Shabak community has been considered as one of the ethnic minorities in Iraq. They speak in language that has clear distinction from Kurdish and Arabic. Its members live on the Ninevah plains with other religious minorities including Christians, Yazidis and Kakais.
On August 10th, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced end of process for the Mosul liberation operations. However, a third phase is still needed to be carried out to liberate Mosul completely.
Shabaks are afraid of a Kurdish-Arab rivalry around their regions. This conflict will reveal divisions among Shabak leaders over their fate and identity.
Young activist Hussein al-Shabaki, who lives in a refugee camp in southern Iraq's Wasit province, is looking forward to returning to his village on the plains. Although he participates in various activities to defend the rights of the Shabak people, he often returns to the refugee camp, devastated.
"I can no longer wait" to return home, he said. "I feel I am locked up in prison, and I have no choice. Our return to the Ninevah plains after the liberation of our lands is not certain, and it remains a political decision."
Thousands of Shabak refugees dream of returning home but worry about falling victim to the Arab-Kurdish rivalry over their villages and about potentially losing their identities among the Kurds or other Shiites. Displaced Shabaks face a complicated situation, as they have been dispersed between the Kurdistan region and central and southern Iraq, and because of political conflicts among Shabak representatives over their alliances with major Arab and Kurdish political currents.
Shabak leader and parliament member Salem Jumaa declared resolve with other Shabak leaders to hold a public referendum for Shabaks to determine their fate. He believes that turning the Ninevah plains into a province affiliated with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will offer Shabaks protection from the displacement and killings they suffered under the Islamic State (IS).
In a media interview, he said that he believes the Shabak people once were part of a Kurdish tribe, but over time they split from it and joined other tribes. However, he said, they remain proud of their origins and the Kurdish language. Some Shabak politicians such as Ghazwan Hamed, the Shabak quota representative in the Ninevah provincial council and a member of the Council of Free Shabaks, agrees with Jumaa that it is in the Shabaks' interest to join the KRG, which would offer them protection and recognize their rights as citizens.
Some other Shabak politicians believe the Shabaks should remain under the authority of the federal government. Hunain Qaddo, the secretary-general of the Democratic Shabak Assembly, told Al-Monitor that other views only aim to divide the Shabaks.
He also mentioned, "The Kurdistan Democratic Party [KDP] is working hard to take over the regions of the Ninevah plains in any way — including trying to change the identity of the indigenous minorities — due to the economic importance of Ninevah province and its oil reserves, in addition to the fertile agricultural lands of the Shabaks. The KDP also wants to establish a buffer zone between Arabs and Kurds to set the stage for declaring the Kurdish state."
He also stated, "The province would have a special administration allowing the Shabaks to manage their affairs independently."
Independent Shabak politician Qusay Abbas, who was a member of the Ninevah provincial council from 2009 to 2013, is trying to balance the different views.
"I believe most Shabaks question the seriousness of any party in recognizing them and their rights. We cannot say the Shabaks have interest in favoring one party over the other. They advocate those who respect and recognize their rights. And, both parties [Baghdad and Erbil] are slackening in this regard."
The bigger picture seems much more complicated, as there are two armed Shabak units, and their militarization has caused a clear and deep rift among them. One of the units is affiliated with the Kurdish peshmerga, while the other fights under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) affiliated with the federal government.
Jumaa pointed out that Shabak fighters in peshmerga ranks number about 655 and will play an effective role in liberating the land. The fighters are equipped with heavy and light weapons, he said, citing sources in the Peshmerga Ministry.
Qaddo said there are 900 Shabak fighters in the battalion fighting under the PMU against IS. The PMU is supplying the battalion with light and medium weapons, and he expects it to advance to participate in the liberation of Hawija and Sharqat.