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Kurdish Islamist Conflict
Part of Iraq War
Iraq kurdish areas 2003.jpg
Iraqi Kurdistan 2003
Date September 2001 - 2004
Location Iraqi Kurdistan
Result PUK-KDP victory, Islamists flee South and join the Iraqi Insurgency
Ansar al-Islam
Islamic Group Kurdistan[1][2]
Islamic Unification Movement[3]
al-Qaeda al-Qaeda
Flag of PUK.pngPatriotic Union of Kurdistan
Flag of KDP.png Kurdistan Democratic Party
United States United States
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
Mullah Krekar
Mullah Ali Bapir
Abu Abdallah al-Shafi'i
Flag of Iraq, 1991-2004.svg Saddam Hussein
Flag of PUK.png Jalal Talabani
Flag of KDP.png Massoud Barzani
United States Tommy Franks
Ansar al-Islam: 700-1000 fighters[4]
IUM: 40 fighters[3]
KDP and PUK: 70,000[5]
~40 Americans[6]

The Iraqi Kurdish Islamist Conflict was a military conflict between the Islamist militant group Ansar al-Islam and the Kurdish factions which controlled northern Iraq which began in 2001. The conflict merged with the larger 2003 invasion of Iraq, which led to the defeat of Ansar al-Islam. After the invasion, Ansar al-Islam continued a low level terrorist campaign against the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.



Ansar al-Islam was formed in September 2001 under the name Jund al-Islam. The group was formed from Kurds who embraced militant Sunni Islam, coupled with foreign fighters who were veterans of the war in Afghanistan.[7] In December 2001, the group changed its name to Ansar al-Islam. They would retain control of Halabja until 2003.


Ansar al-Islam and its allied groups seized control of the area around Halabja from the PUK in late 2001. Fighting continued throughout 2002.

Ansar al-Islam's rule

Ansar al-Islam was accused by Human Rights Watch of committing atrocities against the civilian population in the territory which they controlled. It has been alleged that Ansar al-Islam harshly persecuted the Kaka'i religious minority, and enforced strict Islamic law. Human Rights Watch also accused Ansar al-Islam fighters of torturing prisoners and summarily executing captured PUK soldiers.[3]


Ansar al-Islam also engaged in terrorism against the PUK leadership. An unsuccessful attempt was made on the life of Barham Saleh in April 2002 when he was the PUK Regional Government Prime Minister. Later in February 2003 Ansar al-Islam assassinated the prominent PUK General Shawkat Haji Mushir.

In March 2004 the US State Department officially classified Ansar al-Islam as a terrorist organization.[8]

2003 Invasion of Iraq

During the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, US forces aided the PUK in attacking Ansar al-Islam. In late March 2003, PUK forces supported by American special forces captured Halabja after several days of heavy fighting. The surviving Ansar al-Islam forces fled into Iran.

American intelligence personnel inspected the suspected chemical weapons site in Sargat and discovered traces of Ricin in the ruins, as well as potassium chloride. They also discovered chemical weapons suits, atropine nerve gas antidotes, and manuals on manufacturing chemical weapons, lending credence to the idea that the site was related to the manufacture of chemical weapons and poisons.[9]

After the invasion

Ansar al-Islam fought on as a faction in the Iraqi insurgency. Several terrorist attacks in the Irbil area have been linked to Ansar al-Islam, including the suicide bombing of the PUK and KDP headquarters in Irbil that killed 117 people. They also carried out the bombing of the Mount Lebanon Hotel in Baghdad on March 17, 2004.[8]

Ansar al-Islam was superseded by other groups as the Iraq insurgency progressed. Many of the group's surviving fighters and leadership merged into the insurgent group Ansar al-Sunnah.[10]





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