Iraq's northern Kurdistan region has been relatively free of the sectarian fighting that has crippled the rest of the country, but a rare attack by Sunni Kurds on a religious group called Yazidi has local leaders working to ease tensions. VOA's Barry Newhouse attended a meeting of Kurdish religious and clan chiefs in a village north of Mosul, and has this report.
The problems started last week in the village of Sheikhan, when, villagers say, a Sunni Kurdish woman in a domestic dispute left her home and got into a car with two Yazidi men. She was later killed by her family for dishonoring them.
The two Yazidi men went into hiding, and, villagers say, a mob of Sunni Kurds burned down several Yazidi buildings and homes. Some of the burning buildings were captured on cell phone video. Villagers say armed men then surrounded the home of the Yazidi spiritual leader, Prince Tahsin Sayid Beg, and fired dozens of rounds into the house, which is still pock-marked with bullet holes. No one was hurt.
Mamo Osman is a Yazidi official in the Kurdistan Regional Government. He says the attack against the spiritual leader of some 500,000 Yazidis was a serious incident.
"Yazidis regard this attack against the family of the prince as an attack against all Yazidis," said Mamo Osman.
The prince immediately called for his followers not to seek retribution.
"I say, 'do not shoot any person," he said. "Stay in your house, and do not fight.' If I did not talk, maybe now two or 300 people would have been killed."
The Kurdish government quickly sent soldiers in to keep the peace and rounded up some local security officials believed to have been involved in the incident. Officials have vowed the attack will be handled under the law.
On Monday, Prince Tahsin met with Sunni Kurdish clan leaders in his bullet-damaged home to discuss the incident, and what can be done to prevent further violence.
Gelan Mizuri is the leader of the Sunni Kurdish Mizuri clan. Taking a break from the meeting, he said some of his clan members were involved in the attack.
He says the attack was not premeditated. But, he says, there are some extremist groups trying to stoke regional and ethnic tensions to prevent this part of Iraq from staying peaceful.
Mizuri says that, with Prince Tahsin's appeals for peace, and the presence of Kurdish security forces, he thinks there will not be further violence.
But the village of Sheikhan is only about 50 kilometers from Mosul, where near daily sectarian killings have caused many Iraqis to flee their homes. Prince Tahsin says, there are some extremist Muslim leaders in Mosul, who are trying to increase tensions.
"Some mullahs in Mosul, some mullahs in Kurdistan they do that - they say you should go kill the Yazidi," said Prince Tahsin.
The Yazidi religion is one of the oldest in the world. Scholars date it to well before Islam and Christianity. And, while the three religions have co-existed relatively peacefully in this part of Iraq in recent years, that has not always been the case.
Mamo Osman, the Yazidi official in the regional government, says Yazidis were massacred by Muslims about 100 years ago, partly because of the perception that the Yazidi religious practices were heretical.
"A lot of people - the fanatical - those are the people who regard the Yazidi as devil-worshippers, that they should be converted to Islam, because they do not believe in the real God," he said. "After more than 100 years, the same attitudes are appearing on the surface."
But Mamo Osman says that, despite the recent problems, he believes this incident will be a turning point for the Kurdish government in enforcing law and order. He says Yazidi and Muslim Kurds are represented in the regional government, and should be able to co-exist peacefully.
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