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The Process of Leading Change in the Kurdistan Islamic Movement – Iraq (Emergence, Factors and Trends)

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This article studies the process of the emergence of the Islamic Movement in South
Kurdistan (Iraqi Kurdistan) and follows its internal changes. It explains how the Islamic
organizations rise came about and provides solutions to questions such as: What
have the effective factors been in the emergence of this movement and its internal
changes? What is the difference between this and other Islamic movements? How
have other Islamic movements affected it? Which ideological-intellectual trends have
existed within it? The effect of other Islamic Movements and the special situation of
Kurdistan, on its trends, parties and ideological-intellectual relations with others will
be mentioned. Indeed, by far, the reasons of the uprising of this movement, its relation
with Kurdish nationalism and also its influence and function in an autonomous region
of Kurdistan have been explained. The article tries to clarify which internal trend
could be maintained in the Kurdistan political arena.
In the history of the Islamic communities, some Islamic movements have opposed
the undesired status quo. They have been the mass movements with various religious
leaderships emphasizing on religious principles for changing the status quo
especially social and political. New types of contemporary Islamic movements
1 Sabah Mofidi is a lecturer at Justice Administration’s Institute for Scientific-Applied Education
and Payame Noor University (Department of Political Science), located in Sine (Sanandaj),
Iranian Kurdistan.
have emerged primarily to oppose the software and hardware West (modernity and
colonialism) as the external reasons of these movements along with the internal
potential of Islam as the religious internal motivation such as concepts like Jihad,
martyrdom, justice and so on (Khorramshad, 2005). Such movements have always
existed in most Muslim countries in different times. They gradually converted to
various parties and trends that have activated organizations to reach their aims.
Similarly, the Iraqi Kurdistan has also been under the effect of contemporary Islamic
movements and Islamist waves in recent decades.
The Kurdistan Islamic Movement in Iraq has also been a reflection of new Islamic
movements in the Islam world reviving Islam and opposing the non-Islamic
parties; though, they fought against the Baath regime as well. Its fluctuating feature
of history is not comparable with any of the other Islamic movements. These
fluctuations from uniting to disbanding; from war and Jihad to form Islamic governments
and legal contesting; covering the most radical fundamentalists to very
low key Islamic parties have given this movement special characteristics. This
study is based on the main contemporary political Islamic trends in Iraq and the
movement of its splinter groups being examined.
Iraq covers three geographical areas with different communities. The central area
includes Sunni Arabs representing about 20% of the population; the south is mainly
Shiite Arab about 55% of the population and the northern area under Kurdish
authority which is approximately 20% of the population and the remaining 5% of
small ethnicities (Saifzadeh, 2001, 69).
Apart from the ruling Baath party, before 2003 three kinds of main trends or
political parties have existed in contemporary political history of Iraq: (a) the religious
parties and trends; (b) Left parties include communist party, socialist party
and so on; and (c) regional parties in Kurdistan. The contemporary religious trends
in Iraq generally include three groups: (i) Shiite Islamic trend, (ii) Sunni Islamic
trend and (iii) the Kurdistan Islamic trend. Because of their impact of religious
trends on the Kurdistan Islamic movement, it is necessary to have a look at Shiite,
Sunni, and regional movements in Iraq.
Shiite Islamic Movement:
The first phase of Islamic movement in Iraq is related to the years between 1914 to
the revolution of 1920 in the British colonial period especially among Shiites. After
the Second World War up to 1957, several Islamic parties were formed with the
Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Tahrir Al-Islami and the Shiite Muslim Youth
Movement. In 1957, the greatest and most organized Islamic party i.e. Shiite Dawa
Party was established. However, the Shiite movement has been vast and it includes
the various stages of developments up to the present day. To give an example, two
cases of alliances within this movement related to Kurdistan Islamic movement are
briefly outlined:
1. Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council; that in mid 1983 announced itself as the sole
official representative of the Iraq Islamic movement. The important parties
and groups of SIIC were Islamic Dawa Party, Islamic Action Organization,
Movement of Iraqi Mujahidin and so on (Nazimyan, 2003, 87).
2. Alkotla Al-Islami; this group was an alliance of the Islamic Movement
(Sheikh Jawad Khalsi), Al-Fath Al-Islami Movements (Sheikh Nadim Alhatami),
Islamic revolution army (Abu Osamah) among others (ibid., 91).
It should be mentioned that after the Saddam regime, the Council including the
Dawa Party had the most influence in the political arena of Iraq and the Shiites
obtained the highest proportion in central government.
