Mullah Krekar denies Baghdad-Al Qa’ida link

Mullah Krekar, the spiritual leader of the Islamic insurgent group Ansar al-Islam, operating near the Iranian border in Iraqi Kurdistan, has denied that his group is a link between Baghdad and the al Qa’ida terror group.

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Mullah Krekar, the spiritual leader of the Islamic insurgent group Ansar al-Islam, operating near the Iranian border in Iraqi Kurdistan, has denied that his group is a link between Baghdad and the al Qa’ida terror group.
“I never had links with Saddam Hussein’s family, Saddam Hussein’s government, Saddam Hussein’s party, not in the past, not now, not in the future, and not inside Iraq or outside, not directly, not indirectly,” he told the BBC in Norway after he spent four months in a Dutch jail. “As a Kurdish man, I believe that he is our enemy, and as an Orthodox Muslim also, I believe that Saddam Hussein and his group are outside of Islam’s zone.”
He also repeated past denials that Ansar has ties to al Qa’ida. This is almost assuredly a lie. The various Islamist parties are a destabilizing force in the PUK region of Iraqi Kurdistan. Used to be, there was only one party, called the Islamic Movement, with its leader, Ali Abdul Aziz. But about three years ago, a splinter group, led by Ali Baper, broke off to form the Islamic Association of Kurdistan. Now, both the Islamic Association and the Islamic Movement had their own peshmergas with the Islamic Movement having a special force of fighters called “Suran Force” under the influence of Abu Baker al Tawhed. (Al Tawhed came to Kurdistan in 1988, soon after the Halabja massacre, by way of Afghanistan.)
Thrown into all this mix was an independent group of fighters led by Krekar, a Norwegian Muslim. Krekar’s boys teamed up with al Tawhed’s Suran Force to form a group of assassins. Many officials in the Kurdish enclave believe
Suran Force, with Krekar’s fighters, killed Franso Hariri, father of Fowzi Hariri of the KDP, in February 2001. The assassination was a trigger and one week after the killing, Al Tawhed’s group split with the Islamic Movement and formed Jund al Islam (“Soldiers of Islam.”)
So you now had the Islamic Movement, led by Aziz, the Islamic Association, led by Baper and Jund al Islam, led by Tawhed. Krekar was running around as a wild card. Naturally, all these groups prepared to kill each other in the Iranian border regions around Halabja. Alarmed at the thought a miniature civil war in its territory, the PUK sent a small military force to the region to keep order. But Jund al Islam didn’t take kindly to the PUK’s interference with what they saw their region, so they claimed the PUK was un-Islamic since it was fighting fellow Muslims. In October 2001, they attacked a group of PUK soldiers in a small village called Kheli Hama outside of Halabja and captured 42 fighters. They marched them to the village center where they first shot them in the head and then decapitated them.
After a month of fighting the PUK, Jund al Islam joined formally with Krekar’s fighters to form Ansar al Islam (“Supporters of Islam.”) Krekar has the deepest ties with Osama bin Laden’s al Qa’ida group. He claims to have fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Kosovo, and in an interview with a Norwegian magazine, Krekar as much admitted to being a member of al Qa’ida.
All that said, the fact that an al Qa’ida cell is operating in Iraqi Kurdistan, getting backing from both bin Laden and Saddam, does not logically lead to the charge that Saddam is linked with bin Laden. The White House’s reasoning seems to go thusly: Al Qa’ida backs Ansar al-Islam. Saddam backs Ansar al-Islam. Thus, Saddam and al Qa’ida are linked and work together.
While it may be true that Iraq and al Qa’ida are linked, this is not the argument that makes the connection. I talked about this here. Think of it this way: The Soviet Union supported some mujahadin groups while they were in Afghanistan. The United States supported some of the same groups. Ergo, the United States and the Soviet Union were allies in the 1980s. See my point?
Look, I’m not saying Saddam isn’t a wicked man and that war is never justified. Sometimes it is. The American campaign in Afghanistan was a just war and I supported it. (I even — briefly — considered enlisting until I remembered I have a problem with authority.) I can imagine scenarios in which I would support an invasion of Iraq (building democracy and liberating the Kurds and Shi’ites, for example.) But the White House’s drive for war with Iraq is the wrong time and the wrong enemy. Many around the world don’t trust the motivations of the Bush Administration, which too often asks America to judge it by its intentions not by its actions. Many don’t trust Team Bush to do anything substantial to help the Kurds or other Iraqis, and I don’t think the Kurds do either. (Which is why the Kurds, while gunning for a showdown with Saddam, are deeply suspicious of American intentions.)
Look for the White House to really start playing up the Ansar angle, and remember, it might not be true.

