Iraqi-backed Yazidi group takes over Sinjar after Kurdish pullout

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Lalesh moved to take control of the city after Kurdish Peshmerga withdrew with 'no violence' occuring, say locals

Member of Kurdish security forces stands guard in Sinjar region (Reuters)
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Tuesday 17 October 2017 9:57 UTC
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An Iraqi Yazidi group affiliated with a Shia-led armed faction took control on Tuesday of Sinjar, said residents of the northwestern city that is claimed by both Kurdish and central Iraqi authorities.

The Yazidi group, called Lalesh, extended control over all of Sinjar after the withdrawal late on Monday of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who were deployed there, the residents said.

"There was no violence, the Lalesh group moved after the Peshmerga pulled out," said a resident by phone.

Forces linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), including the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) remained in their positions in the province. Clashes between the YBS and Peshmerga took place in March and tensions had been high between the group and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Responding to a Kurdish referendum on independence held last month, Iraqi government forces on Monday captured the Kurdish-held oil city of Kirkuk, transforming the country's balance of power.

That was part of lightning strike ordered by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to retake all disputed areas, including Sinjar, occupied by the KRG's Peshmerga force in the course of the war on the Islamic State (IS) group.

Sinjar was included as part of the remit of the 25 September Kurdish independence referendum, which provoked the latest round of clashes.

Lalesh is affiliated with the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs), an armed group formed mainly of Iran-trained Shia paramilitaries, with the participation of smaller forces from other communities including Sunnis, Christians and Yazidis. It is officially under Abadi's authority.

Turkey has repeatedly threatened intervention in Sinjar to challenge PKK-linked groups and on Monday said it was ready to help the Iraqi government oust Kurdish fighters from Kirkuk.

Ankara, which fears independence moves by the KRG could spark similar moves by its own Kurdish minority, hailed the Iraqi forces' operation to clean up Kirkuk from the PKK, who were reportedly also involved in fighting in the city.

"We are ready for any form of cooperation with the Iraqi government in order to end the PKK presence in Iraqi territory," the Turkish foreign ministry said.

Iraq's National Security Council on Sunday said it viewed as a "declaration of war" the presence of "fighters not belonging to the regular security forces in Kirkuk," including fighters from the PKK.

The PKK, which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984, is listed as a terror group by Turkey and much of the international community including the United States.