Sunni Islamic Movement:
In 1946 the returning Sheikh Mohammad Mahmood Al-Sawaf from Egypt (who
studied there also set up relations with the Muslim Brotherhood), the Muslim
Brotherhood Movement entered into Iraq and Muslim Brotherhood Jamaat unFRITILLARIA
der the religious leadership of Sheikh Amjad Al-Zahawi was constituted in 1948.
Since the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Iraq was a group of Egyptian Muslim
Brotherhood, they naturally followed and promoted the thoughts, newspapers and
books of that movement. The early years of the Muslim Brotherhood Jamaat was
allocated to create organizations and internal issues. Since this movement was
Sunni, it often influenced the Sunni circles and amassing important audiences but
experienced failure in the Shiite area (ibid., 38).
There were other Sunni groups of smaller dimensions such as Al-Jamaat Al-Islami
under Shiekh Badri, which was in Islamic Alkotla alliance with Shiite Groups.
After Saddam, some other Sunni groups and parties emerged in the political arena
of Iraq. It should be noted that the Sunni ruling government, being a minority, and
in fear of the Shiite majority, until the collapse of the Baath regime did not have
effective political activities against the regime.
Regional Movement:
Another political movement in Iraq was on the basis of ethnicity or nationality
(as the Kurds are called a stateless Nation) in Kurdistan, north of Iraq. In different
parts of Kurdistan including this part in Iraq, there has been long-time fighting
(more than a century) to gain their national rights. After the traditional stage
of Kurdish movements, the secular nationalists have fought under modern parties
especially Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) (1946) and Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan (PUK) (1975) up to now. Besides, from the 1980s, gradually, religious
movements emerged. The Kurdish national movement in Iraq, eventually, after
1991 succeeded in establishing an autonomous government with the support of
the United Nations and superpowers. And after 2003 with the collapse the Saddam
regime, they began to participate in Iraq’s central government.
Although most of the Kurdish uprisings and their national movements have
been under the leadership of religious figures like Sheikh Abdulsalam and other
Barzan Sheikhs, Sheikh Mahmood. But indeed, their movements were for gaining
a) A totality of political trends in Iraq
b) A totality of Islamic Movement in Iraq
their own non-Islamic ethnic rights. On the other hand, they shared the same religion
with Iraq’s government and they didn’t have a religious problem. Indeed,
before the 1980’s there was practically no Islamist trend in Kurdistan. It is only after
the death of Mala (Mullah) Mustafa Barzani, the national leader of the Kurdish
Movement in 1979, and after 1980 that under the effect of Islamic government in
Iran and the Iran-Iraq War, the Islamic Movement emerged. In the beginning of the
Iran-Iraq War, Iran founded and armed Islamic groups and Iranian supported Islamic
groups began emerging in Iraqi Kurdistan (Kakei, 2013). Therefore, one can
divide the emergence of the Kurdistan Islamic movement into two stages i.e.: (a)
foundation of affiliatedsmall initial groups; and (b) foundation of principal parties.
A) Affiliated Small Initial Groups
In 1952 Sheikh Mohammad Sawaf went to Sulaimani (Sulaymaniyah) and Halabja
and created a rapport with Mala Othman Abdul-Aziz (1922-1997) and Mala
Mohammad Baha Addin. Meanwhile, the thought of Muslim Brotherhood came to
Kurdistan and especially in Halabja (Mardokhi, 2004). Later Mala Othman, Abdul
Aziz Prazani and Umar Rashawi took leadership of the Islamic party of Iraq from
the 1950s until mid 1980s.
In the early 1980s, some of the Kurdish youths and religious figures under the
leadership of Mala Othman, the Imam in Halabja and other influential figures in
Kurdistan, were grouped as the Kurdistan Islamic Movement. It provided grounds
for splitting the leadership of the Islamic party of Iraq because of conflict between
the MB’s pan-Arab Islamic unity ideology and the Kurdish nationalist view for the
recognition of Kurdish rights within a post-Baathist Islamic state of Iraq and also
the Kurdistan Islamic movement joining the military groups. After this conflict,
Mala Othman left the ranks of the MB and eventually, along with some of his close
associates, escaped to Iran (Jamal, 2004). However, in the mid 1980s the relationship
between Baghdad and Sulaimani and Halabja started again, in 1987 under
Baath regime law the members of Muslim Brotherhood were oppressed and some
of its leaders were arrested while many of the Kurds escaped abroad in particular
to Iran (Mardokhi, 2004).
Hence, the intellectual origin of Islamic trends in Kurdistan and especially the
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood thoughts and teachings of Hasan Al-Banna (Jamal,
2004). In the 1990s, others who belonged to other tendencies and Islamic fundamentalist
groups including Salafist, Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan and Jihadist in
Afghanistan joined them.
