The interview below was conducted by the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI). WKI spoke with Khalid Mahmood Wali, a member of the Shabak minority group in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Mr. Wali is the Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Shabak, and the head of the International Organization for Human Rights, an Iraqi organization representing the region’s minorities.
Eight Questions for Khalid Mahmood Wali
WKI: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to speak with you today. Can you start by telling us about your organization, the International Organization for Human Rights, and its activities?
Khalid Mahmood Wali: First, I would like to thank the WKI for giving me the opportunity to highlight important issues via this interview. The International Organization for Human Rights is an Iraq-based organization that serves all Iraqis, but focuses on serving Iraq’s minorities.
We do not differentiate by ethnicity or among religions. We do not favor Shabaks over Yezidis — our goal is based in a shared humanity. I was elected by the board to work on behalf of the minorities – we mostly serve displaced people in Iraqi Kurdistan.
WKI: The international media has rarely mentioned the Shabak people — can you give us an overview of the Shabak and where they live?
KMW: The Shabaks are an ethnic relative of the Kurdish people, living in the Nineveh Plains. The Shabak population is estimated to be 450,000 people, according to a United Nations’ census. This population is spread across 56 villages, and there used to be a large number of Shabaks who lived in the city of Mosul.
WKI: To what level do you have coordination with other minorities in Iraq?
KMW: The Shabaks are peaceful people, and we have great relations with other minorities. We share territories with Christian Kurds and Turkmen — we are all in the same area of Nineveh Plains.
The brotherhood among the minorities in Iraq goes back centuries — in fact, the only thing we do not share with the Christians is marriage [laughing] because of religious differences.
WKI: You say “there used to be a large number of Shabaks” in Mosul. Were the Shabak people affected by the ISIS occupation of Mosul?
KMW: Shabaks have been widely persecuted in Nineveh province. From 2003 to 2015, we have seen 1,372 Shabak deaths due to terrorist activity in our homeland. After the arrival of the self-proclaimed Islamic State terrorists in Mosul, 283 Shabaks were captured by the terrorists.
Several months ago, we heard that ISIS buried the Shabak prisoners alive, but we do not yet have confirmation of that. I would not be surprised if ISIS committed such atrocities as they are criminals and enemies of humanity.
WKI: How many Shabaks were internally displaced as a result of ISIS?
KMW: While specific numbers are unknown, I can say that the majority of Shabaks fled to the Kurdistan region after ISIS took control of Mosul and the surrounding countryside. Roughly 80% of our displaced people fled to the Kurdish province of Sulaymaniyah, Erbil and Dohuk. The other 20% relocated to other areas of Iraq. The Shabaks who fled Mosul and escaped ISIS left everything they owned behind — including houses, money, cars and farms.
WKI: Have you received any help from the Kurdistan Regional Government in resettling the displaced Shabak people?
KMW: The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has helped the Shabak people by granting us the freedom to live in and move throughout the Kurdish region as we wish. The KRG has done so not only for Shabaks, but also for other minorities as Christians, Turkmens, and Sabeans.
The biggest problem in resettling internally displaced persons (IDPs), is that the economic conditions in Iraq have limited the KRG’s ability support to refugees and IDPs. Today, the KRG lives off the meager support of international organizations.
WKI: You are visiting Washington. What is the purpose of your visit, and who have you met?
KMW: We were invited to Washington by the U.S. State Department as an official delegation on behalf of the Shabak people. Our delegation included a number of Shabak personalities, including the only Shabak member of the Iraqi parliament, one Shabak member of the Nineveh provincial council, one member of Nineveh’s Bashiqa district council, and me, the head of the Advisory Board for the Shabaks.
Among the many people with whom we met were officials from the State Department, from Congress, and from the White House. We also had the opportunity to meet with several think tanks. Our most important meeting was at Congress where we demanded that the Shabak people be included in the U.S. bipartisan legislation recognizing the Anfal genocide against minorities in Iraq.
WKI: Overall, did you have a successful visit?
KMW: Yes, all the officials we met with promised better coordination with the Shabak people, and the State Department has decided to open up a direct line of contact with our Shabak delegation. We are thankful for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representation in Washington for facilitating our visit, especially the mission chief Bayan Abdul Rahman, and her staff.
WKI: Thank you for the interview. We wish you success in your efforts to serve the people.[To Read the Entire Interview, Visit WKI]