US clutches at straws - claims Iraq harbours terrorists

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
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  • Date: Sun, 17 Mar 2002 06:39:18 -0000

Kurdish groups are attempting to provide the US with a pretext to attack

HALABJA, NORTHERN IRAQ – A radical Islamist group – with possible links
to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein – is growing and threatening the
stability of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq. 

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The group – Ansar al-Islam – emerged just days before the Sept. 11
attacks on the US. It delivered a fatwa, or manifesto, to the citizens
in mountain villages against "the blasphemous secularist, political,
social, and cultural" society there, according to Kurdish party leaders.

Since, Ansar al-Islam has nearly doubled in size to 700, including
Iraqis, Jordanians, Moroccans, Palestinians, and Afghans – a composition
similar to the multinational Al Qaeda network. Villagers here claim it
has ransacked and razed beauty salons, burned schools for girls, and
murdered women in the streets for refusing to wear the burqa. It has
seized a Taliban-style enclave of 4,000 civilians and several villages
near the Iran border. 

With the US dedicated to rooting out Al Qaeda's influence wherever it
surfaces in the world, a group of Islamic extremists in northern Iraq
with even loose ties to Al Qaeda could complicate further any Iraq
intervention. Already the US is in a delicate dance with allies over how
to handle Iraq, with many warning that the US must consider the
implications of possible instability that a move to topple Hussein could

The emergence of the group comes as the US ramps up pressure on the
Hussein regime in Iraq over weapons development. In a White House press
conference on Wednesday, President Bush said Hussein "is a problem, and
we're going to deal with him." 

The State Department did not have extensive information on Ansar
al-Islam, but one official there said he was aware of its existence and
connection to Al Qaeda. 

US ties to Kurd groups 

The US has longtime ties to Iraq's Kurdish opposition groups, and would
have to gauge how those groups – which inspire varying levels of
confidence among key US officials – might want to exploit or downplay
the existence of groups with ties to bin Laden in their midst. 

Ansar is challenging the two main Kurdish political factions – the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdish Democratic Party
(KDP) – in northern Iraq. 

But the PUK and KDP – which have spent much of the past 11 years
fighting among themselves for control of northern Iraq – say they have
united against this common enemy. 

"[Ansar] al-Islam is a kind of Taliban," says PUK leader Jalal Talibani.
"They are terrorists who have declared war against all Kurdish political
parties. We gave them a chance to change their ways ... and end their
terrorist acts. But if we can't do it through dialogue, we are obliged
to use force." 

Kurdish fighters, known as peshmerga, now patrol the road between Iraqi
Kurdistan's southern city of Sulaymaniyah and Halabja. 

On Sept. 23, Kurds here say, guerrillas ambushed a PUK unit and killed
42 soldiers. The ambush came after negotiations between the PUK and
Ansar al-Islam, offering amnesty in return for peace, failed to end
their activities. 

Since the Sept. 23 ambush, peshmerga have pushed Ansar al-Islam back
toward the Iranian border where they retain a stronghold in the town of
Biara and surrounding villages. 

"We have captured two of [Ansar's] bases and found the walls covered
with poems and graffiti praising bin Laden and the Sept. 11 attacks on
the US," says Mustapha Saed Qada, a PUK commander. "In one, there is a
picture of the twin towers with a drawing of bin Laden standing on the
top holding a Kalashnikov rifle in one hand and a knife in the other."
He adds that the group has received $600,000 from the bin Laden network,
and a delivery of weapons and Toyota landcruisers. 

In an interview with the Kurdish newspaper Hawlati, the group's leader,
Mala Kreker, declared bin Laden the "crown on the head of the Islamic

Ansar al-Islam's leaders 

Kurdish military sources say that Ansar al-Islam's Mr. Kreker is a
former member of a Kurdish Islamic party who joined Ansar al-Islam after
its formation in September. Kreker replaced Abu Abdullah Shafae – an
Iraqi Kurd who trained with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan for 10 years – and
changed his name from Warya Holery. Mr. Shafae is now Ansar al-Islam's

Another of the group's leaders, Abu Abdul Rahman – who, the Kurds claim,
was sent to northern Iraq by bin Laden – was killed in fighting in

Commander Qada also claims that Ansar al-Islam has ties to agents of
Saddam Hussein operating in northern Iraq. "We have picked up
conversations on our radios between Iraqis and [Ansar] al-Islam," he
says from his military base in Halabja. "I believe that Iraq is also
funding [Ansar] al-Islam. There are no hard facts as yet, but I believe
that under the table they are supporting them because it will cause
further instability for the Kurds." 

Barhim Salih, a PUK leader, says a second group affiliated with Ansar
al-Islam is working from the Baghdad-controlled city of Mosul. 

The Kurdish sources say Hussein's involvement in any mission to
destabilize their autonomous ministate would not surprise them. Since
1991, Baghdad has been unable to control the north, because of the
no-fly zone created by the US and England and enforced by the US
military from a base in Turkey. 

Still, in November, Hussein warned that he would "cut out the tongues"
of any Kurds who defied him. This month he told the Kurds not to be
"deceived" by "the foreigner." But he added: "I do not want anyone to be
under the illusion that this leadership is calling for dialogue because
it is under futile threats." 

Since Sept. 11, Qada says the Iraqi Army has doubled its troops
stationed on the border between government-controlled Iraq and the area
the Kurds control. It is a clear sign, Qada says, that Hussein will
attack them if the US threatens his regime. 

Attempts by the PUK to renew negotiations with the group during the past
month have failed, and Kurdish sources say Ansar al-Islam is preparing
to fight back. 

Kurd party leaders say some 2,000 Kurdish soldiers stationed high in the
mountains of northern Iraq, near the Kurdish city of Halabja, are
trading mortar fire with Ansar al-Islam. Both sides have suffered
casualties. "We have to treat them seriously, because they are treating
us seriously," Mr. Salih says, adding that the US is aware of the
Kurdish struggle with Al Qaeda. 

Source:  The Christian Science Monitor

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