Besides, there were some other unknown groups that were constituted in the
early 1980s and often under the effect of the Islamic revolution of Iran and with
support of the Office for Liberation Movements of the Islamic Revolutionary
Guards Corps of Iran that were mostly dissolved or joined the Islamic Movement
of Kurdistan (IMK) especially the Sunnis. These groups are:
1. Kurdish Islamic Army: It was Sunni and the Founder was Abbas Shahin (Abu
Osama). This group was in the Alkotla Al-Islami Alliance.
2. Islamic Fayli Kurdish Organization: This belonged to Shiite Kurds that within
itself included three groups that each had a special view: the Muslim Kurdish
Movement under the leadership of Hussein Fayli, Islamic Fayli Kurdish
Association that was formed in 1982 in Tehran, Islamic Fayli Kurdish Movement
under the leadership of Jalil Fayli and its activities were confined to
scattered missionary work.
3. Hizbullah of Kurdistan in Iraq: This party was related to Sunni Kurds emerged
in Iran in 1983. Sheikh Mohammad Khalid Barzani was its leader. This party
was in the Shiite Supreme Council alliance. After the 1991 Gulf War, Hizbullah
of Kurdistan dissolved itself encouraging its members to join the KDP
under the leadership of Massoud Barzani – current President of the Kurdistan
Region in Iraq (ibid.). It should be noted that Adham Barzani, Sheikh
Mohammad Khalid’s nephew, constituted another party under Kurdistan
Revolutionary Hizbullah (KRH) in 1988. KRH did not have any success in
attracting forces and after the collapse of the Saddam regime, announced its
dissolution in 2004 claiming it had reached its aims.
4. The Muslim Association: This also belonged to Sunni Kurds that was constituted
in the years between 1979 and 1981. Its founders were Sheikh Albarzanji
and Sheikh Ahmad Khanagha. They had a close relationship with the
Islamic Republic of Iran. They were also in good relations with the Supreme
Council of the Iraq Islamic revolution and they had one representative on the
Council. One of the disputes of this group with the Muslim Brotherhood was
their connection with Iran.
5. “Islamic Relationship” (Paywandi Islami): It was also established in the
1980s under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammad Barzanji and later they
joined the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan in 1987.
6. Kurdistan Mujahidin movement: It was of Sunni Kurds and was constituted
by Sheikh Abutalib Barzanji.
Indeed, the above small groups did not have the support of the people and most
religious figures in Kurdistan. Apart from some individuals in the Muslim Association,
most of their members had low level literacy in religious knowledge or
they were from traditional Sheikh led tribes that no longer had any influence in the
region. They mostly existed due to their ties with Iran, so didn’t have much success
in Kurdistan. One of the reasons they are constituted is because of subsidies
by Iran’s Office for Liberation Movements. They also had some connections with
Shiite groups and the Supreme Council. Albeit, it does not mean that the other Islamic
or secular groups didn’t use Iran aid, but they didn’t depend on Iran as it was
mostly a political aspect (Nazimyan, 2003, 269 – 75).
However, what is well-known as the main Islamic trend in Kurdistan is the
continuation of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan
(Harakat Al-Islami) along with its splinter groups have widely operated in the
Kurdistan political arena.
B) Principal Islamic Parties in Kurdistan: Islamic Movement of
Kurdistan and its splinter groups
In 1987, after Muslim Brotherhood and the people of Halabja’s emigration to Iranian
Kurdistan, the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK), including the Islamic
Relationship group, a military-political organization under the leadership of Mala
Othman Abdul Aziz and others was formally constituted in the Seryas camp and
Sine (Sanandaj) city (Mardokhi, 2004). The IMK placed and planned the downfall
of the Baath regime in its blueprint clearly. The Jihadist approach anticipated and
prompted the formation of an army as an outstanding field of its activity (Nik Anjam,
2003). So, in the midst of intensive fighting between the Kurdish Peshmarga
(freedom fighters) forces and the Iraqi military units, the Iranian regime began
training and arming members of them (Kakei, 2013). Nevertheless, after the USA
attack on Iraq in 1991, gradually and practically, a principal section of this movement
stands against the Kurdish secular trend.
Following the recognition of Kurdistan as a no-fly zone after the Gulf war and
the retreat of the Iraqi government from three provinces of Kurdistan in 1991,
Kurdish forces controlled them and after that, many of the opposers of the Iraqi
Government transferred their activities to this region. The principal Islamic political
forces that were exclusively Sunni within the framework of the IMK party also
return to Kurdistan-Iraq. They started active propagation and incitation so that in
the mid 1990s, after KDP and PUK, IMK they became the third most influential
military-political force in Kurdistan. They had warred with other political parties
during this decade. So, IMK’s military arm found an internal function so that they
fronted the heavy armed clashes with the forces of PUK that occurred in Kefri and
Kalar in 1992. However, with signing a ceasefire agreement, the armed conflict
ended but because of the ideological and intellectual distance, tensions at various
levels between the two parties remained (Nik Anjam, 2003).