Al Qa’ida in Iraq? Safire says so…

Bill Safire tries to link al Qa’ida and Baghdad by pointing to Ansar al Islam, the insurgents operating in Iraqi Kurdistan. But in the Middle East, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and Ansar is the enemy of Saddam’s enemies, the Kurds.


Map courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor

As the world looks to the United Nations today, where Hans Blix will deliver his “no smoking gun, we need more time” report on Iraq’s weapons program, William Safire, in today’s New York Times, tries once again to link Iraq and al Qa’ida by pointing to the 600 Ansar al-Islam fighters based in the far southeast part of Iraqi Kurdistan. But what he neglects to mention is that Ansar is operating in an region under which Saddam doesn’t have control — hardly a “haven” since the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is currently at war with the insurgents.
No doubt Saddam is providing funding to the group in an effort to destabilze Iraqi Kurdistan. But other countries are funding the group, including Iran and Turkey. The Kurds realize that their neighbors have no interest in seeing an independent Kurdistan and will support any group that might thwart those ambitions.
The Kurds, among which Safire apparently has sources, have been trying to convince anyone who will listen that Ansar is affiliated with al Qai’da. While I interviewed him last summer, Faraidoon Abdul Qisadir, the PUK Minister of the Interior, showed me a note — in Kurdish or Arabic, I’m not sure — that he said proved the group was getting funding from Baghdad. He wouldn’t let me make a copy of the note so I could get it independently translated, however, so there’s no way I could have verified its content.
(Also during the meeting, an aide brought him another note that he said a car bomb, likely headed for my hotel, exploded on a hill outside Suleimaniya. Again, I was unable to verify this, but I did see a smoke plume rising from a hill outside the city after the interview. I had been in Halabja, near Ansar territory, just the day before and Qisadir speculated that Ansar agents had seen me. Who knows?)
Safire has tried this linkage before, with his assertions — since disproved by Czech authorities — that hijacker Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi agents in Prague prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. Safire has never admitted this error.
Look, there is little doubt that Ansar has ties to al Qa’ida. And there is little doubt they are getting funding and weapons from Saddam. At the same time, however, because they are operating in an area that has been freed of Baghdad’s influence I find it hard to believe that they are operating with Saddam’s “blessing.” More likely, Tehran is helping them more than Baghdad is, and the Iraqi president is taking advantage of their presence to keep the Kurds off balance. Getting money from both Saddam and al Qa’ida does not logically lead to a linkage between Iraq and Osama bin Laden. Ansar wants to destroy the Kurdish secular government and set up an Islamic state under shar’ia, the harsh Islamic law of the Taliban. Baghdad, however, is a secular gangster regime. If Ansar were ever to gain control of Iraqi Kurdistan — an impossible dream for the insurgents — Baghdad would immediately launch a campaign to crush the Islamists, who have no intention of co-existing peacefully with Saddam. I might add, too, that if the above scenario were to come to pass, the United States would be glad to see Saddam wipe them out.
Saddam is helping Ansar because of the old Arabic saying, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Were Ansar in power in Iraqi Kurdistan, the United States would rightly see them as an enemy. And you can imagine a set of very interesting allies.

Of course, you know, this means war

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Photo courtesy of the BBC

First off, my apologies for the delay in updating the site. This past week, I got snowed under by a combination of outside assignments and a maternal visit. I’m not a slacker. Really. Also, to whoever just donated $5, thanks very much! You pushed me over the $100 mark for donations.
Oddly enough, it’s been a bit of a quiet week on the Iraqi front, with any news mostly pushed to the side by Trent Lott winking at the segregationists and then saying, in effect, “I wasn’t winking, I had something in my eye.” As they say in the movies, “It’s quiet … too quiet.”
But the war machine moves on, although perhaps with more hesitation than many people think. Chief of the Army, Gen. Eric Shinseki, and the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James L. Jones, worry that the current war plans are too risky. The plans, as reported by the Washington Post call for “a fast-moving ground attack without an overwhelming number of reinforcements on hand.” Instead, the war would get off to a “rolling start” with more troops being flown in. Also, the armored units, instead of traveling a predetermined distance and pausing to allow slower units to catch up, would charge across the desert until they run into opposition. They would then blow things up real good.
That’s the current plan, anyway, and it’s giving Shinseki and Jones, who sit on the Joint Chiefs, the heebie-jeebies. They argue that Paul Wolfowitz’s rosy “house of cards” theory of the life span of Saddam’s reign is overly optimistic. The generals argue that worst-case planning is necessary, especially in the case of a “Fortress Baghdad” scenario that involves heavy street fighting with the Iraqis using chemical and biological agents. (Hm. Have Shinseki and Jones been reading this entry in which the Ba’ath party has a contingency plan to ring Baghdad with the Republican Guard? The details of the Iraqi defense plan, first reported in the London-based Arabic daily paper, Al-Quds Al-Arabi are thus:

