Relations between the Islamist Parties of Kurdistan: Relations between the Islamic Group of Kurdistan and Ansar-al-Islam as a case study

5 months agoJournals


By Idris Siwayli

Introduction
At the turn of the 21st century in Iraqi Kurdistan, two Islamist parties, Ansar-al-Islam and Jund-al-Islam formed. These two parties were considered the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s most radical Islamist movements and along with the Islamic Group of Kurdistan were all formed out of the remains of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s Islamic Unity Movement. In other words, these political parties and organisations, that neighboured each other geographically, with both their bases located in the Hawraman region, splintered from the Islamic Unity Movement. Both political parties also followed similar political ideologies, which we note would itself benefit from in-depth comparative research. However, this paper analyses the relationship between the Islamic Group of Kurdistan and Ansar-al-Islam through newly identified documents and evidence. 

The establishment of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, Jund al-Islam and Ansar al-Islam
The Islamic Group of Kurdistan
Following the Tawela congress of the Islamic Unity Party in 2000, disagreements within the party increased. Attempts to reconcile differences failed, leading to the senior members of the party breaking away and establishing the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, a new Islamist political party led by Ali Bapir. (1) On the same day as its establishment, a second announcement came from the leadership of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan explaining the reasons behind the formation of the new party. The statement read
“We, the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, believe in cooperation and brotherhood between Muslims in general and between Muslim scholars, leaders and sides and approaches. We also believe in coexistence, tolerance and cooperation with all other political sides to serve the people of Kurdistan, their experience and status.” (2)

2) Jund al-Islam
Following the establishment of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, the Second Force of Soran, which was one of the more influential powers within the Islamic Unity Party, decided on a neutral stance when responding to the breakup of the Islamic Unity Party. On the one hand, the force could not accept joining the Islamic Group of Kurdistan and going under the influence of Ali Bapir. On the other hand, it continued to remain a part of the Islamic Unity Party in name only. From its neutral position, the group planned in secret to establish itself as a new political party. On 1 September 2001, the group formed Jund al Islam in Kurdistan under the leadership of Abuabdullah Shafi’i. In the party's establishing statement, the party declared that they had for the last several years been busy preparing financially and practically to carry out Jihadist activities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Moreover, they claimed that to achieve this, they had established military training camps, received training and obtained explosives and weaponry. With these preparations in place, the party claimed that it has not decided to join with the Tawhid group and establish Jund-al-Islam. (3) 
Furthermore, in a report from the relations department of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, the department stated 
“The Tawhid Group have divided into three groups. The first group has remained neutral to the internal dispute and left the Tawhid Group. The second group, which is made up of seven members, have chosen to continue with the Tawhid Group. The third group, which makes up the majority of the Tawhid Group's members joined with the central members and decided to establish a new party called Jundallah”. (4) 

Another report by the same department stated that
 “Jund-al-Islam is made up of 200-300 individuals. The majority of the members of the party are from Erbil with a handful are Arabs. We have received a letter from the group in which they discuss mutual points of agreement but also that they do not believe the Islamic Group of Kurdistan is up to the task of governance or bringing about change. For these reasons, they believe that to implement the will of Allah (SWA), bring about good and prevent evil; they have decided to establish as a new party. They also mention that they are prepared to work with other Islamist groups locally.” (5)  

A report written by a member of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan to its leadership before the establishment of Jund-al-Islam explains; 
“The Second Force of Soran has made preparations to establish a new party shortly. They have reportedly been working for the establishment of this new party for the last four years. Currently, they have established a training base in Said Salim near Balkha, which consists of approximately ten tents. They use the camp to teach terrorism, partisan war, tank warfare, helicopter warfare and explosives training. In Biara, they have also established a radio station and placed two broadcasting masts on Biara hill”. (6)

 Regarding the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, the report reads; 
“The central members argue that other than changing Male Ali to Ali Bapir, the Islamic Group of Kurdistan has not changed. (عەقیدەیئەشعەرییە) and the thoughts of the Muslim brotherhood dominate the Islamic Group of Kurdistan’s thinking and the old renewal revolutions within the Islamic Group of Kurdistan restrict Jihad” (7)

Ansar-al-Islam
The existence of Jund-al-Islam was short. After negotiations involving Krekar both sides agreed to work together under a new name. Krekar, led the Islah Movement, a specific branch within the Islamic Unity Movement. When the Islamic Group of Kurdistan initially formed the Islah Movement along with several other leading figures within the Islamic Unity Movement declared their neutrality. However, soon after many of the neutral members of the Unity Group joined the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, Krekar continued his activities independently and established a base in Gulpi village. However, after negotiations with Jund-al-Islam, both sides agreed to form Ansar-al-Islam in Kurdistan under the leadership of Krekar on 10 December 2001. Following its party's founding, the Ansar-al-Islam started a one sides ceasefire with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan whom with, at the time, Jund-al-Islam was at war. (8) 

Relations between the Islamic Group of Kurdistan and Jund-al-Islam. 

