Members of a Yazidi family gather and sit outside the gate of their house in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar. File / Agence France-Presse
SINJAR (Iraq): For decades, his land was his life. Now, like other Sunni Arab farmers in Iraq’s diverse north, Mahdi Abu Enad is cut off from his fields, fearing reprisal attacks.
He hails from the mountainous region of Sinjar, which borders Syria and is home to an array of communities —Shiite and Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and Yazidis.
That patchwork was ripped apart when Daesh group rampaged across the area in 2014, and has not reconciled even long after Iraqi forces ousted Daesh in 2017.
Yazidis, whose men Daesh killed en masse and whose women and girls were enslaved by the group, say they have suffered the most.
They accuse their Sunni Arab neighbours of granting the fighters of Daesh a foothold in Sinjar.
Displaced Sunni Arabs, on the other hand, slam the sweeping accusation as unfair and say looting and the threat of retaliatory violence have kept them from coming home.
“We stand accused of belonging to Daesh because they settled in Sunni areas, but Daesh doesn’t represent Sunnis,” said Abu Enad, displaced from his hometown to Al Baaj since 2014.
“We all lost our livelihoods. It’s been four years since we cultivated our land because we fear for our lives,” he said.
In 2017, Human Rights Watch said Yazidi armed groups reportedly abducted and executed 52 Sunni Arab civilians in retaliation for Daesh abuses.
Fearing similar abuses, Abu Enad still lives about 10 kilometres from his farm, and was only able to tend to it during planting season with a paramilitary escort.
“We had to leave at 4:00pm every day because the situation was not safe enough. So how could you come back with your family to resume farming and living here?” he said.
Across Iraq, around a third of the population relies on farming to survive, and the ratio was even higher in Sinjar.
A few thousand Yazidi families have come back, but tens of thousands more are still stuck in displacement camps elsewhere in Iraq and Syria, while others fled to Europe. Displaced Sunnis with perceived ties to Daesh undergo tough screening processes to return to their hometowns, where they sometimes face harassment.
Abu Enad, the displaced farmer, still hopes that Sinjar can return to its harmonious past.
“We Sunnis have been hurt by Daesh like Yazidis were hurt,” he told AFP.