In the Kurdistan Parliament elections of 1992, IMK won only 5.1% of the total
votes. Such a low percentage of votes was not enough to pass the 7 percent
threshold needed to get a seat in the Kurdish Parliament. While the leaderships of
the KDP and the PUK began cooperating to govern the region, the IMK leadership
instigated violence in order to destabilize the Kurdish coalition government.
Iran stepped in arming the militant wings of the IMK especially those who in the
1980s had fought in Afghanistan. These wings included “the Islamic fundamentalist
group under the leadership of Ali Bapir and the Jihadists group led by Mala
Krekar – a former jihadist who returned to Kurdistan in 1992 after extensive training
in Afghanistan” (Kakei, 2013).
IMK extended its activity beyond the framework of Kurdish common administration
under the ruling PDK-PUK and established a separate administrative, political
and military infrastructure in the region under its control especially in the
Hawraman and Sharazur area neighbouring the regions controlled by PUK. In DeFRITILLARIA
cember 1993, the military clashes between PUK and IMK in parts of the Sulaimani
province and Karkuk peaked and the IMK was forced to retreat to the Border of
Iran. The leaders of the Movement left the region and for several months were under
the guardianship of the KDP in the Salah Aldin countryside. When the tension
between PDK and PUK worsened and degenerated into war in May of 1994, most
of the IMK’s forces along with PDK’s forces fought against the PUK. Eventually,
the leaders of the IMK could return and formed its own headquarters in Halabja
(The report of HRW, 2002). During this time, the militant wings of the IMK, the
two above-mentioned pro-Iranian Islamic fundamentalist groups remained in Iran
throughout 1994 and 1995 (Kakei, 2013). Indeed, during the war between the PDK
and PUK, radical groups didn’t fight against the PUK because of Iran’s support for
the PUK.
In its history, the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) has experienced many
fluctuations that led to the split in the axis of these groups i.e.; the Muslim Brotherhood,
Salafists and Jihadists.
1. Offshoots related to Muslim Brotherhood
The IMK have had two splinter groups from within that attributed themselves to
the Muslim Brotherhood. They are:
a) Uprising Movement
In the initial years of IMK’s formation in 1987, Mala Othman’s brother, Mala
Sediq Abdul Aziz, along with others formed Alnehza likening to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Although they partially agreed to use weapons and military they often
had missionary invitations. This group later under the name Uprising Movement
(Bzutnaway Raparin) continued and in 1999-2000, they united with the IMK and
called themselves “Bzutnaway Yakbun” (Unity Movement).
b) Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU)
In 1994, another group of the Muslim Brotherhood separated from IMK and under
Kurdistan Islamic Union (Yekgirtûy Islâmî Kurdistân), announced itself, gradually,
they became the biggest Islamic organization in Kurdistan-Iraq. They call
themselves the real representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood in Kurdistan. KIU
has been influenced by Intellectual foundations of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood
founders, but because of the special situation in Kurdistan, they have active
organizations outside of the Islamic party of Iraq, that is the actual representative
of the Muslim Brotherhood in the country.
Initially, they emphasized reform. They started with three axis slogans; freedom,
fraternity and justice. Salahaddin Muhammad Bahaaddin was elected as Secretary
General at its first general conference in 1994. This group contrary to the
common approach in Kurdistan in that period, in its statement of being, negated
the military activity and armed fighting voluntarily adopted a political and cultural
strategy in regions encouraging the building of mosques, clinics and plans for
creating villages or towns where they had more followers taking support of Saudi
Islamic organizations. It became one of the most successful politically effective
forces in the Kurdistan arena. Indeed, one of the reasons for its success, was the
focus on humanitarian measures such as building and management of orphanages
for children, helping families without the all important man or head of the family
and no discrimination between them, either Islamic or secular, during Kurdistan’s
civil war in the 1990s (Nik Anjam, 2003; Jamal, 2004).
Simultaneously, the activity of KIU in political and cultural aspects was extended.
The leaders of the party believed that the situation of the region needed a democratic
solution. For them democracy and elections were the ways to reach political
power, ignore violence (Nik Anjam, 2003). Culturally, understanding the special
situation of Kurdistan and identifying the spectrum of its audiences, this party constituted
some organizations such as “Kurdistan Muslim authors association” and
in the press, a few newspapers and journals offering information. A weekly magazine,
“Yekgirtû,” was printed full of news, politics and analytical policy (Yakgrtu
weekly, 2014). “Payami Rasti” the organ of the Kurdistan Muslim Authors Association,
has had a literary and cultural approach (371 formal newspapers…, 2014).
