Continuing in the series of interviews that cover the present situation in the Sinjar area in northwestern Iraq, I turn now to this interesting interview with al-Sayyid Mahmoud Ridha al-Araji that was broadcast on the channel al-Fallujah TV last month as part of the channel's documentary on Sinjar. Araji, who is described in the documentary as 'commander of the Hashd Sha'abi forces in Sinjar,' is more specifically the commander of a Hashd Sha'abi Commission formation in the Sinjar area: namely, the 'Sinjar Force,' which uses imagery that is similar to that of the al-Abbas shrine Hashd group called the al-Abbas Combat Division, as can be seen in comparing the Sinjar Force's image below with that of the al-Abbas Combat Division.
In the interview, Araji discusses the general situation, the issue of whether the de jure mayor of Sinjar- Mahama Khalil (who is based in Duhok and tied to the Kurdistan Democratic Party that withdrew from Sinjar in 2017)- can return, the Hashd's role in the area and relations with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the issue of the return of IDPs. Araji insists that the security situation is good but does admit that there are 'political' problems, though he claims that the Hashd is a military institution and is not involved with political disputes.
For me, the most notable part of the interview is Araji's response to the question as to whether the Hashd works with the PKK. His answer is that he works with Iraqis and he notes an Iraqi Yezidi force called the 'al-Nasr al-Mubin Regiment' ('The Clear Victory Regiment') that is part of the Hashd and receives salaries from the Iraqi government. This is an important point confirming that at least part of the PKK-affiliated 'Sinjar Resistance Units' (YBS) is operating under the cover of the Hashd. Indeed, it is notable in this context that in early November 2020, the YBS' main social media page featured a statement from the 'al-Nasr al-Mubin Force (the First Regiment).'
A purported Hashd administrative document from Ninawa dating to November 2020 has also emerged, showing an order to change the name of the 'al-Nasr al-Mubin Regiment' to 'Regiment 80.' This would be similar to other 'tribal Hashd' and minority group regiments in Ninawa that operate by regiment numbers. In early December 2020, a report claimed that a committee was formed to 'track checkpoints and bases empty of armed persons,' formed by order of the Iraqi army's West Ninawa operations command, with removal of 'armed personnel' from Sinjar district and closure of all unofficial party bases, supervised by the Iraqi army's 72nd brigade head, the National Security director, the intelligence apparatus, the police directorate and attended by the Hashd Sha'abi's apparatus of 'Regiment 80' (i.e. the part of the YBS operating under the Hashd).
Below is my rough translation transcript of the al-Fallujah TV interview with Araji. The original can be viewed here. Note that interruptions and the nature of the interview mean some thoughts and sentences might not be completed. Any suggestions for amendments are welcome.
al-Sayyid Mahmoud al-Araji
[Channel's introduction]: The Hashd Sha'abi forces that are on ribat on the peripheries of the town of Sinjar are one of the armed sides that were a party in the contracting of the Sinjar agreement that has not seen light until now. Some accuse some of those factions of impeding that agreement in addition to their support for the personality of the mayor present in the town, as well as their tension with the Peshmerga forces.
Q: Sayyid, tell us about your assessment of the security situation in the beginning for Sinjar currently.
A: In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful, the situation regarding the security angle, we do not have any security problem: that is a real security problem. The security situation is very good in Sinjar. The security is stable, and you have seen the town. Since 2017 we have been present in the town. There have been no notable or big incidents. Regarding the problems that have come in the area, as you know the area came out of the control of Da'esh which harmed this society, in particular the Yezidi brothers. These social bonds of the society, when they become deficient, and you have a mixed community, in which there are Muslims, Yezidis, Christians, and from the Arab and Turkmen ethnicities: of course the result. The situation is good in terms of what is present in the area.
Q: From the administrative angle and the angle that concerns cooperation, today there is a problem as there are two people as mayor in administering Sinjar. With whom do you work? Whom do you recognise frankly?
A: Look, in Sinjar, we as a military institution are connected with the general commander for the armed forces. Our assignments are far removed from issues of services but rather connected with security issues. The legal and official mayor is Mr. Mahama Khalil, and after 2017 he is a man who left the area: we do not know the reasons. As a result he is outside Sinjar district.
Q: He is afraid perhaps of you, Sayyid. Is there danger to him frankly?
A: In fact Mr. Mahama Khalil, I do not expect. Look, considering he is a person of the state...
Q: But he is from a party opposed to you.
A: We are not concerned with quote-unquote parties.
Q: But there was a security force present in Sinjar. After your entry, this force withdrew: that is, the Peshmerga. Is this not a danger for him?
A: We are not coming as parties. We are not parties.
Q: No, a security force.
A: A security force.
Q: In exchange for the Peshmerga that was the security force in control of Sinjar.
A: Allow me to speak frankly. With regards to the issue of security activity, when an order comes from the general commander of the armed forces and from the Joint Operations, it is a military order. So the movements to any place are in accordance with the orders issued. After the events of Kirkuk, after what happened, the orders came that there should be the entry. Originally the security forces were present on the peripheries of Sinjar, south of Sinjar. The orders came to enter the district of Sinjar. The Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga forces, withdrew, and they are also a part of the Iraqi security system.
Q: This is the problem.
A: Which are part of the Iraqi security system. They withdrew: not present currently. We entered the area. I have nothing to do with parties, nor do I have involvement with any political activity such that you can put me in what is between the parties.
Q: Okay, so there is no danger to Mahama Khalil, the mayor?
A: I do not expect so: in what way would there be danger to him?
