Members of the Kakai, a minority Kurdish group in Iraq’s northeastern town of Kirkuk, are fleeing their villages because they fear attacks by the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group, local officials told Voice of America (VOA) on Wednesday.
“Most Kakais, also known as Yarsanis, identify as ethnic Kurds, and speak both the Sorani and Gorani dialects of Kurdish,” according to VOA. Kakais, who believe in reincarnation, were targeted by ISIS as infidels after the jihadist terror group seized large swathes of land across Iraq and Syria starting in 2014. An estimated 75,000 Kakais remain in Iraq.
“Al-Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists have taken the lives of 450 members of our people since they came to the area. You can see all our martyrs buried in the graveyard over there,” Kwekha Aziz, a Kakaia community leader in the Rizgari neighborhood of Kirkuk, told VOA on February 10. Kakai men traditionally grow large mustaches as part of a cultural tradition, making them an easy target for ISIS.
Despite Iraq and Syria declaring territorial defeats of ISIS in 2017 and 2019, respectively, the terror group continues to pose a threat on both sides of the border. ISIS claimed responsibility for a January 21 suicide bombing in Baghdad’s Tayaran Square that killed at least 32 people and prompted Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Khadimi to launch a military offensive against the group days later. Iraq’s state-sponsored Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) killed three ISIS leaders within one week of the campaign’s start.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) recently deployed Peshmerga military forces to northern Iraq to counter “increased threats” from Islamic State, the autonomous Kurdish group announced on February 3. Islamic State’s resurgence in recent weeks has occurred largely within regions of Iraq disputed between Iraqi government forces in Baghdad and the KRG, which has established its autonomous Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq. Most Kakais live within these disputed regions and say they fear new attacks by ISIS, their established enemy.
Unidentified assailants attacked the Kakai village of Topzawa, located near Daquq district, east of Kirkuk province, on September 19, local sources told regional news site BasNews.
“Several rounds of PK machine guns hit civilian houses in Topzawa village,” locals said, adding that “the fire direction was close to a federal police outpost.” BasNews noted that “there were no reports confirming the Iraqi forces had opened fire for any reason.”
“It has caused serious panic among the residents of the village,” one local source said of the attack.
Kakais reside within 15 villages around Daquq district, “11 of which have been emptied for years due to the frequent Islamic State (IS) attacks,” according to the report.