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The village of Biyara, main base of the Ansar al-Islam 2001-2003

Ansar al-Islam (Kurdishئه‌نسه‌ر ئه‌ل إسلام), Supporters or Partisans of Islam) is a Kurdish Sunni Islamist group, promoting a radical interpretation of Islam, close to the official Saudi ideology of Wahhabism with strict application of Sharia. The group was formed in the Kurdish-controlled northern provinces of Iraq near the Iranian border, with bases initially in and near the villages of Biyara and Tawela, northeast of Halabja.



Ansar al-Islam was formed in September 2001 as a merger of Jund al-Islam (Soldiers of Islam), led by Abu Abdallah al-Shafi'i, and a splinter group from the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan led by Mullah Krekar. Krekar became the leader of the merged Ansar al-Islam, which opposed an agreement made between IMK and the dominant Kurdish group in the area, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

Villagers under their control were subjected to harsh sharia laws; musical instruments were destroyed and singing forbidden. The only school for girls in the area was destroyed, and all pictures of women removed from merchandise labels. Sufi shrines were desecrated and members of the Kaka'i (a religious group also known as Ahl-e Haqq) were forced to convert to Islam or flee. Former prisoners of the group also claim that Ansar al-Islam routinely uses torture and severe beatings when interrogating prisoners. Beheading of prisoners has also been reported.[1]

Ansar al-Islam initially comprised approximately 300 men, many of these veterans from the Soviet-Afghan War, and a proportion being neither Kurd nor Arab. During its stay in the Biyara region the group would have needed logistical support from Iran, prompting allegations of support from "powerful factions in Iran."[2]

Operations after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq

Ansar al-Islam cameraman

US Special Activities Division (SAD) Paramilitary teams entered Iraq before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. SAD teams then combined with US Army Special Forces and the PUK Peshmerga to defeat Ansar al-Islam. This battle was for territory along the Iranian border that was controlled by Ansar al-Islam, and was executed prior to the invasion in February 2003. The US side was carried out by Paramilitary Officers from SAD and the Army's 10th Special Forces Group. It resulted in the deaths of a substantial number of militants and the uncovering of a chemical weapons facility at Sargat.[3] Sargat was the only facility of its type discovered in the Iraq war..[4][5]

Ansar al-Islam detonated a suicide car bomb on March 22, 2003, killing Australian journalist Paul Moran and several others. The group is also thought to have been responsible for a September 9, 2003 attempted bombing of a United States Department of Defense office in Arbil, which killed three people.

On February 1, 2004 suicide bombings hit parallel EID-celebrations arranged by the two main Kurdish parties, PUK and Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq (KDP), in the Kurdish capital of Arbil, killing 109 and wounding more than 200 partygoers. Responsibility for this attack was claimed by the then unknown group Ansar al-Sunnah, and stated to be in support of "our brothers in Ansar al-Islam."

While many former activists in Ansar al-islam have joined the Ansar al-Sunnah and similar goups[6], Kurdish authorities claim the organization is still active in Iraqi Kurdistan. In September 2006, 11 alleged members of Ansar al-Islam were hanged in Arbil.

Ansar al-Islam has an extensive network in Europe organizing finance and support for armed attacks within Iraq. Several members of such groups have been arrested in European countries such as Germany and Sweden.

In December 2007 the Ansar al-Sunnah formally acknowledged being derived from the Ansar al-Islam, and reverted their name to the original.[7]

In November 2008 an archbishop in Mosul received a threat signed by the "ansar al-islam brigades", warning all Christians to leave Iraq or else be killed.[8]

Alleged links to Saddam Hussein

In the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration claimed that Ansar al-Islam had links with Saddam Hussein, attempting to establish a link between Hussein and al-Qaeda.

The Senate Report on Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq concluded that Saddam "was aware of Ansar al-Islam and al-Qa'ida presence in northeastern Iraq, but the groups' presence was considered a threat to the regime and the Iraqi government attempted intelligence collection operations against them. The DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] stated that information from senior Ansar al-Islam detainees revealed that the group viewed Saddam's regime as apostate, and denied any relationship with it."[9] The leader of Ansar al-Islam, Mullah Krekar, has also called Saddam Hussein his sworn enemy.[10]

Furthermore, in a "Special Analysis" report dated July 31, 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded the following regarding alleged connections between Saddam's regime and Ansar al-Islam:

"Should regime support to Ansar al-Islam be proven, this will not necessarily implicate the regime in supporting al-Qa'ida. Ansar al-Islam is an independent organization that receives assistance from al-Qa'ida, but is not a branch of the group. The Iraqi regime seeks to influence and manipulate political events in the Kurdish-controlled north and probably has some type of assets in contact with Ansar al-Islam, either through liaison or through penetration by an intelligence asset."[11]

However, in February 2003, then United States Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council, "Baghdad has an agent in the most senior levels of the radical organization, Ansar al-Islam, that controls this corner of Iraq. In 2000 this agent offered Al Qaida safe haven in the region. After we swept Al Qaida from Afghanistan, some of its members accepted this safe haven."[12] The general consensus of experts, as well as the conclusion of the intelligence community and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is that Saddam was infiltrating the group but that the two parties remained hostile to each other and did not establish a collaborative relationship.

Colin Powell has since acknowledged that his speech presented no hard evidence of collaboration between Saddam and al-Qaeda; he told reporters at a State Department press conference that "I have not seen smoking gun, concrete evidence about the connection, but I do believe the connections existed."[13] However, after Powell left office, he acknowledged that he was skeptical of the evidence presented to him for the speech. He told Barbara Walters in an interview that he considered the speech a "blot" on his record and that he feels "terrible" about assertions that he made in the speech that turned out to be false. He said, "There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good, and shouldn't be relied upon, and they didn't speak up. That devastated me." When asked specifically about a Saddam/al-Qaeda connection, Powell responded, "I have never seen a connection. … I can't think otherwise because I'd never seen evidence to suggest there was one."[14]


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