For Stability in Iraq, Stop Turkish Strikes on Sinjar
On June 15, Turkish drone strikes targeted the city center of Sinune in Iraq’s Sinjar province. At least one civilian—a twelve-year-old Yezidi boy named Salah Nassir—was killed. Several others were injured, including Çira TV journalist Salih Berces.
Turkey’s periodic strikes on Yezidi targets in Sinjar, which have occurred every year since 2017, are a key driver of instability in the region and a major reason why many Yezidis are unable to return to their homeland eight years after ISIS attacked.
One study found that 60% of Turkish strikes in Sinjar have led to civilian casualties. Some strikes were likely extrajudicial assassinations—targeting Iraqi Yezidi political and military leaders who played central roles in defending their community from ISIS in the aftermath of the genocide in 2014.
Contrary to claims made by Turkish government officials, Turkey faces no “terror” threat from Sinjar. The region is more than 100 kilometers away from the Turkish border. The Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a self-defense force set up to fight ISIS in 2014, pose no military threat to Turkey.
Iraqi Yezidis, by contrast, have a legitimate security interest in being able to rebuild, recover, and determine their own political and security affairs within the framework of Iraqi law.
Governments and international institutions can take several steps to make this a reality: stopping Turkish strikes, holding Turkish officials accountable for civilian harm and displacement, and taking diplomatic steps to resolve the political and military status of Sinjar and the root causes of Turkish intervention in Iraq by peaceful and inclusive means.
Stop the Strikes
First, Sinjar’s airspace must be closed to all foreign aircraft, with exceptions only for counter-ISIS missions. The Coalition, the United Nations and the government of Iraq could coordinate to achieve this. Blocking Turkey’s ability to conduct airstrikes, drone strikes, surveillance, or any other actions in Sinjar is a necessary precondition to move forward.
This must be accompanied with unequivocal public and private condemnations of this week’s strikes and warnings to Turkey against any further military activity in Sinjar. These should come from the Iraqi government, the UN, and the United States.
Hold Turkey Accountable
Turkey must then feel the consequences.of its campaign of aggression against a community still reeling from the impacts of mass atrocities. Western governments must cease the export of weapons and technology that could be used in Turkish cross-border operations against Yezidis and other vulnerable ethnic minorities, including Kurds, Assyrians, and Armenians.
Blocking the proposed sale of 40 F-16 fighter jets and the export of any U.S.-origin technology used in Turkey’s drone program would be the most relevant step for the United States to take here.
After removing the destabilizing threat of Turkish strikes, the international community must learn from the failures of the US-backed Sinjar Agreement between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the government of Iraq.
A sustainable political process to determine the future of the region should be led by Yezidis, brokered by impartial mediators, and inclusive of the diverse political perspectives held by Sinjar’s residents. It should not give outside actors the ability to intervene in the process or impose their influence on Sinjar by force.
Existing Iraqi law allows for a high degree of political decentralization and for the integration of local armed groups into existing security structures—measures that would allow Yezidis to control their security and governance while remaining integrated into the central state.
This strategy must be shaped by renewed engagement with Yezidi leaders, communities and organizations—particularly those that have consistently highlighted the risk posed by Turkish threats. Had Yezidis been heard when they first raised the alarm about the impacts of Turkish bombing and had comprehensive solutions been implemented based on their perspectives, it is likely that many the region would be more stable today and that more IDPs would have been able to return home.