In a letter to the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, Abu-Abdulla Shafii’i, the Amir of Jund-al-Islam explains his reasons for establishing Jund-al-Islam. The correspondence appears to be the first letter between the Amir of Jund-al-Islam to the Islamic Group of Kurdistan. The letter reads:
“Following your split and the establishment of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan. We, like all other Muslims, waited patiently to see practical steps as we no longer trusted in slogans and rhetoric. However, we saw nothing different from you except for the changing of individuals and leadership members. [….] Hence, we the Mujahid brothers, by remaining clear intentioned, have decided to to take on that responsibility by establishing Jund-al-Islam in Kurdistan to aid the success of Muslims and protecting the honour of the religion … We, in this group, are ready to assist clear intentioned and god-fearing individuals and groups to protect the religion and to face, through Jihad, any of the opponents of Islam and Muslims who are prepared to attack them.” (9)
A month after Jund-al-Islam’s establishment, on 2 October 2001, an agreement was reached between the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan, Jund-al-Islam and Krekar. The deal was intended to divide the military equipment of the disbanded Islamic Unity Movement between the four new groups. The agreement divided the weapons of the Islamic Unity Movement as follows: Krekar 10.5 percent, Islamic Group of Kurdistan 39 percent, Islamic Movement of Kurdistan 25 percent and Jund-al-Islam 25.5 percent. (10) Furthermore, on 23 October 2001 the leadership of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan and Jund-al-Islam agreed on the following: 

Those individuals who have taken weapons after the establishment of Jund-al-Islam in the name of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan and vice versa should return them;
Following the agreement, any member of either party must leave their weapons behind with the respective party if they decide to join the other group. (11)
The Islamic Group of Kurdistan and Jund-al-Islam met on may occasions in search of a unity agreement. Both sides took significant steps toward unity and negotiations were closing in on a deal. It is unclear why these negotiations ultimately failed. Following the collapse of the talks, on 1 November 2001 the Islamic Council of Jund-al-Islam sent a letter to the Islamic Council of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan explaining that regardless of the collapse in negotiations the principles of brotherhood, love and respect should continue to be observed by both sides. (12) 

When news spread that “Jund-al-Islam follows the ideology of Khwarija and has the authority to declare Muslims as non-believers, and in this respect, the leader of the Sharia group of Jund-al-Islam has declared that the Islamic Group of Kurdistan and its Amir and non-believers”, the leader of the Sharia group of Jund-al-Islam released a statement explaining “the news is not accurate and the Islamic Group of Kurdistan and its Amir are our religious brothers”. (13)

The relations between the Islamic Group of Kurdistan and Ansar-al-Islam
Relations between the Islamic Group of Kurdistan and Ansar-al-Islam have been marked by both difficulties and periods where they have come together. Most of the issues between the two sides can be traced back to the rivalry between Ali Bapir and Krekar prior to the establishment of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan. According to Krekar, the first confrontation between the Islah wing, which he led, and the Islamic Group of Kurdistan was in Sulaimaniyah with the establishment of the latter. Disagreements between the two sides centred around the on the Sulaimaniyah base, the Jihad Mosque and broadcasting issues. Several meeting took place between the two sides to resolve the problems, but they failed to reach a deal. Krekar released a statement on 7 August 2001, in which he noted his frustrations that he was left with no choice but to leave the Sulaimaniyah base and the Jihad Mosque to the Islamic Group of Kurdistan. (14)
Before this, Krekar also released a statement explaining his frustrations that his wing was prevented from giving their Friday sermon at the Jihad Mosque. There were plans for a sermon to be given by Abdulhamid Sewaili, a member of Krekars wing; however, the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, prevented this from taking place. (15)

