A recent article by the online news magazine the Cradle sheds light on a hair-raising collaboration between Masoud Barzani and the Islamic State (ISIS) during its 2014 genocide of the Yazidis, and reveals that the widely-held belief that the Arab community in Sinjar (Shengal) in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) colluded with ISIS to instigate the attack is simply a deflection amplified by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader and then KRI President Barzani.
The Cradle’s Iraq correspondent interviewed Sunni Arab neighbours of the Yazidi community in their ancestral land of Sinjar, who disputed the narrative that they willingly participated in the massacre. Mostly rural farmers and sheep herders, they said they lacked the power to resist ISIS effectively, and although some individuals did join the terrorist group, the Arab community as a whole opposed them.
On the contrary, it was Barzani’s KDP who had made an “explicit agreement with ISIS”, the Cradle wrote, quoting French academic and Iraq expert Pierre-Jean Luizard, who accuses the Kurdish leader of allowing the Islamist group to enter the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit in exchange for routing the Iraqi army. Furthermore, the KRI security forces, the Peshmerga, reportedly traded weapons with ISIS without facing charges.
According to the news magazine, Barzani’s ambition to expand Kurdish territories and establish an independent Kurdish state played a significant role in the unfolding tragedy. He allowed ISIS to take over Sunni Arab territories, forcing their population to flee, and then had the chance to “liberate” and “Kurdify” these lands.
Denise Natali from the US National Defense University remarked that the Iraqi Kurds’ most significant gain from the ISIS control of Mosul was around 40 percent increase in territory. This territorial expansion was summarised by Assyrian writer Max Joseph as conquest disguised as liberation.
The article suggests that as chaos erupted in Mosul due to the activities of ISIS and the struggles of the Iraqi army, Barzani took swift action, directing his Peshmerga forces to capture Kirkuk, an oil-rich city of great geopolitical significance. This conquest symbolised a “Kurdish Jerusalem” and significantly expanded Kurdish territory.
By taking control of Kirkuk, Barzani not only gained new territory but also access to vast oil reserves, which he began exporting through a newly constructed pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Forbes reported that a significant portion of this oil was sold to Israel, despite opposition from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. By 2015, Kurdish oil constituted 77 percent of Israel’s oil imports, as noted by the Jerusalem Post.
As for why Barzani allowed the Yazidi massacre, a Kurdish businessman with ties to the KDP’s rival the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) told the Cradle that Barzani saw exploiting the threat to religious minorities as a way to gain sympathy for his cause in the West.
Barzani effectively used the atrocities against the Yazidis and the international sympathy generated by their plight to argue that the Kurds needed direct assistance in liberating these areas from ISIS. This strategy allowed him to secure a reliable supply of weapons, bypassing the central government in Baghdad. The White House established a covert weapons pipeline to Barzani’s Peshmerga while the Yazidi massacre was ongoing, as the US military lacked legal authorisation to send weapons directly to the Kurds without going through Baghdad.
While there is lingering resentment among certain Yazidis towards Barzani and the Peshmerga for their perceived role in the Yazidi genocide, the Cradle said that a significant number are reluctant to express their grievances openly due to concerns about potential retaliation.
Nearly a decade later, the majority of Yazidis displaced from Sinjar are still unable to return to their homes; instead, they are living in refugee camps located in the Kurdistan region under the governance of Barzani’s KDP.