Beside these, “Hajan” quarterly has worked on theoretical and intellectual debates,
and has propagated and explained religious teachings in a discourse compatible
with the intellectual space of Kurdistan. Fundamentally, the idea of having printed
information has been on the line of modification of the space of religious discourse
in Kurdistan and they have tried to set the spirit of tolerance. They also have paid
attention to mainstream media and have gained proportional success in the free
and competitive space of media in Kurdistan (Nik Anjam, 2003).
In comparison with other Islamic parties, this party has had a more Kurdish nationalist
stand. During the USA attack, responding to the criticisms of some people
and parties in the Muslim world including the parties with a common intellectual
approach like the Muslim Brotherhood of Jordan that issued a „Fatwa” (judicial
decree) against the groups that cooperated with Allied forces, Salahaddin Mohammad
Baha the leader and the General Secretary of the party at that time stated:
“The opinion of any clergy is respected, but the competency of issuing a Fatwa
on the problems occurred in our land in the first place is with ourselves. Maybe
being away from this land and the lack of understanding our situation leads them
astray from true Fatwa” (ibid.) Besides, they have more important debates on the
lack of conflict between nationalism and religion. In this regard, one of its leaders,
Abubakr Ali, offers serious discussions on nationalism and its relevance in the domain
of the thought of Muslim people, a debate that has preoccupied a part of the
political and intellectual elites of Kurdistan for years.
The special characteristics of this party have set it in a different stance from
other Islamic parties in Kurdistan. Salahaddin Muhammad Baha was one of the
five Kurdish leaders in the Iraqi Governing Council after Saddam. Abdul-Rahman
Sidiq Kareem another leader of this party was the minister of the environment inthe
cabinet of this government. Moreover, the constitution drafting committee of
Iraq formed the party with 25 people, 5 of them were Kurdish and 1 was from the
KIU. It has always had representatives in Iraqi Parliament. And during recent years
it became the fourth biggest party after PDK, PUK and Goran.
Briefly, as Nik Anjam (2003) has mentioned, the reflection of actions and functions
of this party says that considering the alternatives with flexible trends that are
compatible with the conditions of society and new situations is one of the solutions
for inhibition of religious extremist tendencies.
2. Offshoots related to Salafists and Jihadists
The IMK continued its activities under the leadership of Mala Othman until his
death in 1997 and succeeded by his brother Mala Ali Abdul Aziz. In 1999-2000
Bzutnaway Raparin also joined them and continued under the IMK-Unity (Bzutnaway
Yakbun). So, from 1994 to 2001 there was no formal split. During this
period,theIMK interacted with two principal parties of Kurdistan in different ways,
from Military confrontation to participate in local cabinet having a minister in
the cabinets under PDK and PUK. But in 2001, because of internal problems at
the Tawela congress, IMK-Unity once again divided into the following splinter
groups: The Islamic Movement of Kurdistan under the leadership of Mala Ali Abdul
Aziz; Jamaat-i- Islami led by Mala Ali Bapir; Aleslah (Reformist) group led by
Mala Krekar; and, also small radical groups such as Altawhid, Alhamas and Soran
The reasons for splits in Islamic Movement of Kurdistan are: (i) ‘unclear process
of organizational management of the party, closed leadership system, and intellectual
and spiritual inability of its leaders to satisfy the body of the party’ (ibid.).
And (ii) conflicting views of Islam so that ‘the members of the IMK had diverse
ideological concepts and backgrounds such as Muslim Brotherhoods, Pro-Turkish
Islamists, Salafist fundamentalists, and Jihadist Kurds who had ties with the al-Qaeda
organization in Afghanistan’ (Kakei, 2013). However, finally, the survivors of
the IMK-Unity, were Jamaat and IMK. After an overview on the extinct group of
Ansar Al-Islam, the two parties are briefly examined.
Ansar Al-Islam
As mentioned above, some smaller factions of the IMK had an extremist view
and became followers of the more radical Islamic ideology. Some of these groups
opposed and didn’t cooperate with secular political parties and even opposed the
decision of the IMK in 1997 to join with the PUK Local government. They fought
against everyone who according to them didn’t follow Islamic Law precisely
and tried to implement this law completely in the areas under control of the IMK
(Mahmoudi, 2005).
