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Land For Peace? Yazidis Gain Deeds 50 Years Later

Mohanad Adnan is a 2022 McCain Global Leader. He is a political analyst and communications strategist with a wealth of experience working with aspiring politicians, civic activists, and elected officials. With Roya Development Group (RDG), which he founded in 2021, Mohanad looks at Iraq’s political, economic, and security landscape, and seeks to inform readers about the dynamics and developments within the country.

Just days before the new year, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani announced that the Council of Ministers (CoM) decreed that Yazidis in Sinjar – a district in Ninewa province nearly decimated in the brutal ISIS occupation and subsequent liberation – would be granted full ownership of their homes. The decision is intended to right a five-decade wrong and is part of a new push by the government to encourage displaced residents to return home, promote the area’s stability, and close its internally displaced person (IDP) file. However, the intra-party rivalry in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region and their competition with federally-based parties could diminish the stabilizing effect the PM seeks for Sinjar’s Yazidi community. Sinjar is among several electoral battlegrounds in the provincial council elections expected late this year. With the likelihood that the federal government withholds part of the Region’s allocation due to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) poor fiscal transparency and the ongoing conflict over the Region’s oil sales, jockeying for influence in areas outside the Region has become even more important – and having access to Sinjar’s anticipated reconstruction fund is a significant war chest.

In 2014, Sinjar’s Yazidis were forced to flee their homelands amid horrific violence, the repercussions of which families live through daily while still living in temporary shelters in the Kurdistan Region’s IDP camps. The intent to annihilate the insular minority, a monotheistic religion that dates back more than a millennium, was brutal. Though Iraq’s parliament has passed a law that provides a reparations framework for many Yazidi survivors of ISIS crimes, it has yet to officially recognize the invasion as a genocide – though perhaps positive pressure will come from the January 19 decision by the German parliament to officially recognize the Yazidi genocide.

The land disputes in Sinjar date back to 1975 when, with the signing of the Algiers Agreement, Iraq and Iran agreed to settle several border disputes[1] – which also resulted in an agreement that Iran would cease supporting Kurdish groups (led by Mustafa Barzani), which were in a state of rebellion against the government of Saddam Hussein. The Barzani-led rebels fled the Sinjar area, knowing that Saddam’s regime would attack[2] – leaving their Yazidi allies behind. More than 150 Yazidi villages were targeted by Saddam’s Arabization campaign throughout Sinjar district, primarily focusing on those surrounding Sinjar Mountain, as most Kurds living in Sinjar’s city center had already fled. Repopulating the city with Arab residents was now easy – and to reinforce the plan, Saddam forcibly moved Yazidi villagers to eleven housing compounds a few kilometers away on flat land more easily controlled by a conventional army. Saddam’s government registered the Yazidi families’ land ownership with the Ministry of Construction and Housing but failed to register the decision with the Real Estate Directorate (housed within the Ministry of Justice), which would have issued the deed titles. Nearly fifty years later, these families remain unable to prove ownership.

[1] This agreement would be abrogated five years later, precipitating the eight-year Iran-Iraq War. The war concluded with a return to the Algiers Agreement following UN mediation.

[2] From 1976 until the Iran-Iraq War, the struggle against Saddam was largely left to Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which took up the mantle from now-exiled Barzani – though they had no international support. After the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War, Kurds became a distinct target for Saddam, ultimately leading to the 1991 Kurdish Uprising.

DISCLAIMER: McCain Institute is a nonpartisan organization that is part of Arizona State University. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent an opinion of the McCain Institute.

Mohanad Adnan, McCain Global Leader & Partner, Roya Development Group
Publish Date
January 24, 2023