Security and threats on civilians and IDPs in the Sinjar region of Iraq

Three fully equipped and armed soldiers in Iraq Three fully equipped and armed soldiers in Iraq © Gorodenkoff on iStock Images

This is a brief presentation of the report of the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) on the threats to civilians and IDPs in Sinjar, Iraq

The Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) is an international organization promoting the protection of civilians (POC) affected by armed conflicts. It aims to prevent, mitigate and respond to civilian harm. This report analyzes the impact of security and the threats on civilians and internally displaced people (IDPs) in Sinjar, the region of northwest Iraq.  

The Sinjar district has been a historical hub for trade and cultural exchange. However, it suffered regional and national interference. Accordingly, in 2014, the Islamic State (ISIS) launched a genocidal campaign of killings, kidnappings, and forced conversions against the Yazidi-majority, taking girls and women as slaves, subjecting them to sexual abuse and indoctrinating children in ISIS ideology. The ISIS fighters destroyed villages, killed around 3,100 people, kidnapped 6,417, mainly women and children. As a result, a humanitarian crisis erupted with 200,000 people fleeing the region. The majority of the Sinjar population became displaced between 2014 and 2017. The succession of military operations against ISIS fighters has made the region’s security fragmented. The security personnel appeared vulnerable to attacks. It indeed ended up being involved in the clashes making civilians even less protected against harassment and extortion. Meanwhile, the reconstruction of the region was severely affected by the tensions between the Government of Iraq (GOI) and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) over the control of Sinjar. Moreover, civilians are unable to return to their homes since bureaucratic hurdles prevent people from having a decent restoration of services in the district. The situation has further deteriorated due to the impact of the pandemic. The restrictions imposed by Baghdad and Erbil have increased the number of IDPs returning to Sinjar. Many of them moved to empty houses since their homes had been destroyed. Accordingly, this phenomenon is bound to increase and contribute to frictions within the region.

The methodology employed by CIVIC to analyze the protection of civilians and the impact of security in Sinjar included 93 interviews, observations, meetings, conferences and a review of public data and literature. The interviews were conducted between February and June 2020 in Erbil, Dohuk and in some areas of Sinjar. Most interviews were conducted in person. Others, however, were on the telephone due to the pandemic restrictions. The discussions were held in Arabic, Kurdish, Turkmen and English according to the respondent. The number of conversations resulted in 50 interviews with civilians and community leaders and 12 with government authorities. As for the gender, 54 interviews of these 62 were conducted with men and eight with women. It is worth noting that CIVIC attempted to interview equal numbers of men and women. However, the female representation was low. To compensate for this imbalance, a Focus Group Discussion (FGD) was organized with six women. Finally, nine interviews were conducted with members of security forces and armed actors operating in Sinjar. 

Different recommendations were set for different categories in the report. Firstly, CIVIC urges the GOI and the KRG to facilitate the return of IDPs in Sinjar, empower the local administration, commit security forces to participate in training for the POC, establish a dialogue between GOI and KRG to resolve tensions, promote accountability and justice for crimes against the Sinjar population and provide them with compensation. Secondly, the Center calls on the Iraqi Ministry of Interior (MOI), the Iraqi Ministry of Defense (MOD), the Kurdish Ministry of Peshmerga (MOP), and the Population Mobilization Unit (PMU) Committee to ensure training on the POC, to recruit, train and deploy female police officers in their interactions with civilians and establish a security coordination mechanism. Thirdly, CIVIC encourages the Nineveh Provincial Government and the local authorities of Sinjar to formalize a unified mechanism to report complaints on the behaviour of security forces, implement a protection policy for civilians, allocate funds and resources and open an Office of Compensation. Moreover, all security forces are requested to improve the force capacity to assess threats, engage in regular dialogue with civilians and community leaders, and investigate allegations of misbehaviour by members of security forces. Lastly, CIVIC urges the Government of Turkey to take steps to avoid or minimize civilian harm and damage to civilian objects; and the UN and the international community to keep on supporting the voluntary and safe return of IDPs to their homes. 

In conclusion, although military operations stopped three years ago, people from Sinjar are still affected by the conflict. Many of them have not been able to reconstruct their lives because they are still displaced, while others live in isolation. The GOI must prioritize the establishment of an action plan to address all the issues weakening the region and provide long-term solutions, such as security stabilization, restoration of services and livelihood opportunities.

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Author: Valentina Di Carlantonio

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