In a northern town brutalized by IS, Iraq tests its power
SINJAR, Iraq (AP) - One by one, flags on a patchwork quilt have been lowered by armed forces in a northern Iraqi city that was once brutalized by the Islamic state group. The territorial claims symbolized by each have been replaced by the flutter of only one: that of the Iraqi state.
The raising of the national flag in Sinjar, home of the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq, is the result of a contract month in which the federal government had to restore order from a jumble of paramilitaries who sowed liberation from IS three ago during the chaos that followed Years.
That month, the Iraqi army was stationed there for the first time since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
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Lt. Imad Hasan climbed a rocky ascent with a view of the abandoned ruins of the old town of Sinjar, which have stood empty since the relocation of IS. His gaze fell on a lookout point on the other side of the mountain - the last, he said, owned by a local member of a banned Kurdish guerrilla group known as the PKK.
"We have problems with them," he said. "Their leaders have agreed to withdraw, but some of their fighters have not."
It was hard enough to seal the deal. The implementation brings with it new problems. Critics say it takes more than a flag change to consolidate the rule of law in Sinjar.
The Yazidis, traumatized by the mass murders and enslavements that have instigated against them, have no confidence in the Iraqi authorities, which they say they left to the brutality of the militants. With the central government weak, they fear militias - including Iranian-backed Shiite factions - will rule over them.
The militias that have been monitoring Sinjar for the past three years are a mix. These include Peshmerga fighters from the Kurdish autonomous zone of Iraq, as well as the PKK and its subsidiary, which is made up of local Yazidi fighters known as Sinjar Resistance Units or YBS. There are also Yazidi units of the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella organization of state-sanctioned paramilitaries that was founded in 2014 to defeat ISIS.
There are signs of recovery for Sinjar. The city center was full of shoppers, merchants - and the strange Iraqi army tank. More of the 200,000 Yazidis displaced by the IS onslaught in 2014 are returning - around 21,600 return between June and September, a multiple of the rate in previous years.
But scratch the surface, and almost everyone has raw, unresolved trauma. Everyone vividly remembers the ISIS attack that killed fathers and sons, enslaved thousands of women and survivors fled to Mount Sinjar.
At Sinjar's Market, a farmer, Zaidan Khalaf, first introduced himself by telling The Associated Press how many relatives he had lost under IS: 18. Others in the market did the same.
"We have lost our dignity," he said.
The communities remain deeply divided and bitterly angry.
"What agreement?" mocked Farzo Mato Sabo, an 86-year-old in the predominantly Yazidi village of Tal Binat, south of Sinjar. She and her three daughters were taken by IS fighters and later rescued by smugglers. Eleven of her family members are still not registered.
"I lost everyone," she sobbed. "Will it bring you back?"
The neighboring valley of Binat is the Sunni-Arab village of Khailo.
"We used to be like brothers, but now the Yazidis are staying away from us," said an elder, Sheikh Naif Ibrahim. "You can't distinguish between civilians and ISIS members."
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