In contrast to his 7 August 2001 statement, Krekar also released an open letter to his supporters on 25 June 2001 in which he explained his actions and Islah's relations with the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, which he described as "good". He wrote:
“Ali Bapir has fifteen leadership members supporting him, eight of these members are from the Nahza movement which separated, and 40 percent were from the Islamic Unity Party. We have good relations with them. We, the members listed below, were neutral in the Islamic Unity Party's internal dispute and thanks be to Allah (SWA) that we now have 40 percent of the movement’s members with us. It appears that we have been successful in removing Male Ali Halabjai and returning Ali Bapir and other brothers (Dr Ibrahim, Sheikh Mohammed Barzinji, Qasim Mustafa, Krekar, Omer Ferga, Aso Hewleri, Azad Hujrani, Bilal Haji Sleman, Faruq Ali, Jamal Ashraf, Abdorahman Abdurahim, Haji San Ahmed, Omer Kalary and others). We are active, but we are quiet, and many people believe in our activities. Hence, we now ask that you send us your blessings. Twelve percent are waiting for our actions, and 8 percent are with Male Ali Halabjai. However, we have significant financial pressures on us, since 3 June 2001 until today we have only spent 5000 Iraqi dinars daily. As many of you come to visit us regularly to resolve your disputes, we ask all brothers and sisters who believe in our cause to assist us by sending $50 each as soon as they possibly can. This funding will allow us to continue in our work and will prevent us from finding our backs against the wall.” (16)
In an earlier statement, which was released on 1 June 2001 and signed by 'the brothers of Krekar’ the authors dispute the authenticity of a statement issued on 31 May 2001, a day before the establishment of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, which was signed by ‘the brothers of Krekar’ and posted in several Sulaimania based mosques. The 1 June 2001 statement read:

 “The writers of the 31 May 2001 statement which states that we have been taken advantage of by the honourable Ali Bapir and his followers, in truth, do not reflect the views of Krekar and nor do they reflect the views of true Muslims. […] They have damaged the reputation of Krekar, whose character is far greater that the ability of those individuals to try and take advantage of his successes. […] It appears these individuals may have links to other sides as they have, in a short period, become owners of vehicles, while those of us who have truly been with Krekar for the last ten years are still in debt. It is important also to say that such a statement, which was written by Sarkawt and Soran Omer is not reflective of the followers of Krekar, nor is it reflective of Krekar’s own opinion. Everybody is aware of what the position of Krekar is. Everybody knows that Krekar views Mala Ali Halabja as immoral and a hypocrite, as such he will never fire a single bullet for him” (17) 

It is clear from the actions of Krekar towards the Islamic Group of Kurdistan that animosity has played a role; however, Krekar’s position as Amir of Ansar-al-Islam has had an impact on the relations between Ansar al Islam and the Islamic Group of Kurdistan. 
It may be the case that when Ansar-al-Islam was first founded, they may have had an agreement with the Islamic Group of Kurdistan concerning the changing allegiances of their respective fighters. Alternatively, the same compromise between the Islamic Group of Kurdistan and Jund-al-Islam, which was signed on 23 October 2001, may also be in operation between the Islamic Group of Kurdistan and Ansar-al-Islam. This was demonstrated when the military base of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan requested from the military base of Ansar-al-Islam the return of military equipment from a fighter who had crossed over from the Islamic Group of Kurdistan to Ansar-al-Islam. (18)
Relations between the Islamic Group of Kurdistan and Ansar-al-Islam has, on many occasions, been marked by troubles. On some occasions, the poor state of relations between the two sides is visible in their respective publications. In one of Ansar Al Islam’s internal publication, which was intended as an instructional manual for its members, one of the points (point 7) regarding the Islamic Group of Kurdistan reads:

 “The Islamic Group of Kurdistan's actions have been adversarial towards us, from their negative role in our relations with the PUK through to their changing ideology. They have started to expel the Faqes that were practising in the Abu Bakr Sadiq Sharia institute in Khurmal that were not supporters of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan. They expelled eight individuals, one of which was neutral and the others are supporters of PAK. They will not be readmitted until they change their allegiance to the Islamic Group of Kurdistan.” (19)

