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Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 05:49 GMT 06:49 UK
Iraqi Kurds fear Islamic militant group
Iraqi Kurd Guerrillas
In one attack, 42 Pesh Murga were killed by the Ansar

Fighters of the Ansar al-Islam have been in action against Pesh Merga guerrillas from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, which controls the eastern half of the Kurdish region of Iraq.

The Ansar are a major headache for the main Kurdish factions.


As far as Islam is concerned, democracy from beginning to end is heresy

Mullah Krekar, Ansar leader
Earlier this month, they killed eight PUK men in an attack.

But the most serious action by the Islamic extremists was last year when they surprised a village held by the PUK. They captured and massacred 42 Pesh Merga guerrillas.

They even filmed themselves picking over the bodies of their victims, some of whom had their hands tied behind their backs.

The PUK later captured the film when they staged a counter-attack.

Stark vision

In a rare interview with a Kurdish newspaper, the Ansar leader Mullah Krekar, with his long black beard and black and white turban, outlines the stark vision of Islam which his followers adhered to.

"Democracy is based on four principles which are not permissible in Islam. As far as Islam is concerned, democracy from beginning to end is heresy".

The Ansar control a belt of territory stretching up to the mountain ridge that marks the border with Iran.


Their basic allegiance is to al-Qaeda. When the Americans attacked, they came here. Iraq is supporting them and using them to carry out attacks

Captured Iraqi intelligence officer
Kurdish sources believe the Ansar get both weapons and training from Iran - though Tehran denies this.

With the Ansar perched right on the Iranian border, there must at least be a degree of tolerance.

Shwan Mohammad of the Kurdish newspaper Hawlati, who interviewed the Ansar leader Mullah Krekar says this is in line with Iran's objectives.

"Iranian Government always plans to make Islamic security along its border with Kurdistan, so Iran is using these Islamic groups to this purpose first, and also as a pressure card on the secular groups in Kurdistan," Mr Mohammad said.

'Al-Qaeda link'

Jalal Talabani is leader of the most secular of those groups, the PUK. As far as he is concerned, there is only one thing that is certain about the Ansar's affiliations.

"There was relation between them and Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Taleban.

"Many of them were trained there, and there are now about 20 to 30 Arabs who are trained from Afghanistan and came here to Kurdistan, they are now with them. Even their leaders are from these Arabs."

At the security prison in PUK- controlled territory, a captured Iraqi intelligence officer of 20 years standing, Abu Iman al-Baghdadi, insisted that one of the top Ansar leaders, Abu Wail, is an active Iraqi intelligence officer and that the group is heavily infiltrated by Baghdad.

"Their basic allegiance is to al-Qaeda but some of them were trained in Iraq and went to Afghanistan. When the Americans attacked, they came here. Iraq is supporting them and using them to carry out attacks."

If Iran, Iraq and al-Qaeda are all indeed involved with the Ansar in one way or another, they certainly make strange bedfellows.

But the common denominator is that they are all opposed to the Americans, so there is logic to it.

If the Americans do go ahead with their plans to get rid of Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime, there is no doubt that the Ansar al-Islam will be a group to watch.

See also:

22 Jul 02 | Middle East
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02 Oct 01 | Middle East
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