of the Department of Coordination and Follow-up of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Abdulrahman, who is from Shingal himself and is locally better known as Doctor Noori, told Rudaw that the Kurdish government will help the people reconstruct their towns and villages. In this way the government will undo what he sees as the effects of an Arabization campaign against the Kurds by ISIS, whose goal was to make the west bank of the Tigris completely Arab. Here is an edited transcript of his interview with Rudaw:

Rudaw: Organizations in Duhok that have registered the missing Yezidis say they have over 5,000 names, and these do not include the men who were killed. Are these the figures you work with too?

Noori Abdulrahman: These figures are exaggerated. The total could be 4,000, but that includes everybody, also the killed men. We worked with some Yezidi organizations, and we have a number of 3,580 people: women, children and men. This statistic is 70 to 80 percent reliable.

Rudaw: When ISIS started its campaign in the Shingal area, on August 3, 2014, what was its goal? Was it meant as genocide against the Yezidis?

 ISIS wanted to make a demographic change, because the area is Kurdish and near to the border. It is isolated and surrounded by Arabs.   

Noori Abdulrahman: Shingal was a strategic goal: it was not about Yezidis. ISIS wanted to make a demographic change, because the area is Kurdish and near to the border. It is isolated and surrounded by Arabs. The first Arabization campaign started there in 1974, and my family was deported then. Now, ISIS thought it would be easy to bring Arab people there.

It is another Arabization campaign. I see a connection with what Saddam Hussein did -- as most of ISIS are Baath-party people. They are Sunni Arabs, not Kurds, and this is about Arab extremism. When they occupied Mosul they planned to put all the area under their control. Even if they bring in foreign fighters, at the end of the day still 99 percent of them are Arab.

At the same time Shingal is very strategic, as it is connected to Syria, and even to Ramadi, Anbar and al-Hadhar. It is all flat. They thought it would be easy to make the west bank of the Tigris Arab, that if they pushed us Kurds to the east bank, the west could be Arab and Islamic State.

Rudaw: So if it was not about the Yezidis, why did ISIS send in empty trucks for the women and children?

Noori Abdulrahman: They wanted the people to convert to Islam. To force them, they used the females as sex slaves. It is a humiliation to the Kurdish state. And they want to exchange some of them for our prisoners. A few days ago I had a message from Tal Afar (which is under ISIS control), saying they had some people they wanted to offer for an exchange. I did not believe them, and anyway our principle is not to negotiate with ISIS.

Shingal was multicultural. ISIS also killed a lot of Shiites in the first days -- the women were even killed in the streets. And for those who were captured, their relatives did not hear of them again. I think that all of them have been killed. Hundreds of them, but we have no statistics.

It was not ISIS policy in Shingal to chase everybody out. ISIS asked people to stay, especially the Sunnis, but nobody believed them. First, a lot of Sunni families stayed, but after a few weeks they also left. Even now there is a village of Sunnis that could not leave. They kept Yezidi families with them and made safe corridors to help them run away.

  ISIS asked people to stay, especially the Sunnis, but nobody believed them.   

Rudaw: What is being done to get the women and children that are still in ISIS hands released? Did you try to secure their freedom through diplomatic channels?

Noori Abdulrahman: We have asked some countries for help, but got no response. None of these countries is going to say they can do something for the women, as they won’t dare to show anymore they have any connection with ISIS. What we are doing now, helping them escape one by one, is the only way to get them out. Up till now we have been able to secure the freedom of 469 people, of whom some 298 are women. We pay for their transportation out of ISIS territories. This costs a lot, as nobody dares to bring them out unless you pay well. If the smugglers are caught ISIS will kill them both.

Rudaw: The Kurdish Peshmerga is in the process of liberating Shingal from ISIS. What is the policy after that has succeeded?

Noori Abdulrahman: The main policy is to get the people back to their areas, because we must not allow the demographic change, which is one of the goals of ISIS. But it is not safe to go back yet, because most homes are mined. Some areas are not, but we are not sure which. We have to go home by home, village be village, to let people go home. It will take months to clear it all, because we also need the engineering teams at the frontlines, which is the priority for the Peshmerga to be able to make progress.

Then we have to provide the returnees with the necessary services, electricity, drinking water, hospitals, schools, education. There is nothing now. We are asking the government to help the people. They don’t have anything anymore. All cattle was taken, everything was robbed. A lot has been destroyed. In some villages they even took the wires, or the pipes for the drinking water. The infrastructure has been demolished. Whatever damage ISIS could do, it did.

  A lot has been destroyed. In some villages they even took the wires, or the pipes for the drinking water. 

We have to restart the economy. But the most important thing is to get the people back in their own areas, to show their strength. In two or three years everything will be back to normal. It’s only a matter of time. If we have enough budget in our government we will reconstruct the whole area. Prime Minister Barzani told me the government is ready for it.

Rudaw: As it is so important, strategically, ISIS will want to recapture Shingal. How can people be safe there?

Noori Abdulrahman: We will keep the Peshmerga forces there and make some special forces for the Shingal region. I am supervising the process. We have a special local unit of 660 people to become Peshmerga, and they are not only Yezidis, also Muslims. This process will go on until we have enough local Peshmerga to protect the area.

 

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