Breaking the siege of Sinjar offers hope

Iraqi Kurdish forces have retaken Sinjar Mountain, where thousands of the country's Yazidi minority have been trapped. Photo: Zana Ahmed / AP
Iraqi Kurdish forces have retaken Sinjar Mountain, where thousands of the country's Yazidi minority have been trapped. Photo: Zana Ahmed / AP

After so many months of bad news, the breaking of the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar represents a glimmer of hope as a tumultuous year comes to a close in the region.

Kurdish forces in northern Iraq broke through on Thursday to Mount Sinjar, where thousands of Iraqi fighters and civilians from the Yazidi minority had been besieged. The entire area around the mountain has not yet been cleared, but the victory is a crucial strategic and psychological blow in a conflict that has relied as much on perceptions as on warfare.

The attack on Mount Sinjar in August sparked fears of a genocide against the Iraqi minority when ISIL swiftly advanced into northern Iraq and thousands of Yazidis were trapped on the mountain without food or water. It was that incident that pushed the US to intervene.

Psychologically, then, reclaiming Mount Sinjar is a victory both for the Kurds and for the coalition against ISIL. It was because the Kurdish peshmerga fled from ISIL in August that the group trapped the Yazidis. Taking back the territory will have buoyed the spirits of the Kurdish fighters. It is also an important psychological lift for the coalition which, even after months of bombing the small border town of Kobani in Syria, also called Ayn Al Arab, has not been able to displace ISIL.

This is, however, merely one point in a long line. ISIL’s advance has been slowed, but the group has not been halted. But, taken together with other news, it suggests that the strategy followed by the new Iraqi prime minister is having an effect.

Kurdish fighters are not the only group attacking ISIL inside Iraq. To the south, Shia militias have been pushing the group out of areas near the capital Baghdad. Government troops have pushed out ISIL from parts of the western regions. A new understanding has taken root in Baghdad that the fight against ISIL cannot be waged by one group alone. Writing in The Wall Street Journal on the day Mount Sinjar was retaken, Haider Al Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, said: “exclusion breeds extremism” and vowed to welcome all parts of Iraq into government, as well as noting how the Kurds and Sunni Arabs were fighting alongside the Shia-dominated government. A small step but hopefully, too, a crucial turning point.

Published: December 20, 2014 04:00 AM

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