Iraq: Kakai militia prepares to fight ISIS

The Kurdish news agency Rudaw reports Aug. 28 that the First Kakai Battalion of the Peshmerga, a 630-strong force made up entirely of members of the Kakai religious minority, is preparing to go into battle against ISIS along the frontline near Daquq—and protests that they are being denied the weaponry they need. When ISIS swept into northern Iraq last year, commander Farhad Nezar Kakai urged the Kurdistan Regional Government to establish the Kakai force to defend the minority's nine villages near the frontline in Kirkuk governorate. "After the catastrophe of Shingal, we felt that same thing could happen to Kakais," Nezar told Rudaw, referring to the massacre of thousands of Yazidis at Mount Sinjar (as it is more commonly rendered). The Kakai, like the Yazidis, are followers of a pre-Islamic faith, and targeted for extremination by ISIS.

Before ISIS forces surged toward Kirkuk last August, an estimated 360 Kakai families lived in the villages around the town of Daquq. The number of Kakai still living in the area is uncertain. In the village of Zangar, however, of the 75 families who resided there before the attack, only four remain.

The Peshmerga base Nezar commands in the area has seen some of the toughest fighting along the 700-kilometer frontline. The Kakai fighters say they need more support to continue to resist the near-nightly attacks. "We are fighting with the oldest and worst Kalashnikovs," said Kaka. "Some of them have been repaired [a] few times. Some have been made using parts of other guns, so they suddenly seize up while you are shooting." He says the Kakai battalion needs at least 200 modern guns to strengthen its forces against the ISIS positions in villages across the line of control.

"I have no doubt that all other Peshmerga battalions more or less have received a number of advanced guns, but we haven’t even received a single one," Nezar said. He added his battalion only received two tank-mounted anti-aircraft guns, and one of them is not functioning. A Peshmerga commander is quoted denying that weapons have been withheld from Kakai battalion, and stressing a general shortage of rifles.

The Kurdish Academy of Language states that the Kakai are related to the Alevi, and have their roots in the Ahl-i Haqq ("People of the Truth"), an  unorthodox Shi'ite sufi order, which incorporates pre-Islamic beliefs and traditions. Estirnates as to their numbers vary from several tens of thousands to over two million; the majority live in Iran, where they are called the Yaresan (or Yarsans). Like the related Shabak, they are a "heterodox group" that identifies as a distinct nationality on the basis of their shared spiritual tradition, regardless of whether they speak Kurdish, Turkish or Arabic.