One of the first groups the Kurdish Islamist veterans in Afghanistan led by Najmadin
Faraj Ahmad known as Mala Fateh Krekar (a longtime member of the
IMK and familiar with the Islamic Jihad and Mujahidin in Afghanistan) separated
and formed the Aleslah group. Secondly, Al-Hamas group under the command of
Mala Umar Baziani and Hassan Sofi which promoted a Salafist view. This group
also opposed the IMK’s measure to join the PUK local government. The third
group was Soran led by Abu Habiba (the military arm of movement and strongest
among these affiliations) armed hundreds, including non-Iraqi people, as some of
them had fought in Afghanistan. The fourth group was Altawhid (Islamic Unification
Movement or IUM), the most radical branch. This group of 30-40 persons
settled in Balek in the Qandil Mountains near the Haji Omran and Border of Iran
(Mahmoudi, 2005; Kakei, 2013).
The small splinter groups of the IMK gradually integrated with each other. In
July 2001, Altawhid and Alhamas integrated and constituted the Islamic Unity
Front (IUF). After one month the Soran forces joined them and they settled in
Tawela and Biyara. On 1st September 2001, the IUF was dissolved and the three
participating groups formally announced the Jund Al-Islam under the leadership
of Abu Abdulla Shafiei. The group promptly announced Jihad against secular political
parties in Kurdistan that deviated from the “true path of Islam.” The military
war in which the PUK defeated Jund Al-Islam, led to the dissolution of the group
in December 2001. After that, Abu Abdulla Shafiei and the rest of the group united
with Aleslah group to form Ansar Al-Islam (the supporter of Islam in Kurdistan)
and continued their activity under this new name. Mala Krekar became the leader
(Amir) of the group (The Report of HRW, 2002; Mardokhi, 2004); and centered
their activity in the villages of Tawela and Biyara belonging to the Halabja district
in the Sulaimani province near the border of Iran (The Report of HRW, 2002). Jund
and Ansar Al-Islam even admitted people from other nationalities to join.
These groups had lots in common with radical fundamentalist movements originally
from Saudi Arabia. They emphasized the common principles with literal
interpretation of the Quran and the return to a more pure Islamic community. Jund
Al-Islam had announced that they want to eliminate the interference of secularists
on Islamic land. The aim of this group was to disseminate duty of “enjoining good
and forbid evil” and to extend Islamic Law and “jihad against renegade seculars”
The Human Rights Watch during a visit to a mission in the region in September
2002 describes the actions of Jund Al-Islam:
On September 8, 2001, one week after it came into being, Jund al-Islam issued decrees,
including: the obligatory closure of offices and businesses during prayer time
and enforced attendance by workers and proprietors at the mosque during those times;
the veiling of women by wearing the traditional ‚abaya; obligatory beards for men;
segregation of the sexes; barring women from education and employment; the removal
of any photographs of women on packaged goods brought into the region; the confiscation
of musical instruments and the banning of music both in public and private; and
the banning of satellite receivers and televisions. Jund al-Islam also announced that
it would apply Islamic punishments of amputation, flogging and stoning to death for
offenses such as theft, the consumption of alcohol and adultery.
It should be noted that following the dissolution of Jund al-Islam and its reconstitution
under the name of Ansar al-Islam in December 2001, the group announced
a ceasefire. Negotiations were held with the PUK, aimed at arriving at a political
agreement, but on April 2nd 2002, the assassination attempt against Barham Salih,
chief minister of the PUK regional government, led to their suspension. In June
2002, relations between the two sides deteriorated further as the PUK held Ansar
al-Islam responsible for attempting to perpetrate more acts of sabotage (ibid.). Besides,
though Mala Krekar after his arrest in Tehran airport and subsequent return
to the Netherlands in 2002 denied any relations with al-Qaeda and Saddam and
existence or making of chemical weapons by his groups, Kalin Pawil in February
2003 had told the Security Council of the UN that Ansar Al-Islam plays a key
role in Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network with the Iraqi government. After Kalin’s
speech the USA promptly and formally announced Ansar Al-Islam a terrorist
group (Kurdish Islamic Movement, 2003). However, fighting between Ansar and
PUK occurred. Finally, after the USA attack in 2003, the PUK forces destroyed
this group and they lost control of the area. Then, the rest of this group and other
militant groups started secret and scattered activities and liaised with Al-Qaeda to
participate in terrorist operations in Kurdistan.
