The families who reside in a housing complex in the village of Mwafaqiya, east of Mosul in northern Iraq, were getting ready for a holiday, the annual Muslim festival of Eid, when a truck carrying sheep drove into their neighbourhood. The sheep were allegedly sacrificial animals and would be killed and eaten over the holidays; the truck parked in the village overnight. But the vehicle was also carrying something else. At six in the morning on Oct. 17, a bomb on the truck was detonated.
Around a dozen locals were killed and up to a further 55 injured. Many of them were children. This was the Eid gift that terrorists had brought to this village. And that is even though the village is actually already a refuge, crowded with Iraqis of Shabak ethnicity, who had fled from sectarian persecution in other parts of the state of Ninawa and set up new homes here.
As the BBC explains, “the 30,000-strong Shabak community mostly live near Iraq\'s border with Turkey. They speak a distinct language and largely follow a faith that is a blend of Shiite Islam and local beliefs, and are periodically targeted in attacks by militants”.
Some Shabak believe they are closer to the Kurdish in Iraq and there have been requests that the Kurds send their own security forces down to protect the Shabaks. But other Shabaks believe they are closer to Iraq’s Arabs and these tend to keep their distance from Iraqi Kurdistan. There are no accurate statistics but it’s believed that about just over half of the Shabaks are Shiite Muslims and the rest are Sunni Muslims.
Most Shabaks live in villages stretching in an arc from the north of Mosul to the furthest east and many make their living selling livestock. Quite a few families lived near to, or in, Mosul until recently but because of the escalation in attacks against them, many have also moved back to their villages of origin.
After the bomb in Mwafaqiya, a group of angry young Shabak men closed the roads near the village that goes between the cities of Mosul and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan on Oct. 18. They demanded protection for the Shabak villages as well as compensation for the victims of the attack and they threatened to hold further protests if the authorities didn’t do anything about it.
The Shabak people have lost any confidence they had in the government’s security forces, says Hanin al-Qadu, a former MP in Baghdad and political representative of the Shabak minority. “Security forces keep repeating that they can control the terrorists and that they have arrested hundreds,” al-Qadu told NIQASH. “But nothing has really changed. There’s no clear plan for security and the security forces don’t have any idea of where the terrorists hide out or their targets or how they achieve their work. How could all of this take place and nobody stop them?” al-Qadu asked.
To solve the problem, he says a military force made up of Shabaks only should be formed to protect their own people.
“Almost 1,500 Shabak families have left Mosul over the past few years and settled in other communities outside of the city,” says Qusay Abbas, who represented Shabak interests on the last provincial council in Ninawa. “Despite this, these people are still being targeted while security forces just sit and watch and do nothing. And local politicians don’t do anything but denounce the violence.”
The head of the advisory commission for Shabak affairs in Ninawa, Salim al-Shabaki, told NIQASH that around 300 Shabak families have actually joined that exodus over the past few days because of threatening letters they received. The letters, signed by the Islamic State in Iraq – the Al Qaeda affiliated Sunni Muslim extremist group – gave the Shabak families three days to get out of town or else they would be murdered.
Meanwhile the local police seem to know full well what is going on and why. A senior officer in the Ninawa police force, who didn’t want to be named for security reasons, said the deterioration in security in Mosul isn’t just impacting on the Shabaks – it is affecting everyone, all the different ethnic and religious groups in the province.
The extremists’ plan is to isolate the different groups, he explained, in order to divide and conquer. It is the same plan that seems to be being used in the rest of Iraq, he noted.
Shabaks and Shiite Muslims in the area, which is well known as a base for Al Qaeda affiliated extremists, are being targeted deliberately. Many of the Sunni Muslim extremists make it clear that their campaign of terror is in revenge for the way that Sunni Muslims are allegedly being treated in the Shiite-Muslim dominated areas in the south of Iraq. And, the police officer said, these extremists won’t hesitate to shoot or bomb people’s houses while they are in them.