The Yazidi city of Shingal calls for governorate status

by Connor Hayes    


Shingal (or Sinjar) is the seat of the Shingal District in the Nineveh Province of Northern Iraq. Currently, Shingal falls under the jurisdiction of the Nineveh Governorate in the Republic of Iraq, but recently leaders of the Shingal region have expressed the desire for Shingal to achieve its own independent governorate.

On Monday 24 December, Haider Shasho, leader of the Êzîdî Democratic Party, told Kurdistan24 that Shingal seeks to become its own governorate under article 140 of the Iraqi constitution. According to Article 120 of the Iraqi Constitution, all governorates draft their own constitutions, and Article 121 specifies that all governorates “shall have the right to exercise executive, legislative, and judicial powers in accordance with this Constitution, except for those authorities stipulated in the exclusive authorities of the federal government.” Article 140 specifies that a region can transition into an independent governorate through an executive act of the Iraqi government in accordance with the will of the local population, which is determined via referendum. As of now, the Iraqi government has yet to respond to the call for autonomy. Shasho called for the help of international bodies to realise a Shingal governorate, declaring that such a move would require “pressure from the European Union on the Kurdistan Region and the Iraqi government.”

However, Shingal may seek to fall under the jurisdiction of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Northern Iraq, rather than the Iraqi government based in Baghdad. As Mahma Xelîl, mayor of Shingal, said in a press conference in Duhok on Tuesday 25 December, “we are deciding based on Article 140, that Shingal is part of the Kurdistan Region.” Xelîl went on to state, "We are historically, geographically and constitutionally part of the Kurdistan Region," and that becoming a part of the Kurdistan region, “is the demand of our people and we want this move [to] proceed in a legal and constitutional way." Shingal is home to a substantial population of Yazidis, an ethnically Kurdish people who were victim to genocide in 2014 at the hands of the so-called Islamic State (IS). Since the fall of the Hussein regime in 2003, the KRG had been steadily increasing their presence in the Shingal region, building schools and establishing local branches of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the governing party of the KRG. However, the avenues for influence were cut off after the invasion of IS. As Shasho mentioned on Monday, the Shingal region had already filed a request to Baghdad to become an independent governorate in 2013, but the “events [of 2014] delayed these decisions.”

The occupation and massacres of IS left thousands displaced, and many have still been unable to return home. Furthermore, the Shingal region still suffers from these atrocities; as Shasho said Monday, “There are no services and no electricity.” On Tuesday, Xelîl articulated further that, “The people of Shingal are suffering from tragic situations. There is no sufficient agriculture in the region and the amounts distributed by the humanitarian organizations have not been distributed fairly.” Xelil blamed the Iraqi government for the current conditions in Shingal, arguing they have not upheld their responsibility to support the people of Shingal to help rebuild destroyed areas.

However, the KRG has again begun increasing its influence in the Shingal region. As Xelîl noted, former President of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani “has never abandoned” the Yazidis of Shingal. Just earlier this month, on 16 December, the Sihela-Shingal road reopened, which connects Shingal to Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan. The road has been closed since October 2017, when the Iraqi Army, backed by Iranian paramilitaries, took control of the area. Xelîl attributed the re-opening to discussions between Peshmerga, the military forces of Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Iraqi Army, as well to Barzani’s visit to Baghdad in November. Joining Barzani for the reopening of the road was recent Nobel Peace Prize recipient Nadia Murad, a native of Shingal. Murad has announced that she plans to use her Nobel Prize money to build a hospital in Shingal, with a focus on women who are victims of violence and sexual abuse.

Another factor influencing this call for independence, according to Xelîl, is the presence of Hashd al-Shaabi, an organization of predominantly Shiite militia groups sponsored by the Iraqi state. Xelîl said the presence of Hashd al-Shaabi inspires fear in the local Yazidi population and represents an obstacle for Yazidis attempting to return to their homes, describing their presence as “illegitimate.” Xelîl called for the return of the Peshmerga, who, alongside forces of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), liberated Shingal from IS in 2015. Yet Hashd al-Shaabi is not the only threat facing the people of Shingal; the Shingal region has also been subject to repeated airstrikes from Turkey, in clear violation of Iraqi sovereignty. Most recently, Turkey conducted a series of airstrikes in the Shingal region on 13 December targeting the PKK, who Turkey claims remain operational in the region. The airstrikes were condemned by Murad, among many others.

Xelîl noted that Shingal achieving autonomy would help the people of Shingal both to receive international protection as well as to better provide for their own self-defence. As Shasho stated, an autonomous Shingal, as well as the presence of Peshmerga forces, “can help the Yazidis save and protect themselves so that Shingal can protect itself from any enemies.”