Erbil – The US State Department on Thursday said that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its affiliates should withdraw from the Yezidi-majority Sinjar District. America’s posture now corresponds with the position of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which has likewise called on the PKK and its affiliated militias to leave Sinjar.
“We continue to believe that the PKK, which is a US-designated foreign terrorist organization, should have no role in Sinjar, and we regard their presence there as a major obstacle to reconciliation and to the return of internally displaced people,” said Admiral John Kirby, a US State Department spokesperson.
“We urge all groups, including the Kurdistan Regional Government, to facilitate political reconciliation so that these internally displaced people can return and the traumatized communities in that region can rebuild,” Admiral Kirby added.
The State Department official explained that the US would continue to make a distinction between the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. However, that distinction was not being extended to the confederalist militias in Sinjar.
“As I said, the PKK is a terrorist organization. We don’t believe they should have any role in Sinjar. I’m not going to get into intelligence assessments or analysis about how they may be organizing themselves or branding themselves,” Kirby stated. “We continue to hold that the PKK is a terrorist organization and they shouldn’t have any role in Sinjar. And that’s our point.”
There are several PKK-affiliated militias in Sinjar District. The largest of them is the Shingal Resistance Units (YBŞ), which fought to liberate Sinjar and al-Hawl and is currently engaged in the campaign to liberate Mosul.
Deteriorating Relations between Kurdish Parties
Nechirvan Barzani, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region and a member of the KDP Political Bureau, on Thursday blamed the PKK for the slow pace of reconstruction in Sinjar city. “One of the reasons Sinjar can’t be rebuilt and the population can’t return home is the PKK presence. We thank them but they must leave,” he said at a conference in Duhok.
Barzani’s statement typified the deteriorating relations between the PKK and KDP. Basnews, a pro-KDP news outlet, reported on Tuesday that US officials are trying to find a mechanism to have the PKK peacefully withdraw from Sinjar.
Analysts told ARA News that they expect the PKK to resist those efforts with assistance from the central government. Baghdad continues to finance some PKK-affiliated militias; viewing them as a bulwark against Turkish interference in northern Iraq.
Speaking for the US State Department, Admiral Kirby has urged Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region to cooperate, both “to defeat ISIS and to resolve any other outstanding issues.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report on December 4 blamed the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) –and not the PKK– for placing disproportionate restrictions on the movement of goods into and out of Sinjar District, preventing the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs). The KRG categorically rejected the accusation.
Kurdistan Democratic Party Competes for Influence
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party established a presence in Sinjar in August 2014, advancing across the Syrian border to save thousands of Yezidis, who were abandoned by the Peshmerga. PKK guerrillas then fought a three-day-long battle against Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists to establish a humanitarian corridor into Mount Sinjar.
Since then, the PKK has recruited local Yezidis into the YBŞ and created a local council for Sinjar. These actions have raised concerns in Erbil, prompting the Kurdistan Democratic Party to vie for influence in Sinjar District.
So far both sides have maintained a strong presence in Sinjar, in addition to the Protection Force of Ezidkhan (HPE), an indigenous militia led by Haydar Shesho. The HPE have fought alongside both the Peshmerga and the YBŞ against ISIS and maintains a training camp in Duhola.
In the meantime, tensions continue to mount between the KDP-backed Kurdish National Council in Syria (KNC) and the PYD. The former refuses to recognize the canton administrations that constitute Northern Syria – Rojava. The United States has remained outside of these interparty rivalries, supporting PYD and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, while in Iraq it backs the KDP-led government and the Peshmerga.
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