In a letter prepared by the Islamic Group of Kurdistan’s media department and addressed to its leadership council, the media department reports that one of their filming crews visited Biara to film the natural beauty of the area but were prevented from doing so by “representatives” of the leadership of Ansar-al-Islam. In the letter, the media department asked the leadership committee to reciprocate and prevent camera teams from other sides from filming in the Islamic Group of Kurdistan’s territory. (20) 
In another letter from the organisational committee of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan to its leadership committee, the organisational committee explains that one of their members called Aso Kochar had been detained and by Ansar-al-Islam for 18 hours and had been subject to derogatory behaviour. In the letter, the organisational committee asks the leadership committee to respond to this episode and not to let the incident go unpunished so that Ansar-al-Islam do not repeat this action. (21)
Disagreements between Ansar-al-Islam and the Islamic Group of Kurdistan reached such a low point that they began to attack each other through their respective media outlets verbally. On the 12 May 2002, Ansar-al-Islam’s official website released a news article alleging that the Islamic Group of Kurdistan had met and entered into an agreement with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Moreover that its leader, Ali Bapir, and given a speech at the funeral of Imam Khomeini in Sulaymaniyah, in which he lauded Imam Khomeini with unnecessary praise. In response, the Islamic Group of Kurdistan’s media arm responded strongly with their allegations. They alleged that Ansar-al-Islam had held several secret meetings with the PUK. As proof, the Islamic Group of Kurdistan’s media department pointed to an interview given by Abdurahman Aborahim to Hawlati newspaper on 24 April 2002. In the interview, they quoted Abdurahman Aborahim as saying:

“The first secret meeting was held at our home in Halabja between representatives of Jund-al-Islam, Krekar and representatives of the PUK. The PUK had formally rejected meetings with Jund-al-Islam. As a result, the meetings became a precursor that led to Jund-al-Islam becoming Ansar-al-Islam, a change in its leadership, and the enforcement of a one-sided ceasefire.” (22) 

The article also references two agreements between the Islamic Group of Kurdistan and Ansar-al-Islam, the first of which was on 5 May 2002 and the second was on 27 May 2002. In the agreement both accept that they have employed derogatory language towards the other in their publications and both agreed to take relaevant steps to stop these actions in future. (23)
After several meetings, the two sides agreed on 5 May 2002. The agreement was as follows; 
The Islamic Group of Kurdistan and Ansar-al-Islam will only conduct their politics and activities within their respective zones of influence.
If any problems, issues or troubles erupt a higher committee or a chosen committee will be made aware so that issues can be resolved as soon as possible. 
The decision to stop armed attacks in Khurmal’s Market will come into force of 7 May 2002.
Ansar-al-Islam will not detain or attack PUK members within the Islamic Group of Kurdistan’s zone of influence. In contrast, the Islamic Group of Kurdistan will protect the property of Ansar-al-Islam members who reside within its area of influence. Furthermore, the PUK must not attack Ansar-al-Islam within the territory of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan. (24)
This agreement may have contributed to a cooling of relations between the two sides. This agreement was followed by a second agreement on 15 July 2002 where both signed a deal on to organise the security of Khurmal. The settlement consisted of seven points and was intended to come into force on 27 July 2002. (25) 

However, regardless of the agreements discontent between the two sides continued to plague relations. In a letter from Ansar-al-Islam to the leadership council of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, the former alleges that the PUK made attempts to assassinate a member of Ansar-al-Islam in the territory controlled by the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, which they argued broke the agreement between the two sides. Ansar-al-Islam demands a resolution from the Islamic Group of Kurdistan. (26) 
Discussions and meetings continued between both sides to improve relations and take steps towards unity, however, as the Islamic Group of Kurdistan developed its relations with the PUK, Ansar-al-Islam sent another letter to the leadership council of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan. In the letter, Ansar-al-Islam explained that it would withdraw from these discussions and initiatives as the Islamic Group of Kurdistan has decided on building its relations with the PUK. (27)  
Furthermore, in response to a letter sent by the Islamic Group of Kurdistan to Ansar-al-Islam on 12 August 2002 regarding building closer ties and taking steps towards unification, Ansar-al-Islam sent a multiple page correspondence to the leadership council of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan on 17 August 2002. In the document, the party heavily criticised the Islamic Group of Kurdistan’s decision to seek co-existence with Kurdistan’s secular parties and its assistance to protect the experience and political structure of the Kurdistan Region. For Ansar-al-Islam, Kurdistan’s secularists have deemed unbelievers, and they believed their power structures and organisations were blasphemous. Ansar-al-Islam could not understand how an Islamist party could support such an establishment. Hence, Ansar-al-Islam demanded that the Islamic Group of Kurdistan review its actions if it sought unity with Ansar-al-Islam. (28)

Conclusion
Relations between the Islamic Group of Kurdistan and Jund-al-Islam and later with Ansar-al-Islam has witnessed highs and lows. At times their relations have been weak, and at other times they have worked together to take steps towards uniting under a single party flag. However, both sides had had different actions which they justified through their different views and interpretations of the religion they both claim to represent. These differences and the subsequent events only worked to distance these parties from one another.

References
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