Prior to the 2003 Iraq war, most pundits placed their bets on Kirkuk becoming Iraq’s flashpoint: Kirkuk, after all, was not only a multi-ethnic and multi-sectarian city that had suffered waves of ethnic dislocation over the decades, but it was also rich in oil. The 2005 Iraqi constitution addressed the issue directly with Article 140, never implemented, which called for a referendum to address Kirkuk’s ultimate status.
Kirkuk has seen its share of tension, especially against the backdrop of Masrour Barzani’s 2017 independence referendum, but it has been Sinjar which has developed into the true flashpoint. Sinjar is a single chain of mountains that rises abruptly from the Iraqi plains east of Mosul and extends toward the Syrian border. Unlike other mountain chains in the region, the Sinjar mountains form only a single ridge and so it appears more like a sixty-mile-long island than part of a wider chain.
Across the Middle East, ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities have traditionally gravitated toward mountains for the sake of the protection such topography offered, and Sinjar was no exception. Whereas many Sunni Arab villagers farm the plains in the shadow of Mount Sinjar, the mountain itself is largely the domain of the Yazidi community.