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Northern Iraq's Yazidis appoint new spiritual leader as regional tensions escalate

NORTHERN Iraq’s Yazidi community appointed a new spiritual leader on Wednesday, two months after their chief religious guide Khurto Hajji Ismail died at the age of 87.

Ali Alvas was named as the religious minority’s new Baba Sheikh at a ceremony in the temple of Lalish, which the holiest site for Yazidis.

Hundreds of people gathered for the ceremony, which came at a time of heightened regional tensions. There have been protests at a recent so-called security deal in the town of Shengal, stitched up by Baghdad and the region’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) behind the backs of the Yazidi population.

Under the deal, which has been rejected by Shengal’s people and current administration, a new unelected mayor, Khidir Rasho, was appointed to govern the region.

Mr Rasho has not lived in the country for more than seven years and the KDP has not had an operational office in the region since 2014, when Isis took control of Shengal.

The jihadists committed a genocide against the Yazidi community, massacring about 5,000 men and boys and selling thousands of women into sexual slavery. More than 3,000 are still missing.

The atrocities took place after peshmerga forces abandoned the area, with KDP leader Masoud Barzani prioritising the protection of oil-rich Kirkuk.

Shengal is one of a number of towns and cities that lie in territories disputed between the Iraqi central government and Iraqi Kurdistan.

It has been bombed frequently by Turkish warplanes, most recently last week, in a bid to weaken the influence of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The KDP is leading a charge to war, branding the PKK “invaders,” leading to allegations that it is doing Ankara and US imperialism’s “dirty work.”

In a statement, the Yazidi Council denied that the PKK was present in the area but said: “We are very much aware that we owe our lives to the YPG [a mainly Kuridish Syrian militia] and PKK.”

“The KDP and the Turkish state are not concerned with the PKK, but their goal is a cleansing policy against the Yazidi people. The KDP plays a crucial role in the hostile policy towards us.”

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