Security Forces in Zummar
The headquarters of Kurdish Security Forces west of the Tigris, which includes all KRG-controlled parts of Tel Afar district, is in Zummar town. Similar to neighboring Rabi’a and Ayyadhiyya sub-districts, all Kurdish Security Forces in Zummar are tied to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The Peshmerga is in charge of protecting the borders and is heavily deployed to the southern front with ISIL in Ayyadhiya sub-district, where it was subject of frequent mortar attacks by ISIL at the time of research.
Since recapturing territory in Zummar, the Peshmerga has recruited a 2,000-member auxiliary defense force from local Kurdish tribes, including, among others, the Gergeri,16 Hasniani, Miran, and the Tai. This Kurdish tribal force is deployed to patrol the border with Syria in the north (including the seven Kurdish villages in neighboring Rabi’a sub-district), and the frontline with ISIL in the south. Members of the force received training by the KDP-led command in Dohuk, but they were not integrated into the formal structure of Kurdish Security Forces. There are no reports indicating that the Rojava Peshmerga is present in Zummar sub-district since ISIL’s ouster.
Within the sub-district’s borders, the Asayish is in charge of security, including counter-crime and ‑terrorism. Since 2017, the Asayish is supported by the 2,000-strong Jazeera Brigade, a tribal component of the Peshmerga that draws from local Sunni Arab tribes of Rabi’a, Zummar, and Ayyadhiyya sub-districts, including the Jibbour, Juhaysh Mu’amara, Sharabi, and Shammar tribes. The main objective of the Jazeera Brigade is to provide security in the areas west of the Tigris that were cleared and now controlled by Kurdish Security Forces.17 The Brigade’s first 1,000 fighters,drawn from Zummar and Ayyadhiya, graduated in February 2017. A second tranche, drawn mostly from Rabi’a, graduated in June 2017.18 Despite reports of the Jazeera Brigade’s mobilization to support the Rojava in spring 2017 as it clashed with supporters of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in Sinjar, key informants claimed that the Jazeera Brigade has not been functionally deployed as its members do not yet undertake any security tasks (an Arab volunteer met at the Asayish office in Zummar joined the KDP-led Peshmerga Unit 80 before the formation of the Jazeera Brigade). Indeed, the establishment of this force has only served so far to co-opt Arabs in areas controlled by Kurds.
A survey conducted by IOM indicates high levels of satisfaction with the Peshmerga and Asayish in Zummar among returnees.19 Similarly, Arab tribal elders from Zummar and Ayyadhiyya sub-districts praised the Peshmerga for shedding their blood,“the biggest sacrifice,” to liberate their homes; however, the sheikhs were interviewed in the presence of the Asayish chief, and no other community representative could be consulted.
Zummar’s Future: Returns, KRG Control, and Oil
Many of the security and political dynamics observed in Rabi’a played out in parallel in Zummar. Notably, the KRG has projected its soft power by providing security and establishing a local tribal force, which gives dignity to locals by taking matters in their hands, and it is an important source of employment in an agricultural area that has had limited access to markets for years.
Arab politicians in Ninewa have realized that a Kurdish-engineered local force could sway public opinion in areas of disputed control and Member of Parliament Abd al-Rahman al-Luwayzi called the establishment of the Jazeera Brigade an attempt by KRG President Masoud Barzani to unlawfully extend his control over areas outside Kurdistan.20 However, such criticism might be too little, too late. Community interviews in Rabi’a have shown support for the force and in May 2017 Mzahim al-Huwait, the spokesman of Arab tribes and a key figure in establishing the Jazeera Brigade, announced that all areas liberated by KRG Security Forces west of the Tigris would join an independent Kurdish state.21 For now, it remains to be seen how strong this alliance between Ninewa Arabs and the Kurdish administration is, and whether Sunni Arab fighters affiliated with Erbil would shoot their brethren wearing Federal Government uniforms in the event of a confrontation with Baghdad.
Aside from the above-mentioned similarities in co-opting Arabs, Kurdish aspirations of long-term control are tangibly different in Zummar from Rabi’a. In Rabi’a, the KRG refrained from intervening in local politics and allowed the large-scale and immediate return of displaced Arab populations even if there are some who continue to be barred from entry. By contrast, the KRG has kept a firm grip on Zummar, which is “the crux of the territorial dispute” in the area, as noted above.22 Three issues illustrate why the KRG’s aspirations in Zummar might be longer-term and resemble patterns observed in Kirkuk, rather than Rabi’a.
First, return of Arab citizens was eased only following strong criticism by international observers, and the issue remains largely unresolved. In early 2015, Human Rights Watch reported that in mixed-ethnicity Bardiyya, Garbir, and Zummar towns, displaced Kurds from villages further south were occupying the homes of Arabs, who expected that Arabs, unlike Kurds, would not return.23 A year on, Amnesty International reported that Arab residents were barred from entry, even though displaced Kurds had returned to their homes weeks after ISIL’s ouster.24 In response to these criticisms, Dindar Zebari, a KRG official responsible for the follow-up of international reports, announced in June 2016 that 2,000 Kurdish and Arab IDPs had returned to their homes in Zummar town, but he did not specify the share of each ethnic group.
According to the IOM, one-fourth of Zummar’s pre-ISIL population or about 42,000 individuals, lived in displacement in late 2016, whereas roughly the same amount of people returned already in 2014. Although the IOM does not disaggregate the data based on ethnicity, these displacement patterns match allegations made by human rights observers about the quick return of Kurds to Zummar and the continued displacement of Arabs. According to a survey included in the same study, two-thirds of IDPs expressed their intention to return, but highlighted the potential of increased inter-communal tensions as result of returns to Zummar.25 In stark contrast to the IOM’s findings, Zummar’s mayor claimed that 95 percent of displaced populations returned to Zummar in October 2016.26
Second, local administration is tightly controlled by Kurdish Security Forces in Zummar. Meetings of the heads of local departments are held in the office of the Asayish chief27 and a KDP-member was appointed as mayor of Zummar in 201528 even though the office should be elected by members of the local council. Unlike in Rabi’a, Kurdish Security Forces have closely monitored the author’s movement and interactions with locals, which is why only limited information could be collected about the impact of local, hybrid and sub-state security forces (LHSFs) on community dynamics in the sub-district. Moreover, a head of one of the Kurdish Security Forces had asserted that those accused of committing crimes must be brought before the Dohuk Criminal Court: an indication that Zummar sits under the authority of the KRG, and not under the Government of Iraq in Ninewa. An expert familiar with local dynamics added, “Everyone knows in Rabi’a, Zummar, and [parts of] Sinjar, that the true ruler is the governor of Dohuk and not the governor of Ninewa.”
Third, Kurdish control over the Ayn Zala oil field is not only an important source of income in times of war, but a building block of Kurdish economic independence. The KRG is not likely to let go of such a prize even if, with its current output of 2,000 bpd and maximum capacity of 10,000 bpd, Ayn Zala compares modestly to other oil fields captured by Kurdish Security Forces after June 2014 (notably, two large fields in Kirkuk, which together produce about 150,000 bpd).29 Although Iraq’s state-run North Oil Company is still formally in charge of Ayn Zala, the KRG trucks the oil to Fishkhabour, a border town, where it blends it with the crude arriving from Kirkuk, and feeds the oil into the Iraq-Turkey Pipeline that runs to the Turkish port of Ceyhan – the KRG’s principle point of access to international markets.30