Thousands flee after Iraq clashes

·2-min read

Thousands or people have fled a northern Iraqi town amid fierce clashes between the army and a militia linked to a Kurdish separatist group.

At least 3000 people left Sinjar and its surrounding areas, the military and local Iraqi Kurdish officials said, and headed north towards the semi-autonomous Kurdish region to seek asylum.

They left when clashes intensified on Monday between the Iraqi army and the YBS, a militia group with ties to the Turkish insurgent Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

Many were Yazidis displaced during the 2014 Islamic State onslaught and bracing for another round of violence after returning to their homes only a few years ago.

Most of the displaced were distributed across camps in the Kurdish region, said Pir Dayan, director of the migration and crisis response department in Dohuk province, in the Kurdish-run region.

The Kurdistan government has formed a committee to deal with the situation.

The violence erupted when the Iraqi military launched an operation late on Sunday to clear the area of YBS forces, mostly comprised of members from the Yazidi religious minority.

By Monday, the fighting had spread to other areas in Sinjar district.

In a statement, the Iraqi military said the offensive was to dismantle YBS checkpoints erected in Sinjar that have prevented citizens from returning to their homes and undermined Iraqi state authorities.

When government military units confronted YBS forces, the statement said, they were met with heavy fire, snipers and explosive devices on the roads.

The YBS has controlled much of Sinjar since 2014, driving out IS from the district with assistance from the PKK.

Their continued presence in the area has drawn the ire of Turkey, which has been battling the PKK since the 1980s.

It has led to regular Turkish military offensives on Iraqi soil to root them out.

In October 2020, Baghdad and the Kurdistan government signed an agreement to jointly manage Sinjar to restore the state's hold over the patchwork of militia groups and competing authorities in the area after the defeat of IS. But this has proven largely unsuccessful.

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