a) Kurdistan Jamaat-i-Islami (Komal)
Emerging conflicts and crisis in the internal elections of the IMK-Unity’s first
congress in 2000, a group (including some of the members of the Movement leadership’s
council) through a statement on 20/5/2001, announced their change to Jamaat-
i-Islami (Komalay Islami Kurdistan) and the council association of this new
party elected Mala Ali Bapir as seigneur (Amir) (Komal, Political newspaper…,
2001). Bapir, a longtime IMK military commander, had won the above-mentioned
elections. Since Mala Ali Abdul Aziz didn’t accept the results, based on old disputes
Bapir forced his supporters to separate from the IMK- Unity. After a few
months, some neutral individuals (during the conflicts in IMK-Unity) also united
with Jamaat-i-Islami and Sheikh Mohammad Barzanji became a spiritual leader
and Ali Bapir maintained in his original position (Nik Anjam, 2003). When the
USA and the UK controlled Iraq, Bapir with three friends and some guards were
on the way to meet an American officer on 10th July 2003 they were arrested. On
their release after being held for 2 years (28/2/2005) in an interview, Bapir said:
“With the Baathists, I was in Kruper prison, even Saddam was there. When I was
released, I didn’t sign the release papers as it said I was as a Baathist but I am the
only person in Kurdistan who killed his brother because he was a Baathist” (The
news of release…, 2005).
This party is intellectually ascribed to Wahhabi ideology and politically to Iran
(Kakei, 2013). Although, they eventually came into electoral campaigning and by
far turned to moderation but especially in the beginning they opposed democracy
as they believed Islam and democracy are incompatible, for them democracy was
unlawful and had no legitimacy (Jamal, 2004).2 However, this party recognizes
itself as a Kurdish party and after the Iraq war (2003) surrendered its weapons to
the Americans and claimed they do not cooperate with any radical groups that are
in conflict with the USA such as Ansar Al-Islam. This party has legal activity and
2 In this relation, it should be noted that one of the Komal’s members, Fadhil Qaradaghi, in
1998 wrote a book under “Myth of democracy”.
operates especially in Sulaimani and Raniye (, 2005). It has some representatives
in Kurdistan and Iraq Parliaments (, 2014).
b) Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK)
The rest of the IMK-Unity with the similar name of ‘Islamic Movement of Kurdistan’
under the leadership of Mala Ali Abdul Aziz continued their activities. Though
Mala Ali had been called a spiritual leader (for all of the Islamic movements in
Kurdistan), but for some, after the death of Othman Abdul Aziz in 1997, Mala Ali
did not have the charismatic style of his late brother and his approach was criticized
which perhaps prepared the ground to further splits (Nik Anjam, 2003).
After the fall of the Saddam regime, American forces arrested Mala Ali and 14
persons in 2003 but later released them (The News of arrest…, 2005). He died in
2007 and his brother Sidiq Abdul Aziz (the ex-leader of the Uprising Movement)
became the spiritual leader of this party. Irfan Haji Ali was its political leader. This
party is legally active in the Kurdistan political arena especially in Halabja and its
surrounding areas (Kurdish Islamic Movement, 2003). Generally, the influence
and function of the party in elections was less successful only obtained a few seats
in the Kurdistan assembly but remained in good relations with Iran.
c) Totality of Kurdistan Islamic Movement – Iraq
The history of Islamic movements in Iraq represents a complexity so that they are,
by far, incomparable with similar movements in other countries. The Islamic trends
of Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish (Shiite and Sunni) in three regions have existed for
sometime. The main root of Islamic Movements in Iraq returned to the reasons as
follows: British colonial period (especially from the view of Shiites), the collapse
of Islamic Caliphate (especially for Sunnis) and suppressing the Shiites and their
lack of participation in power after 1920. Besides, the emergence of the Kurdistan
Islamic Movement had two other reasons: Firstly, the Islamic fighting against central
government to remove the ethnic discrimination and setup of justice. Secondly,
d) The historical process of forming the principal Islamic trends in Kurdistan and their relationship
with the Muslim Brotherhood. The numbers 1, 2 and 3 are the rest of this movement up to now.
fighting against the growth of non-religious and secular trends in Kurdistan and
so the revival of Islam. Comparing the effect of Shiite and Sunni movements, the
Islamic Brotherhood Movement had an important impact on the Kurdistan Islamic
movement, given that the Shiite community is smaller in Kurdistan. The main philosophy
of the Sunni Islamic parties’ activity and Islamism in the present age has
been the interest to return to the Caliphate system that was a failure by the secular
forces. So, enforcing Islamic law is the main subject of Islamic movement and it
was the main task of its members including Kurdistan.
However, different conditions made Kurdistan Islamic trends distinct from other
Islamic trends in Iraq: (a), the existence of a diverse nation and a strong longtime
freedom movement provided a field for development of Islamic trends too.
