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Monday, 13 January, 2003, 17:20 GMT
Profile: Kurdish Islamist movement
The Islamic movement in Iraqi Kurdistan reflects the wide variety of Islamic movements in the Middle East as a whole.

Parties range from mainly charitable foundations providing services in rural areas, to radical Islamist groups with a strong anti-secular, anti-Western agenda.

Unlike other Islamic opposition parties within Iraq, the Kurdish movement is from the Sunni branch of Islam.

None of the parties holds any power within the official Kurdish National Assembly, (although the Islamic Movement in Kurdistan party is represented in the PUK-led administration). They attain their support through the provision of social services, in the case of the more moderate groups - or through more violent means, in the case of the radical groups.

Below is a brief guide to the more prominent Islamist groups.

The Islamic Movement in Kurdistan (IMK) was founded in 1987 by a group of Kurdish Islamic scholars, led by the late Shaykh Uthman Abd-Aziz.

The movement has an armed militia of several hundred men and it is based in Halabjah, Sulaymaniyah Governorate, the town where Iraqi forces unleashed chemical weapons during the 'Anfal Campaign' of 1988.

It has good relations with Iran and has representation in the PUK-led Kurdish administration.

The current leader, Shaykh Ali Abd-Aziz is the brother of the movement's founder.

Many of the other Islamic movements in the Iraqi Kurdistan region are an offshoot of the IMK. In 1999 the movement merged with another armed Islamic group, the Islamic Al-Nahdah (Renaissance) Movement, to form the Islamic Unity Movement in Kurdistan, but the original name of the movement was readopted after a split in 2001.

The movement publishes a twice-weekly newspaper, Buzutnaway Islami.

Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), known as Yekgirtu, is the largest Islamic organisation in Iraqi Kurdistan. It was formally established in 1994 and dedicated to Islamic call and reform. It traces its roots back to the Muslim Brotherhood movement which emerged in northern Iraq for the first time in the 1950s.

The leaders of Yekgirtu fought the 1992 legislative elections in the Iraqi Kurdistan region as a group within the Islamic Movement in Kurdistan, attaining third place behind the KDP and PUK. The party is currently led by Secretary-General Shaykh Salah-al-Din Muhammad Baha-al-Din.

The KIU has no armed forces of its own. Instead, with funds mainly from Saudi Islamic organizations, it is active in charity work in the region, building mosques, clinics and schools in rural areas, where it has a strong following.

The KIU publishes a weekly newspaper, Yekgirtu.

Kurdistan Islamic Group was established by a breakaway group from the Islamic Unity Movement in Kurdistan in 2001 (see above).

The group, led by Mala Ali Bapir, is based in Khormal and nearby areas near the border with Iran.

It is believed to have close ties with extremist Islamic armed groups, such as Al-Tawhid which was involved in attacks against the KDP forces in the Soran region, northeastern Iraq.

The Islamic Group publishes a weekly newspaper, Komal.

Ansar al-Islam (Supporters of Islam) was established in December 2001 after a merger between Jund al-Islam, led by Abu Abdallah al-Shafi'i and an Islamic Movement splinter group led by Mullah Krekar. Both leaders are believed to have served in Afghanistan.

The group is based in Biyarah and surrounding areas near the border with Iran.

This is by far the most radical Islamic group operating in the Iraqi Kurdistan region. It has brought together a number of groups which were previously part of the Islamic Movement's militia force but operating almost independently from the movement's central leadership.

Ansar al-Islam has been in a state of war with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which is based in the same region, since September 2001. Elements who later became part of the group have also been held responsible for the assassination in February 2001 of a senior official of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Franso Hariri, and for the attempted killing of Burhan Salih, head of the PUK-led Iraqi Kurdistan regional government. However, Ansar al-Islam is not in armed confrontation with the KDP.

The leader of Ansar al-Islam, Mullah Krekar, was detained for questioning in the Netherlands in September 2002. He has denied allegations linking his group with al-Qaeda or Saddam Hussein and has maintained that his group does not have the capability of producing chemical weapons - a charge which has also been levelled at the group.

US Secretary of State, Colin Powell told the UN Security Council in February 2003 that the US believed Ansar al-Islam played a key role in linking Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network with the Iraqi government. The US Department of State officially designated Ansar al-Islam as a terrorist group shortly after Mr Powell's speech.

A few days into the military campaign against Iraq in March 2003, US bombers attacked the Khurmal area near the Iran-Iraq border, where Ansar al-Islam and Kurdistan Islamic Group forces were deployed. PUK officials said that the target was Ansar al-Islam's fighters, but local people told the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera that the majority of the dead were from the Islamic Group.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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13 Jan 03 | Middle East
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