The territorial defeat of Isis came in north-east Syria last month. The Sunni extremists’ proto-state once stretched across Iraq and Syria. By the end all that remained was a cluster of tents and vehicles.
The makeshift canvas village was a dark echo of the tent cities erected to house millions of Iraqis and Syrians who fled the jihadi group’s self-declared caliphate — and remain full five years later.
Domestic political jostling and the proliferation of various armed groups has left swaths of Iraq, the world’s third-largest oil exporter, unstable and prolonged the suffering of the survivors of the Isis rampage. Of Iraq’s roughly 40m citizens, 1.7m are still displaced, according to the International Organization for Migration, with the highest concentration in the country’s north.
In a tent in northern Iraq, a mother from the minority Yazidi community longs for the home Isis took from her.
“It is sweet to go back to your homeland,” Nassima sighs. Two of her children, taken by Isis, are still being held captive somewhere in Syria. Nassima is from Sinjar, where nearly a fifth of Iraq’s displaced people once lived. It is a microcosm of Iraq’s political and security struggles.
Sinjar “was sold, destroyed and betrayed”, Nadia Murad, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and Yazidi activist, tweeted recently.
“Now it’s being used as a political game without any respect for the victims of this genocide.
” A strategically important area of Nineveh province, Sinjar is on the cusp of the country’s autonomous Kurdish region and Arab-majority federal Iraq, close to the Syrian border.
It is part of a belt of “disputed territories” claimed by both Baghdad and Erbil, the Kurdish capital. Sinjar had a mixed ethnic population but is best known as home to the Yazidis, adherents of an ancient monotheistic religion. By 2014, it was de facto controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic party, the Kurdistan regional government’s ruling group, which extended its influence south after the US-led invasion. So irrelevant is the central government in Baghdad to Sinjar that Nassima had no idea who the Iraqi prime minister is.
During the Isis offensive, the KDP fighters withdrew. Genocidal jihadis singled out the unarmed Yazidis in an attempt to destroy their culture, massacring an estimated 5,000 and enslaving some 6,500.
Nassima and four of her children were captured. Another mass grave was exhumed in March, one of more than 70 already discovered in Sinjar.
How to contribute to the FT’s opinion pages Although various Kurdish forces expelled Isis in late 2015, nearly 300,000 people from Sinjar are still homeless.
The invasion left deep rifts between Arabs, Kurds, Yazidis, and Sinjar’s other minorities — the few who have returned are Yazidis.
Nassima has visited Sinjar twice since the 2014 atrocities — once for a funeral and the second time to have her DNA sampled in the hope of identifying bodies from mass graves. In Sinjar, there are “no services, no water, no doctors, no electricity”, she says, exasperated.
“It’s been almost five years.” Mines and traps litter the area. Reconstruction lags behind because no one wields legitimate authority.
Opposing armed Kurdish factions, majority Arab Shia forces and much weaker Yazidi brigades have vied for control of the trade and smuggling corridor.
The US has spent $300m since 2017 on aid for minority communities in Iraq. But unless Yazidis can go home, that money means little.
Denise Natali, assistant secretary at the US state department’s stabilisation division, said at a conference in Iraq last month that in future America would not fund projects where “undisciplined armed actors” roam without control of the state.
Asked which areas she was referring to, Ms Natali did not specify. If basic services and security were restored, Nassima would swap her tent for her old house: Sinjar is “as dear to us as our parents”, she says.
By _Financial Times