(b), the pressure on the Kurds was more constant than others. So, though until late
1980s the Muslim Brotherhood movement did not have a separate organization in
Kurdistan, after pulling out of Iraq and especially after the Halabja chemical attack
by the Iraqi regime in 1988, the centre of Muslim Brotherhood activity, practically
contrary with other Sunni Groups, organized itself for military conflict against the
Baath government. (c), through international support since 1991 Kurdistan was
free from the ruling political norm in Iraq that practically had arrested the political
activity of non-Baath parties. So, the Kurdish parties were active in the region under
their authority, but other opposition parties of Iraq operated out of their related
regions in Kurdistan or other countries. (d), unlike the other parts of Iraq where
the conflict is sectarian between Shiite and Sunni Arabs, in Kurdistan because of
the growth of secularism during recent decades, Islamic parties mostly for political
competition with the Left and secular parties to form an Islamic government and
revive Islam, came into the political arena.
The philosophy of the Kurdistan Islamic Movement is justified by the principle
that all Islamic issues are summed up in five points: Keep the faith, protect life
and soul, preservation of race and generation, maintaining finance and economy;
and maintain wisdom.3 Therefore, on this line, these groups and parties partially
aimed to keep the faith and gaining their civic and national rights. When they have
3 Imam Shatibi in his Book ‘Almuwafiqat’ has said the aims of Islam are these five principles.
The Kurdish Islamic groups that most of them have been Sunni followed this principle (See:
Mardokhi, 2004).
been affected by other Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat-
e-Islami and Salafism, they had overlapped with the Sunni and Shiite trends
in Iraq, as they have had differences with them related to Kurdish rights, political
issues and the situation of Kurdistan. Indeed, other Islamic movements have no
national-identity problems, but Kurdish Islamic parties politically wanted equality
with other Muslim nations, as well. It should be noted that their relation with
Islamic movement outside of Iraq, often has been intellectual and ideological and
their relationship with the Islamic movement in Iraq especially Shiite has been
political but also military too against the Baath regime.
The Study of the various parties and groups in the history of the Kurdistan Islamic
movement represents three different trends with certain characteristic tendencies:
1. Religio-national: This tendency belongs to the Kurdistan Islamic Union that
it is the most tolerant and compatible with a democratic and modern society. This
group did not have a military arm and did not enter into a military phase. Its activity
has been in the format of civil institutes. It is an actual representative of the Muslim
Brotherhood in Kurdistan and affected by the initial leaders of the movement
especially Hasan Al-Banna.4 They respect other thoughts and intellectual trends in
society. Unlike other Islamic party in Kurdistan, the KIU claims that they agree
with democracy and human rights playing an important role in bringing democratic
rule to Iraq. Theoretically, they have linked modern institutes and thoughts as
nationalism to Islam. They agreed with the USA attack and participated in the Iraqi
Interim Government. So, this party has considered nationality (Kurdish), democracy
and peaceful electoral competition more than others. They outlined the religious
issues in the framework of non-violent Jihad missionary works. They believe that
4 Hiwa Mirza the Manager of special and general organizations of KIU has said that: “the
internal program adapted by his party indeed is based on the writing of Hasan Al-Banna, Ahmad
Alghanushi and other Islamic clergies” (See: Jamal, 2004).
democratic ideals supported by the party are compatible with the teaching of the
Quran and tradition (Sunnat) as the main sources of Shariat (Jamal, 2004).
2. Islamic Radical Fundamentalists: A certain example of the groups with this
tendency, as discussed, was Ansar Al-Islam that contrary to the KIU their view
was same as Talabanism and Salafism. They faithfully followed the orders as the
Talban did in Afghanistan. They were sometimes known as a branch of Al-Qaeda.
They opposed modernity and the West. They ordered armed Jihad against the USA
and the secular groups in Kurdistan. Hence, according to their interpretation of
Islam, they pay more attention to the strict preservation of faith. After 2003, these
groups were almost eradicated from Kurdistan.
3. Traditional and Moderate Fundamentalists: This tendency is located between
the two above spectrums that it is seen in the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan
(IMK) and Jamaat-i-Islami. These have been affected by both the Muslim
Brotherhood and Salafism. On one hand, they are close to the Muslim Brotherhood
after Hasan Al-Banna especially Said Qutb as IMK’s initial leaders were members
of the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic party of Iraq. On the other hand, they
partially tended to Salafism and had a military wing. However, they were neither
the most radical like Ansar Al-Islam nor had the widespread civil activity as the
KIU. And finally they accepted party rivalry.
Comparing these three trends, the religio-national one, according to its different
and positive views on socio-political issues and understanding of the situation in
Kurdistan with its special characteristics, had a better stance in Kurdish society.
Gaining a high proportion of votes in elections during the recent decade by the
KIU shows a better condition for the moderate trend in comparison with traditional
and radical fundamentalist ones.
e) The trends of Islamic parties and their relation with nationality and radicalism
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