Q: In that he is of a party that is not in control of Sinjar. And the problem you sir spoke of it: in that the Peshmerga are forces affiliated with the Ministry of Defence, while the Hashd Sha'abi Commission is affiliated with the Prime Minister's office. So the problem is there is a conflict of two security forces recognised by the state.
A: Look, there are two points of view. If we look from the view of the distancing of the security institution from the political disputes and conflicts, there is a specific interpretation. But if you take the political dimensions and confuse them with the security institution, there will be another interpretation that you get. With regards to Mahama Khalil, he is a man who left the region: until now, I have not seen some real problem, because the people present: who were the people present? The Yezidis, in fact. And we are the sons of Sinjar. There are no concerns. As a basic point: we in Sinjar do not have societal problems. There is no problem.
Q: But there are security and party problems.
A: Security problems, there are none.
Q: Party problems.
A: Politics influences the aspect of...
A: Tension, perhaps.
Q: Now Sinjar is tense. Not societal tension, but political.
A: Political tension.
Q: Right? Sayyid, let us speak about the Kurdistan Workers Party. The party is present in- I don't know which mountain- but I mean in the peripheries of Sinjar perhaps. Is this a danger to the people of Sinjar?
A: With regards to the Kurdistan Workers Party, or any force...
Q: As armed factions for this party...
A: I speak to you regarding the armed factions. Look, in 2014, when there happened what happened in this area, behind this mountain, and the absence of the state under all its names, in that time, Da'esh: were it not for the humanitarian stances that these armed Kurdish groups took, I do not get involved in the Syrian matters: but since they were near to us in place, that is, Hasakah province in Syria. After the attack on this area by the takfiri Da'esh organisation, there was a humanitarian stance.
Q: From the Workers Party.
A: From these Kurdish forces, whether the Workers Party or others. A humanitarian stance. They came to this area. The statistic is to be noted: 70,000 IDPs managed to get on a secure path throughout the mountain towards Syria. And they got rid of...
Q: This stance was expected among you?
A: This stance, we at the time, nor before did we expect it. In truth. This stance was not expected.
Q: But let us know currently, do they work with you?
A: I work with Iraqis, and I have never worked...
Q: But currently within your Iraqi borders, on your Iraqi side.
A: Those who are present on the ground: Iraqi, son of the region, Yezidi, we know them as neighbours. As the result of what is present, the Iraqis present, they are actually Hashd Sha'abi, so the picture can be clear. Those forces- or the al-Nasr al-Mubin regiment- by decision of the Iraqi government, are being paid salaries. I have come to work with Iraqis. As for those behind them...
Q: There is a Turkish pretext, now, about the Kurdistan Workers Party. The Turkish pretext is that the presence of these personnel, because of their presence, there has been bombing on Sinjar. Today, why have you as the Hashd Sha'abi not worked to remove these personnel on account of whom there has been bombing of Sinjar?
A: Look, we as Hashd Sha'abi, our assignments are clear.
Q: A decision not security, but political?
A: Our assignments are clear, our competencies and our aims are clear. It is not possible for us to take decisions or matters on our own because we embody the state in everything we do. The state has its ministries.
Q: So there has to come to you an order from a higher authority?
A: Regarding the situation of the Kurdistan Workers Party, this is an issue of sovereignty. This is connected with the Iraqi state as a state in cooperation with the Turkish state or what is present between the states.
Q: When will the people- the IDPs- of Sinjar return, in particular the Yezidi brothers? And who is not allowing them to return? Be honest with me.
A: I will be honest with you, but more frank on this point. With regards to the Yezidi brothers, they have a special situation. And today, 150,000 Yezidis are outside of Iraq because of what happened in the previous years. After the liberation, there came upon us lean years- I use this expression: there came upon us lean years. The Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government neglected the area. I do not know the reasons. It was not within their priorities. The citizens- the Yezidi brothers- there are those of them who have returned, and there are reasons for the lack of return. You know, today I am in this area since such-and-such years, dozens or hundreds of years. I have lost my maternal uncle and paternal uncle and my family, or perhaps three or four from a family, or maybe out of an extended family of 40, and there remain three or four, what is the possibility of my returning here and being able to live? I don't have the possibility.
Q: After the entry and seizure of control by the Iraqi government, what prevents them from returning? The problem is I see the army, I see the security forces, the Hashd Sha'abi, I see the federal police. After all of these security forces, the Yezidis are afraid to return to Sinjar. The reason?
A: Reasons, not one reason.
Q: The reasons.
A: I have just told you one of the reasons.
Q: The forces present in Sinjar are the reason?
A: No, no, no, no. Sorry. The reasons are internal.
Q: Tell me of the Yezidis, what about them?
A: The Yezidi brothers, those who say they are not returning, this is contrary to the reality. The Yezidis are present in Sinjar.
Q: Fine, but in Duhok, there are the camps.
A: Not only as regards Sinjar, come let me tell you of other areas, outside of Sinjar, from where there has been displacement. How many of the people have not returned to them! Not only Sinjar. In all of Iraq there have been IDPs.
Q: So it is not a security issue.
A: All the IDPs who have left their areas. Come and see in the provinces that have been victims of Da'esh, not all the people have returned.
Q: But Sinjar with its particular situation...
A: Its particular situation: there are people are of different types: let me sort them for you. There are people who have left Sinjar, a large number I told you of, who have gone outside of Iraq. They cannot live in Iraq because of the losses they suffered because of Da'esh. Second, of them there are those who have joined other societies: six years, not small. They have a profession, they have work, they have gone in this direction. The lack of political stability present in the area during six years; of course people also who say I return again and the same political problems? As for security problems, we don't have a security problem such that people do not return. The matter of return requires time.