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Interview with Major General Najim al-Jubouri on the Ezidi Disaster and Returning to Shingal

6/2/2018 5:08:58 PM

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Dr. Amy L. Beam
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Dr. Amy L. Beam sat down with Major General Najim al-Jubouri on May 21, 2018 in Mosul to discuss the Ezidi Disaster in Northern Iraq. What follows is a transcript of their conversation. If you would like to listen to the full interview, you can find it here.

Sinjar is Arabic and Shingal is Kurdish. There is both a city and a region with the same name.

 

Dr. Amy L. Beam (A): General Najim, can you explain your position and responsibilities?

Major General Najim al-Jubouri (N): I am Major General, Commander of Nineveh province.

A: What responsibilities does that include?

N: I'm responsible about all the troops, army and police and tribal forces.

A: And Nineveh includes what areas?

N: Nineveh is northwest of Iraq and [Mosul is] the second city after Baghdad. Population is more than four million.

A: We went last night to central Mosul. You were kind enough to let me come along. We walked through the streets of Mosul, and I was really surprised at all the new stores with western clothing and restaurants and they were full of people. Can you explain how that was done and who financed it? How did it get done so quickly to be a new modern city?

N: My view, the foundation of the security are the people, not the security forces. I had good experience before in Tal Afar. Tal Afar is the second city after Mosul. In 2005, the Coalition forces (inaudible). Before 2005, the Coalition forces, the Iraqi security forces, cleaned it from Al Qaida many times, but Al Qaida came back. In 2005, me and Governor McMasters at that time, the commander of the theater ACR at that time, cleaned the city from Al Qaida. The third step: rebuilding the city. We gave food and jobs to the people. We worked very hard to build bridges between security forces and the people at that time. The people became very useful to us. They did not give any safe haven to Al Qaida.

At that time, the President of the United States in 2006 mentioned that I worked like a good example for the coalition between the Iraqi security forces and the American forces and the government.

Again, the battle between the terrorists and the security forces not like the battle between the army and Iran. Between the security forces and the terrorist people, who win the people, he will win the battle. One of the important reasons the people give service to Daesh is because of the bad relationship between the security forces and the people. When I took my position in 2014, I worked very hard to build many bridges between the people and the security forces, and I think I had success in this mission.

Now the relationship between the people and security forces is better than before. I don't say this relationship is very very good, but I can say a good relationship with the people. From the first step we shared with the people our food, our own medicine, we take care of them and day by day this relationship became better between the security forces and the people.

Now the people are our intelligence; they work better than our intelligence. They guide us always to Syrian cells, to find the members of ISIS. We receive many calls every day, we receive many text messages, telling us about Daesh cells.

A:  I am working with the Ezidi population. They still have many missing women and children. What efforts have you made to locate where missing Ezidis are in Mosul after Daesh was defeated?

N:  We found many women and girls from the Ezidis when we got to Mosul. We put an announcement in the TV. Who guide us to any Ezidi women we will give them about two million Iraqi dinar.

A:  Almost two thousand dollars.

N:  Some people guide us to Ezidi women and kids. And we worked with the Ezidi community and some came back. But I think many of them now in Syria, because ISIS always when we reach any area, they drive the prisoners and the Ezidi women with them to Syria.

A:  Yesterday, May 18, 2018, there was a 17-year-old Ezidi boy who returned from Der Al Zor, Syria. He was held by Daesh almost four years. Do you have communications and intelligence working with people in Syria to bring Ezidis back?

N:  We have intelligence, but not very strong intelligence, but I think in the near future the Coalition forces will clean the border of Syria, the area in Syria close to our border, from ISIS. I hope we will find them in Syria.

A:  Let's talk about Tal Afar which you know very well. I understand you were the mayor of Tal Afar. What years was that?

N:  Since 2005 to the end of 2008.

A:  So you weren't there when ISIS attacked. Can you describe to us now the situation in Tal Afar in terms of the physical buildings, is there destruction and have people returned to live there?

N:  I think the situation in Tal Afar is very good. No anything, no any activity or ISIS in Tal Afar. Not big damages. Yeah, some house or some offices were destroyed, but the majority of the foundations and buildings are good. I think more than 25 or 30,000 families have returned back to Tal Afar. Some of them are still in Turkey and some of them are still in the south of Iraq.

