Hashd al-Shaabi is Killing the Kakais
Heirs of One of the Most Ancient Religions in Iraq
by Maria Rita Corticelli
In May 2020 local activists and NGOs warned the representatives of both the Iraqi and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) that the Kakai/Yarsan community living in the area of Khanaquin was the object of continuous deadly attacks perpetrated by ISIS with the logistical support of Hashd al-Shaabi. According to Farhad Al-Kake, a religious man and director of the Chraw Organization for Documentation, attacks of this kind on the Kakai/Yarsan community are not isolated and have been carried out since 2003. However, over the past few months they have escalated.[i]
On 10 May 2020 ISIS killed Burhan Hatam Muhammed and Nabard Naser Fatehulla, two farmers. On 21 May, 2020 Shafaq news published an interview with the leader of the “Karmsir” axis of the Peshmerga forces, Mahmoud Sankawi, who was confirmed to be in possession of “solid evidence” on the involvement of hundreds of former ISIS militants in the Iraqi factions responsible for coordinated attacks against Kurdish peasants with the aim of emptying their villages in the Khanaqin district of the governorate of Diyala.’[ii] Then, on 13 June 2020, less than a month later, a new attack was perpetrated (according to witnesses) by members of Hashd al-Shaabi, and left six members of the Kakais dead (Safa Abdulla Ali, Shahab Bashir, Khasan Aziz, Tariq Aziz, Eazan Jamal and Hussein Aasim) and three others injured (Muaid Khalil, Ali Shahab and Muhammad Shahab).
According to testimonies, the attack happened at 2300h, in a house in the outskirts of Khanaquin in the Diyala province where a considerable number of Kakai/Yarsans live. Members of the community living in Erbil were notified and arrived at the scene around 0700h on the morning of the 14th only to find caskets on the ground. By then local community members had already removed the bodies and began to organize the funerals. The Iraqi police in charge of the security in the area arrived fourteen hours after the events.[iii]
Who are the Kakais?
The Kakais/Yarsan are among the most ancient religious groups in the Middle East. Theirs is a monotheistic religion which originated in the Zagros mountains, their sacred land. According to their belief, the Angels were created before Adam and for this reason their religion is older than the first man created by God. The Angels have the power to reincarnate not only among themselves but also in other beings, human and even non-humans. In the Kakai/Yarsans’ version of history Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Plato and others who, with their thinking, changed the world were reincarnations of the same soul in charge of renewing humanity’s faith in God. They currently live (mainly) in the areas of Khanaquin, Erbil, Sulemaniya and Halabja.
Iraq’s Disputed Territories: An Endless War
Khanaqin is an ancient city eight kilometers away from the Iranian border on the banks of the river Diyala. Because of its strategic position on the road to Baghdad, together with Kirkuk and Sinjar, it constitutes one of the most disputed areas between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the central Iraqi government in Baghdad. Law 140 of the 2005 Iraqi constitution provided for the restitution to the Kurdish region of some territories forcibly ‘Arabised’ by Saddam Hussein and the Baath party. The law also provided for the running of a referendum in the interested areas to determine whether their inhabitants wanted to be part of Kurdistan or Iraq. The referendum was supposed to take place in 2007 but it was actually never carried out due to the difficult relationship between Erbil and Baghdad. The result was that after thirteen years the disputed territories remain a point of contention further exacerbated by the war with ISIS during which the Kurdish regional government annexed most of the previously disputed territories. This law also provided for compensation in money and lands to those who willingly decided to go back to the lands they occupied before the Arabization process. In the specific case of the Kakai/Yarsans the Arab Kirwi clan which occupied Kakai/Yarsan lands received land plus twenty million Iraqi dinars in compensation for returning the lands to the previous owners while Muslim Kurds received lands together with ten million for the same purpose. Despite compensation paid to them they actually never left the area. Instead, many of them support militias and have created a security threat to the Kakais/Yarsans.[iv]
The ethnic complexity of the area makes it very vulnerable to attacks from the various militias. In this context, it is unsurprising that Hashd al-Shaabi — the Iranian backed militia composed of members belonging to ISIS — has an interest in attacking Kakai/Yarsan villages which have strong, often familiar links with those on the Iranian side of the frontier. The motivation is religious as well as political since the Yarsans in Iran are also a religious minority targeted by the Iranian authorities. Hashd al-Shaabi’s goal is to gradually erase the presence of any non-Islamic groups and to complete the Arabization process started during the previous regime.
Since 2016, the Kakai/Yarsans have been pressured to choose between leaving their ancestral lands and become Shias. Witnesses report that the leader of Hashd al-Shaabi in Dayala, Zayed Dalib, showed up at the funeral of the victims saying that ‘it was their own call’ to leave or to convert. At the same time Ryan al Kildani, one of the leaders of the Babylon Brigades,[v] offered protection against Hashd al-Shaabi’s attacks.[vi]
Need for Recognition and Protection
Active members of the Kakai/Yarsan community have been advocating for their inclusion on the list of religious minorities officially recognized by the Iraqi state. In an effort to increase awareness, and protection, Farhad Al-Kake and the Chraw Organization for Documentation have gathered enough information to prove that in the last six years 250 members of the community have been killed after being declared ‘infidels,’ and that since 2014 the community is the target of a planned genocide with the tacit complicity of the Iraqi authorities who are supposed to protect them.
13 July 2020
[i] Interview with Farhad Al-Kake, Director of Chraw Organization for Documentation, Erbil, 20 June 2020.
[ii] تقارير-وتحليلات/مقابلة-سنكاوي-داعش-اخترق-فصائل-عراقية-لضرب-الكورد-وثائق/ [Accessed: 3 July, 2020].
[iii] Interview with Farhad Al-Kake, Director of Chraw Organization for Documentation, Erbil, 20 June 2020.
[v] The Babylonian Brigades are composed of Christians and were born after 2014. They always claimed to fight against ISIS, however, their connection with Shiite militias including Hashd al-Shaabi has been recorded. The Chaldean Church has publicly distanced itself from these militias and from their leader Ryan al Kildani. ‘Iraq: Chaldean Church repeats complete rejection of so-called 'Christian militias', Independent Catholic News, 25 July, 2019, https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/37554 [Accessed: 3 July, 2020].
[vi] Interview with Farhad Al-Kake, Director of Chraw Organization for Documentation, Erbil, 20 June 2020.