Both Kurds and non-Kurds alike across Europe are welcoming the liberation of Sinjar by Peshmerga forces, some even celebrating after more than a year of mourning for a hometown lost to the Islamic State group, according to Kurdish media network Rudaw. The New York Times reported that the northern Iraqi city had only a few pockets of resistance, as jihadists cleared out from the town that they had brutally dominated for more than 15 months.
Operation Free Shingal was successful on Friday, Nov. 13, as a result of the efforts of several thousand Kurdish and Yazidi soldiers.
The Islamic State group was evicted from the city after a massive three-pronged Peshmerga offensive the day before in which hundreds of militants were killed, Rudaw reports. Rudaw also wrote that the mission was of both strategic and emotional importance. The city’s liberation effectively cut off the Islamic State group’s supply routes from Raqqa in Syria to Mosul in Iraq.
The emotional importance lies in the remembrance of the immense suffering endured by Shingal’s Yezidi Kurds, who were murdered and enslaved by the thousands after the Islamic State group’s invasion in August 2014.
The New York Times reported on a news conference held by the head of the Iraqi Kurdish government, President Masoud Barzani.
He stood on Mount Sinjar to hail the retaking of the town and proclaimed that Shingal would be formally incorporated into Kurdistan. This could be a troubling development for the Iraqi government in Baghdad, which considers Sinjar an Iraqi-administered city. “Sinjar is part of the Kurdistan Region,” he said. “Aside from the Kurdistan flag, no other flag will rise in Sinjar.”
A fighter, who went by the pseudonym Adil Haroon, told The New York Times the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., had come to the Yazidis’ aid right after the ISIS takeover in August 2014, as the peshmerga were leaving. “We have been fighting in this city for 15 months. We fought. They don’t fight. Now they say that we should leave. They were with us when we took the city but didn’t bother to get out of their cars.”
At the same time, ethnic tensions are already flaring. According to The New York Times, smoke was rising on Friday from several Arab villages east of Sinjar that had been occupied by ISIS. Trucks full of looted furniture were seen driving north, possessions taken from the villages that appear to have been set on fire.
The liberation also resulted in discoveries of more atrocities caused by the Islamic State group. Al Arabiya reported that Kurdish security forces led an operation that captured a mass grave on the edge of Sinjar. The mass grave is believed to hold the remains of about 78 Yazidi women, aged between 40 and 80, executed by the Islamic State group.
Much of this information is known because of a younger woman who had been enslaved by the Islamic State group and witnessed the executions before escaping, according to Sinjar council member Miyasir Hajji. The United Nations has described the attack on the Yazidis as a possible genocide.
Editor’s Note: Information from The New York Times, Al Arabiya and Rudaw was used in this report.