A:  The women and children who were captured, the Ezidi women and children who were taken and held prisoner in Tal Afar, they were put in Shia houses. Shia Arabs ran away from Tal Afar when ISIS attacked. They had nice houses, and they were empty and used to house Ezidis. Do you know if those Shia have returned to their houses?

N:  Some of them as I told you have returned back. Like my bodyguard here, an Ezidi from Tal Afar, was one of them. He ran away to the south of Iraq, Baghdad, and he came back. I visited Tal Afar and his family in his house.

A:  There are also Turkmen. People who do not live in Iraq might think Turkmen are Turkish. Turkman are Iraqis and live in Tal Afar. I understand from the Ezidi women I talked to that it was the Sunni Turkmen who held them and were the most violent, more than any other ISIS, and that the Shia Turkmen were the innocent people who fled. Can you help us understand this distinction?

N:  Not all Sunni are ISIS. Many of them now run away to Kurdistan in Turkey. Some run away to the south of Iraq. But yes, some commanders in ISIS were from Tal Afar. Abu al Ali Afari is one, the assistant to Al Baghdadi is an example, but not all Sunni people are with ISIS. In 2014, Sunni and the Shia run away from Tal Afar. The number of ISIS in Tal Afar is now a very small number.

A:  Those who did join Daesh or were the commanders, is the Iraqi government and army and your forces doing anything to identify them by name, arrest them, and prosecute them?

N:  Many of them were killed. Some of them were captured and are in jail. Some of them are outside of Iraq in Syria or somewhere. I think that some relationship between our forces and the Coalition forces share information.

A:  Many of the women and girls who were held prisoners and raped are in Germany; many are still in Kurdistan. Some of them know the real names of the men who imprisoned them. They don't know who to tell this information to. They've told me. They know their real names because they were able to search secretively and find their IDs when the men were out fighting. What is your advice to them? Where should they take these names? They would like to come back from Germany and testify in court and name these people.

N:    We have intelligence officers in different villages. In [Sinjar], in Tal Afar, Mosul. We are ready to receive this information. In Baghdad, we also share with the Coalition forces. There are many names of ISIS in Europe. We are ready to receive this information.

A:  Are you aware of any ISIS arrested in Europe?

N:  Yes, they captured some in Germany and France. They did not return them, but we have the information.

A:  Someone told me about three months ago when it was officially announced that Daesh was defeated last December that many of them shaved their beards and went to Kurdistan and that there are 40,000 names on a list living in Kurdistan. Is there any truth to this?

N:  I don't know if ISIS is in Kurdistan. Kurdistan security forces are part of Iraqi security forces. I know they give many ISIS fighters to the central government. And about 800 women ran away and were caught in Kurdistan and they were sent here to Mosul in the beginning, and after that we send them to court and to jail in Baghdad.

A:  800 women? They were ISIS or wives of ISIS?

N:  Yes.

A:  Let's talk about the situation in [Sinjar]. Who's living there and what is the condition? And especially what is the situation between different militias and units who were fighting in Sinjar? A year ago, it was a bad situation.

N:  The security situation is good in Sinjar.

A:  Who's in control?

N: We have a battalion from the army in Sinjar. We have a battalion from the police in Sinjar. And we have also troops on the border of Sinjar. We have troops in Tal Afar. We have a headquarters of the Army brigade in Snoni. The security forces control the situation. We not hear any bad thing about Sinjar, but apparently we are concerned about the relationship between some tribals that live in Sinjar, Arabic tribals and Ezidis. I saw many families in Sinjar, but not a big number. Many of them are in the camp near Snoni on the mountain. In Snoni many people live now. I think the majority of Ezidis are still in Kurdistan. We hope they return back. I told you the structure in Sinjar is not good. Many houses are destroyed. The Prime Minister gave order to the local government to the NGO to rebuild Sinjar. I hope in the future, in the near future, many of them can return back to Sinjar. I hope the local government, the central government, the NGOs help to work on the relationships between the Arabic tribals and the Ezidis so they can return back.

A:  What is the situation now with the electricity?

N:  I saw electricity in the city. The local government and NGOs sent many generators and many transformers to Sinjar. They worked very hard to put electricity, power in Sinjar. I think, also, they worked very hard to return the water supply.

A:  And the villages on the south side, Kocho, Tal Qassab, Tal Banat, Qapousi, Solaugh, have they been demined?

