ERBIL — The leader of Tai tribe in northern Iraq has expressed the desire of his people to annex their areas to the Kurdistan Region. He believes that their areas and the residents could be secured under the protection of Kurdish peshmerga forces.
In an exclusive interview with BasNews, Sheikh Saud Muhammed al-Faris discusses the Islamic State (IS) offensives against their area from where the jihadists took many people and forced them to fight.
Tais are Iraqi Arabs mainly living in the villages around Gwer Subdistrict of southeastern Erbil.
[The following interview was translated from Kurdish and edited for clarity and length.]
BasNews: Are there any people from Tai tribe still in Islamic State captivity?
Faris: Those who are living in villages in the Nineveh Plains, are now safe as the [Kurdish] Peshmerga forces have liberated their areas and are protecting them. Some others have also managed to escape Daesh [Islamic State] in Mosul, but not all of them.
BasNews: Do you still have relations with those Arab tribes and tribal leaders under the rule of IS?
Faris: We have no relations with those who have joined IS and are cooperating with them; and we are not going to communicate with them at all. However, there are some people whom have been left with no options by IS but obedience, these people cannot be blamed.
BasNews: After the liberation of Mosul, there will be questions about the future of the area. What plans do you have for the future to protect your people?
Faris: Not only I, but also the people of my tribe, believe that our areas should be annexed to the Kurdistan Region. In my latest meeting with Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani, I made it clear that, weather like it or not, we are part of Kurdistan Region. This will place more responsibilities on Kurdistan Region.
Our areas are originally part of Erbil province, but due to the political situations in the past decades, it has been brought under the provincial administration of Nineveh.
We insist that there must be a referendum to enable people vote on their future, to let them decide weather they wish to stay under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi central government, or they want to join Kurdistan Region.
BasNews: Why do you insist to annex your areas to Kurdistan Region?
Faris: During the past decades, we have never been in a better situation than what we are now under the protection of Kurds. We do enjoy the respect, safety and equality that they have granted us. And of course, the role of President Barzani in this matter cannot be denied.
We, as Arabs of Tai tribe, do not look for personal interests, but we rather hope to be an active part of Kurdistan Region as we believe our future can be guaranteed here.
BasNews: Some people claim that former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, during his eight-year-long reign, made the situation unfavorable for the Iraqi Sunni Arabs, and his polices led to the emergence of IS. How was your situation under the rule of Maliki?
Faris: The situation of our tribes was not good at that time. If there was close cooperation between provincial officials of Nineveh and the central government, Mosul could have been protected against IS. But, as the result of Maliki’s policies, we witnessed the collapse of three Iraqi brigades in the face of 300 IS militants. Also, Maliki’s discriminations against these people pushed some of them to wish for any other ruling power except the Iraqi government.
BasNews: How do you see the Kurdish Peshmerga Forces?
Faris: As we believe that we are part of Kurdistan Region, we share the responsibilities and introduce ourselves as Peshmerga forces. We are practically cooperating with the Peshmerga via those forces present in our areas. They have set up their front lines between us and IS, and we have been enjoying the security they provided us for the last two years.
BasNews: A footage went viral recently in which Sheikh Sfoug Sheikh Hanaf appears pledging alliance to IS. He is a relative of yours. What is the story behind this footage?
Faris: Sfoug is my cousin and he is now living in Kurdistan Region. He, and many other tribal leaders appearing in the footage, was forced to pledge alliance to IS and that was planned by a person named Abdulsalam Ahmed al-Alli, who had served as an intelligence officer during Saddam Hussein’s reign.
Sfoug’s brother managed to escape IS and come to Kurdistan Region before I arrange the escape for Sfoug himself to flee. I was certain about their case and the pressure IS put on these people to join them, so I helped them to escape. It is important to notice that these tribal leaders would have risked the lives of thousands of people if they had denied pledging alliance to IS at that specific time.
However, Sfoug went through intense investigations after his arrival in Kurdistan Region, and now he is living in Erbil as he was found with no connection to IS.
BasNews: Kurdistan Region is working towards independence, what will be your position in this issue?
Faris: Frankly speaking, we are not intended to intervene the political issues in Kurdistan Region; but speaking of administrations, we prefer our areas to be ruled by Kurdistan Regional Government. Peshmerga has been protecting our people and we owe them our security.
However, there will be concerns about the goodwill of some other parties after the complete defeat of IS. Since we are confident about Kurdistan Region and the Peshmerga, we prefer to be on this side.
We were called upon a while ago to join Hashd al-Watani [pro-government Sunni militias under the command of former Nineveh Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi], but we refused because our determination to fight is only alongside Peshmerga and not any other forces.