Turkey continues to terrorize Yezidis of Sinjar with drone strikes

SHIGUR, Iraq — On Wednesday, the second Turkish drone strike in three days rocked Shigur (Sinjar / Shengal) in Nineveh Plains, Iraq.

Killed in Wednesday’s attack was a so far unnamed commander of the Sinjar Resistance Units (Kurdish: Yekîneyên Berxwedana Şengalê; YBŞ) and his bodyguard, according to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s (KRI) Directorate General of Counter Terrorism (CTD). The strike targeted the commander’s car following a funeral service near the village of Bara.

On Monday, the General Command of the YBŞ announced the deaths of commanders Pîr Çeko and Agir Cefrî in a Turkish drone strike. Both men had fought against the Islamic State (ISIS) during its genocidal campaign against the Yezidi people in Shigur.

Sinjar Resistance Units (Yekîneyên Berxwedana Şengalê, YBŞ) martyrs Pîr Çeko and Agir Cefrî, killed in a Turkish drone strike on 27 February 2023.

Shigur is a mountainous region in northern Iraq, near the border with Syria. The area has long been a contested zone, with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Iraqi government both claiming control at various times.

In 2014, the region was overrun by ISIS, which carried out a campaign of genocide against the local Yezidi population.

The YBŞ is made up primarily of Yezidi volunteers who formed in 2014 to defend their community against ISIS. The Yezidis, who are an ethno-religious minority in the region, faced brutal persecution at the hands of ISIS, which included mass executions, slavery, and forced conversion.

Although close to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish militant group that has been engaged in an armed conflict with the Turkish government for several decades, the YBŞ operates independently of the PKK and has its own command structure.

The YBŞ played a critical role in the liberation of Sinjar from ISIS in 2015 and has since been involved in ongoing efforts to maintain security and stability in the region. The group has also been involved in providing humanitarian aid to the Yezidi community, including assisting with the resettlement of displaced persons and helping to locate and rescue Yezidi women and children who were abducted by ISIS.

The old city of Shigur (Sinjar / Shengal), Iraq, still in ruins in 2022. (Image: Sarah Gold / 2022)

In late 2020, the YBŞ announced that they would be joining the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a coalition of Iraqi militia groups that was formed in 2014 to fight against ISIS. The decision was made following negotiations between the YBŞ and the Iraqi government, which had been seeking to bring the various armed groups operating in the country under a unified command structure.

The move was significant as it marked a departure from the YBŞ’s previous stance of operating independently of other military groups in the region.

Since joining the PMF, the YBŞ has been involved in a number of operations against ISIS and other militant groups operating in the region. The group has also continued to provide security and humanitarian assistance to the Yezidi community, including supporting efforts to rebuild infrastructure and resettle displaced persons.

Despite being formally under the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and with no direct links to the PKK, Turkey continues to target members of the YBŞ. The Iraqi Government has done little to prevent Turkey’s ongoing campaign of drone assassinations.