N:  I do not have many information about these villages. I told you many Ezidi families have not come back. I told you many families of Arabic tribals have not come back. We need to make relationships normal between Arabs and Ezidis.

A:  The Ezidis I have talked to over almost four years, and especially those who are there, who have returned back, say if Arabs come back, we cannot come back, because we cannot live among Arabs again. They also make it very clear that they know not all Arabs are guilty or with ISIS, but their problem is they cannot identify the guilty from the innocent. They feel their only safety is not to have Arab neighbors. When I was there, there was a beautiful, expensive neighborhood of Arab houses. Some were Shia, some were Sunni, and they were empty also. What is the solution to this problem?

N:  What happened to Ezidis is a disaster. A big disaster. I know this is very difficult to them to return back to be with Arab people because of what happened to them. Even the Arabic people in the villages, they not allow ISIS families to return back to live again and they captured . . .Ezidis, Arabic. . . same captured. Because of that we need help from United Nations, from NGOs, from the local government to find a solution to this problem, a big problem. It is not easy. I think we need division between who is guilty and who not. I saw many stories where Arabic families helped Ezidi women. That means not all the image or pictures are very sad or very black. Many families helped Ezidis.

But at that time, yes, some tribals worked with ISIS. This is a fact. ISIS worked without any mercy. They take women even from the Arabic tribals, but not like Ezidis. Ezidis is a disaster. A disaster. I gave you the Ezidis. I share their feelings. But this happened, we can't change the past. We lived with Ezidis not just five years or ten years, we lived with them many hundreds of years in peace. The disaster happened, because of that we need a big effort to put a solution to this situation.

A:  In terms of finding that solution through dialogue, not through guns and fighting, you said it requires help from the international community and the NGOs. I have fought 13 months to get to be with you, to get permission to return to Sinjar. The central government is not allowing foreigners into this country more than one month. I have many people coming to me saying, Amy can you help me? I say, I can't. People want to come and they would be willing to have conferences and workshops and negotiations. You are the person who gives permission to me to go be in Sinjar, and thank you for giving me permission. I am eager to go back after being blocked for thirteen months, but can you help with this problem with the central government? It is the policy of the central government not to let the outsiders come in to help (unless they are with an NGO or are an investor).

N:  Yes, I'm ready to help. I have a good relationship with the Ezidi people. I have relationships also with the tribes here and the central government, but you know our government spend all the time in the battle with ISIS, and now elections. I think when they cement a new government, they will put priority to this new case.

A:  I'll keep pushing it with your help. Rabbia is not part of Sinjar. It is on the edge of it between Kurdistan and Sinjar.

N:  Rabbia belongs to Tal Afar.

A:  The Ezidis told me from May to August 2, 2014, the day before ISIS attacked them, the Arabs in Rabbia were attacking them on the road to Kurdistan. They were shooting at them. They killed two people in their car in the middle of Rabbia.

N:  When?

A:  It was June of 2014.

N:  I don't know.

A:  In my book I wrote about it. There's a family in Gohbol on the edge of Rabbia whose whole family was kidnapped on August 2, before ISIS attacked. Some of them ran to Syria and escaped, but many of them, especially the elderly, said they wouldn't leave. They left their home and went to their farm between Gohbol and Rabbia. Preskee, an elderly woman had five men in her family who were killed. They took all the men and boys and tied their hands. They killed some. They captured all the women and children. She was one. She was held for six months with ISIS. She was one who was released in February 2015 with the elderly women. That happened before August 3rd. That happened from their neighbors in Rabbia.

N:  This is not tribal people.

A:  This was ISIS.

N:  Yes, ISIS.

A:  ISIS, but they know they were their neighbors living in Rabbia. And I want you to know that.

N:  Even the sheik of Rabbia, he is sheik of Shammer. They attacked his house and he ran off. If they capture him or capture his family, they not deal with them with any mercy. You know ISIS. If you talk about 2014, 2015, 2016, before we liberated the area, this is ISIS behavior.

A:  The Shammer tribe is respected by the Ezidis. They think they are good neighbors, most of them. The Jayish tribe are the ones who are accused by the Ezidis in Gohbol of attacking them between this period of May to August 2. I'm going to tell you the pages to read in my book. I can tell you the families who are living in tents in Kurdistan and they'd like to go back to their village, but not if they know if those people are in Rabbia. So what's your plan for the Arab villages in Rabbia? 

