- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Kurdish peshmerga units have withdrawn from the heavily contested area of Sinjar in northern Iraq on Tuesday, handing control over the enclave to Iranian-backed paramilitaries tied to Iraq’s security forces.

The Kurdish fighters reportedly left the majority Yazidi enclave of Sinjar in nothern Iraq’s Nineveh province in droves, rather than take on fighters from the Popular Mobilization Units or PMUs — the official designation of the majority Shia militias fighting on behalf of Baghdad.

Peshmerga militiamen “left immediately, they didn’t want to fight,” Masloum Shingali, commander of the local Yazidi militia in Sinjar, told The Associated Press Tuesday. The loss of Sinjar comes a day after Kurdish forces handed control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk back to Iraqi control via the PMUs.

Despite being accused of extrajudicial killings in previous anti-ISIS offensives in Fallujah and Anbar province, Baghdad federalized the PMUs ahead of the campaign to liberate Mosul, Islamic State’s Iraqi capital, last October. The Iranian militias also played a key role in the Iraqi offensive in Kirkuk.

The recapture of Sinjar and Kirkuk come weeks after a controversial referendum vote which could set the stage for an independent Iraqi Kurdistan.

Both areas had fallen under the control of the Kurdish Regional Government or KRG after peshmerga forces liberated those territories from Islamic State control in 2014. Iraqi Kurds in both areas overwhelmingly voted in favor of the independence referendum in September.

KRG President Masoud Barzani said both city would remain under peshmerga protection indefinitely. After the referendum vote, officials in Irbil planned to fold both territories into Iraqi Kurdistan, a move that would expand the border of the semi-autonomous region beyond the lines set within the Iraqi constitution.

Sinjar was the sight of the earliest U.S.-led air operations against ISIS, since the U.S. mission against the terror group began in earnest in 2014. U.S. drones and warplanes launched dozens of airstrikes against ISIS positions, clearing the way for peshmerga forces in the region to escort the besieged Yazidis stranded on Sinjar’s mountain ranges to safety.

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