At 10 am today, Friday, the joint forces of the Kurdish resistance announced they had liberated Sinjar (Shengal) province from ISIS. Yesterday the anarchist YPJ/YPG/ PKK forces and the US/Iranian backed Kurdish Peshmerga advanced towards the city of Shengal and cut it off from both east and west. Today Kurdish fighters were seen walking around in the centre of Shengal, many giving victory signs. Their ground troops were supported by armoured vehicles and tanks. The operation was organized under the Yezidi Joint Command. Altogether it was a remarkable victory: it took the Kurds and Yezidis only 36 hours to send ISIS packing. Sweet revenge!
Yesterday, while the western side of Shengal city centre had been encircled by PKK affiliated forces, Kurdish Peshmerga forces on the southern front advanced towards the Rambosi village of Kızılkent. As the operation continued, YBŞ, YPJ-Shengal (women’s militia) and Peshmerga forces began to move from Solak village in east Shengal to take control of the road in the region. Kurdish and Yezidi forces aimed to encircle Shengal city centre from the eastern front after blocking the road between Tal Afar and Shengal.
Later, yesterday, HGP, YPJ and YBŞ-YBJ fighters entered the city centre and in the Hayr Nasir, Berbi Roj and Sitî Zeynep neighbourhoods they engaged in heavy clashes with ISIS. Peshmerga forces attached to the KDP also entered Solak, a settlement to the west of Şengal. The Peshmerga took up positions in the distant heights overlooking Şengal from the northeast, as well as a cement factory to the east of the city.
— Rojava Defense Units (@DefenseUnits) November 13, 2015
Background to assault…
Last year, after capturing villages one by one on the way to Sinjar, ISIS deployed troops heavily within 200 yards of Sinjar’s fringes. It pounded the fringes with mortar fire, and on Aug. 3, 2014, ISIS attacked the town’s centre. Thousands of people were killed and thousands more had to flee. When the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) withdrew its troops, the town was left defenseless. The People’s Protection Units (YPG) — the Syrian extension of the PKK — rushed to help.
Taking advantage of Sinjar’s proximity to the Syrian border, the YPG/YPJ opened a corridor through ISIS lines and evacuated the Yezidis. Some units of the PKK hurried from their main base at the Qandil Mountains, and the Kurdish peshmerga sent its special forces. Kurdish groups overcame their initial shock and deployed around Sinjar. ISIS reacted with counterattacks against the Kurds, but did not succeed. Since then, Kurdish groups have launched attacks to recover the town, but could not recapture more than a few neighbourhoods, while the main part of the town stayed in ISIS hands. Even with the air support provided by the coalition air force, Sinjar couldn’t be liberated.
Kurdish forces were constantly making plans to fully secure the town. A decision was made to launch the operation on Nov. 3, but that was postponed. What was holding back the operation?
It became evident that the delays were caused by a disagreement between the PKK and the KRG. The KRG said it had deployed more than 10,000 Peshmerga to the area and was demanding that the PKK leave the area. The PKK did not agree.
What was behind the PKK’s deep interest in Sinjar? Yezidis, because of their Kurdish roots and religious beliefs, have been the most oppressed people of the region. They decided to get organized in the first years of the new century and were embraced by the PKK, which opened the way to PKK influence in the Sinjar area. But the PKK left, fearing the US attacks in the area. Meanwhile, many Yezidi youth had joined the PKK.
The ISIS offensive against Sinjar provided the PKK with another opportunity to return. Also, the Yezidis, who were upset with the KRG for withdrawing the Peshmerga, welcomed the PKK’s return. An armed group called the Shengal Resistance Units made up of Yezidis was formed.
Another reason for the PKK’s interest in Sinjar is its proximity to the Syrian border. The most practical route to pro-PKK groups in Syria goes through Sinjar, hence the PKK’s determination to stay.
Recently, the KRG and the PKK tried again to find a solution, but failed. According to reports, the PKK laid down two conditions to be met for it to leave the area: to take part in the operation to liberate Sinjar, and official recognition of the Shengal Resistance Units. Heval Agid, the PKK official in charge of Sinjar, said the PKK will fight any effort to remove it from the area. He added that the PKK had officially declared it would leave the city after it was liberated.
Serbest Lezgin, a Peshmerga commander at Sinjar, rejected the PKK conditions. Lezgin explained that KRG President Massoud Barzani did not want the Kurdish parties to clash and ordered that operational plans be altered if necessary. “Massoud Barzani told us not to fight with the PKK. We don’t want fratricide. Never. That is President Barzani’s red line. The PKK is in the area. They are visible. They see themselves as a permanent fixture. They set up outposts and hoisted their flags. This is not appropriate for this area”. He added, “South Kurdistan is an official territory [of the KRG] with its own administration and institutions. The PKK is not pleased with that. They are saying they will stay until the liberation of Sinjar and will then leave, but it doesn’t look that way. They are thinking of staying here and [becoming] sovereign.”
According to Siddik Hasan Sukru, a political analyst living in the KRG capital of Erbil, Sinjar is as important to Turkey as it is to the YPG and the PKK. Sukru told Al-Monitor that he believes Turkey has played a part in the disagreement between the Kurdish parties. He said, “If Sinjar stays in the hands of the PKK or its partisans, it will be a gate between Rojava [Syrian Kurdistan] and Iraq. It will provide Rojava with an outlet to the outside world. But if the KDP dominates Sinjar, with the Semelka [border] gate already in Peshmerga hands, the YPG and the PYD will be encircled.” (The PYD is the US-supported Kurdish nationalist Democratic Union Party.) “Turkey doesn’t mind Sinjar being controlled by the Kurds, as long as it is not the PKK, but rather the Peshmerga, in charge. There is also a national sentiment issue. Everybody was saying the KDP did not protect the Yezidis and fled. They were protected by the PKK and the YPG. This became a matter of political prestige.
The KDP is determined to preserve its prestige by staying firm in Sinjar,” Sukru said in an interview on November 11, the day before the massive offensive against ISIS was launched. However, Sukru doesn’t think there will be clashes between Kurdish parties. “The KDP can disrupt PKK activities in other areas and restrict their logistics. Disagreement will continue in the political arena, but there will be no clashes. If clashes break out, other groups will be drawn into it and this will be against the KDP’s interests,” he added.