N:  I not encourage the Arabic villages to return back close to the Ezidis, now, before we found a solution. I told you, the Ezidi not different from the Arabic. Here is a tribal zone and revenge, that means that not necessary to kill the same one. But your relatives killed someone and the tribe of this man wanted anyone from the tribes, not just the killer. Because of that, I don't like the Arab tribes to live very close to Ezidis now before we find a solution to this problem. Yes, we can put security forces, but this is not the solution. The solution need the people to live in peace.

A:  What about the road from Zakho to Kurdistan at Faysh Khabur point? Do you have any projections when that will be open?

N:  Now we received an order from the Prime Minister to open this road, but we facing a small problem. We have some Arabic villages, the Peshmerga here. The Rabbia area. These people don't like us to open this road before they return back to their villages. Maybe they will create some problems for anyone who goes on this road. We work with some people from the KRG, from the Peshmerga to allow them to return back to their villages.

A:  So the people from the Arab Rabbia villages want to get to their villages before the road is open?

N:  About five villages. Yeah, they not come back. They not come back. Some people in the government of KRG told us they will find a solution and maybe they get them back to their villages.

A:  Before the Ezidis return to their villages?

N:  No, the Ezidis, not anyone say to the Ezidis not to return back.

A:  But it's hard. The road is closed.

N:  They can get from the dam road and we ready to open it, if the families want to come from this road, we are ready to open this road.

A:  Can you drive on the dam road? Is it open now?

N:  Yes, open but not open to everyone. If they want to return back we will open it to them. We ready to open even [inaudible] to them if they want to return back.

A:  So if they want to go back right now and get in their car they can go on the Mosul dam road right now?

N:  Yes.

A:  How many people are living in Sinjar city now and in the whole region now?

N:  I don't know the exact number. As I heard from the mayor of Sinjar, between 10,500 to 10,000 in the city.

A:  What is the Iraqi Army's relationship with the US military now? Are you getting support? Are they here?

N:  Yes, we are getting support from them. They give us training. They help is in supervision, they make drones, if we need an air strike they help us.

A: That's my questions. Do you have anything you'd like to add?

N:  I like Ezidis. I stand very strong with them when the disaster of Qatania happened in 2007. I opened the hospital in Tal Afar to them, and I send all the ambulances from Tal Afar to them. They know that very well. The local government in Mosul, they not stand with them. They know that very well. How me and the people of Tal Afar stand with them. I moved the injured from Qatania to Tal Afar, from Tal Afar to Duhok. The Health Department in Mosul didn't send any ambulances. I think, not just me, the majority of people in Mosul like the Ezidis. They very nice people. The behavior of ISIS not mean the behavior of the Arabic people.

ISIS killed my relatives, 24 of them. Some of them put them in cages and put them in the water. Some of them put explosives on their neck. Some of them shooting them by AK47. And if you go to the villages here in south of Mosul, you will hear strange stories. They put the people under the heavy machines. They threw the people from high buildings. They beheaded the people. They burned the people. They not make any difference between the kids and the old age people, women or men. ISIS, we not read or hear about any bad people in the [inaudible]. I know what happened to Ezidis not happen to any Iraqis. The Ezidis, big disaster. Big disaster. And me, I feel any Ezidi woman like my daughter, like my sister, like my mom. I care for them. I feeling what they feel.

A:  Thank you for sharing your feelings with Ezidis. It means a lot to them. It means a lot to me. I am so sorry to hear what you just told me about 24 [members of] your family. It's a long road ahead for everyone for healing and reconciliation, and justice and prosecutions. I hope you'll find time to read this book. I am translating it to Arabic also, so it will be available soon in Iraq. Thank you so much for your time General Najim.

N:  You are welcome here, Amy.

A: I will be here many times I am sure. After I go to Sinjar, I will come back and tell you what I see.

N: I will coordinate someone to take you to the checkpoint.

Dr. Amy L. Beam is the author of "The Last Yezidi Genocide," which will soon be available in English, Arabic, and German. She has worked for the displaced Yezidis since ISIS attacked Shingal in August 2014. Contact: amybeam@yahoo.com

[Editors Note: This piece has been very lightly edited for clarity and consistency.]