“When I saw the Iraqi army fleeing, leaving the people here with no protection, leaving them to confront the extremist militias alone, I was so afraid about what would happen,” explains Shammo Khader, who had formerly been a soldier in the Iraqi army; Khader is also a member of the Yazidi ethno-religious group that is closely associated to Kurdish ethnicity.
The Iraqi army fled but Khader and some of his colleagues stayed; eventually Khader left the Iraqi army and now he has volunteered to help out the Iraqi Kurdish forces, commonly known as the Peshmerga. He and other former Iraqi army soldiers have registered on a list of volunteers who say they will aid the Peshmerga in protecting this territory.
“They did not leave when militants attacked Sinjar,” Khader explains. “We are Yazidi and the radical militants don’t like us. But the Iraqi Kurdish government has promised to protect our areas.”
Khader is not the only local to volunteer. “More than 6,000 names have been registered as volunteers in this district and every one of them is ready to fight the extremists,” Sinjar district mayor, Muyasar Haji, told NIQASH. “Many of them were formerly with the Iraqi army before it withdrew from this area.”
“The door is still wide open for volunteers,” Haji continued, “and there are more young Yazidis volunteering every day. They are all afraid that the extremists will come to their homes. The [Sunni Muslim extremist organisation] the Islamic State group are well known as radicals and we Yazidis have another religion that differs from Islam. We believe that the Peshmerga are going to protect us from the extremists. That’s why so many young people want to join them,” Haji explained.
In the Shirkhan district, where there are a lot of Shabak locals - Shabaks have their own language and are descended from a mixture of Arab and Kurdish people; over half of the identify as Shiite Muslims too – hundreds of young Shabak men have registered to volunteer to help the Peshmerga too.
“During the last decade, dozens of Shabak people have been killed in suicide attacks and bombings,” says one of the volunteers, Hussein Juma. “Now that the Sunni Muslim extremists are in charge of Mosul, the danger is even closer and more serious because we are Shiites. If the Peshmerga hadn’t been here then I am certain they would have attacked us. And that’s why I am volunteering to help the Peshmerga.”
“We just want to help the troops who are protecting our villages,” Juma concluded.
An estimated thousand young Shabak men have volunteered to help the Peshmerga, Ghazwan Hamed, the Shabak representative in Mosul’s council, told NIQASH. “Their names are registered as volunteers in case they are needed in the future,” he explained.
The same thing has been happening in the Hamdaniya area where there is a big Christian population – a number have also volunteered to help the Peshmerga.
“When the city of Mosul fell to the Sunni Muslim extremists from the Islamic State group, a number of Christian-owned houses were burned down,” says Sarkon Yousef, one of the Christian men who volunteered. “Some of the other Christian-owned houses and businesses have been taken over by the militants. And we don’t want that to happen here. The Peshmerga have protected these areas – that’s why I volunteered,” he explained.
Interestingly Yousef also had another reason for volunteering. “There are not a lot of jobs in Hamdaniya. I finished university three years ago but I haven’t been able to find a job. That’s another reason I would like to join the Peshmerga – they will pay me a good salary.”
Unfortunately Yousef’s plan may not work out immediately.
“The Peshmerga forces now dominate in most of the disputed areas that are supposed to be discussed under Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution,” says Jabbar Yawa, official spokesman for the Peshmerga. He is referring to Iraq’s disputed territories; areas that the Iraqi government says belong to them but which Iraq’s Kurds say should be part of their semi-autonomous region. “These are now safe areas and are guarded by the Peshmerga.”
However Yawar says that the actual Iraqi Kurdish military are not taking any new recruits right now. “We have enough troops in this area and in other areas,” he told NIQASH. “Additionally we are not recruiting any new members because of the current financial problems in Iraqi Kurdistan – we have not been able to pay government employees their salaries because the Iraqi government in Baghdad has not transferred any money to the region since the beginning of the year.”
“The volunteering that is going on in these places is actually a process started by the people in them to show their support for the Peshmerga. However I can confirm that we have not taken on any new recruits – firstly, because we don’t have the means to pay them and secondly, because we have enough men in these areas.”