“First, deployment of the Republican Guard forces at the periphery of the cities, primarily Baghdad, to resist any American ground offensive that seeks to take them. The mission of the Republican [Guard] forces will also be to resist any attempt at internal Iraqi rebellion, such as the one that followed the American offensive in January 1991 in the South and the North.”
“Second, deployment of special forces that will include the ‘elite of the elite’ – in his words – inside the capital Baghdad, so that they can participate in street combat if the American forces or their allies enter. Then, will begin fierce resistance operations, such as those carried out in occupied Palestine.”
“Third, deployment of groups of ‘Saddam’s Fedayeen’ within the capital and in other cities, to control the internal situation and participate in the resistance operations.” (Translation provided courtesy of MEMRI)

The “good” news, I guess, is that if it does come down to horrible fighting, block by city block, and Saddam strikes back with chemical or biological weapons, a majority of Americas are fully prepared to nuke him.
Six in 10 Americans would support a nuclear response, according to the Washington Post-ABC News poll. Yipes! More encouragingly, however, 58 percent of respondents said President George W. Bush had not presented enough evidence to warrant attacking Iraq, up from 50 percent in September. There seems to be some concern over Bush’s motives for attacking Iraq and the public worries he’s moving too quickly for their taste. Fifty-eight percent also want to see the United Nations as a supporting cast member. Perhaps in the Gulf War II movie, it will be credited as “second international organization on the left.”
(As an aside, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Al-Quds Al-Arabi that the United States had no plans to remove Saddam from power. “If he cooperates, then the basis of changed-regime policy has shifted because his regime has, in fact, changed its policy to one of cooperation,” Powell said. Note it’s no longer “regime change” but “changed regime” as the goal. Orwell must be proud.)
Oh, and in case anyone thought a war might be averted, the United States will give Iraq’s dossier it turned in last weekend an “F.” With the news that the United States would not be accepting Iraq’s excuse that the dog ate its chemical weapons, the price of gold rose and the dollar fell, indicating that markets feel war is now inevitable. I’ve been saying it since July: It’s not a matter of will the United States go to war, but when. And it’s still looking like February or March. Stratfor agrees, saying that Australia has been advised to be ready to gear up in March. The British military has also begun leaking to the press saying the summer heat would not be a “crucial factor” in an attack on Iraq.
In other news, the Associated Press is now reporting that Turkey is preparing to deploy 65,000 to 75,000 troops in northern Iraq in the event of a U.S. invasion. I reported on this back in October. Radio Australia is reporting that Turkey has already put 10,000 to 15,000 troops on the Turkish-Iraqi border in order to counter Kurdish rebels operating cross border. The goal of the Turks is to prevent the Kurds from forming a state in the fog of war resulting from a dust-up to the south. The Turks would also be in a position to seize the oil fields of Kirkuk and Mosul, something they’ve wanted to do since 1923 when they were denied to Ataturk. Ankara is not going to miss out on the spoils of this war, especially since the first one and the decade of sanctions demolished Turkey’s economy. It’s payback time.

Kurdish rebels armed on Turkish-Iraq border

ane’s Defense Weekly reported (sorry, no link) last month that the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK), the successor to the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), has armed itself with man-portable surface-to-air (SAM) missiles along the Turkish-Iraqi border. The news, leaked by the Turkish military to the national press, underscores the Kurdish rebels’ concerns that Turkey may be planning an invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan in conjunction with a U.S.-Iraq war.

Jane’s Defense Weekly reported (sorry, no link) last month that the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK), the successor to the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), has armed itself with man-portable surface-to-air (SAM) missiles along the Turkish-Iraqi border. The news, leaked by the Turkish military to the national press, underscores the Kurdish rebels’ concerns that Turkey may be planning an invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan in conjunction with a U.S.-Iraq war.
According to the report, KADEK has acquired 70 to 80 Strela-2 missiles, and is looking to procure more. (These are labeled by NATO as the SA-7 “Grail”.) The arms are positioned in the Harkuk and Kandil mountains in northern Iraq, and the group is looking to further deploy the missiles in the Haftanin and Garadag mountains. KADEK is also reportedly seeking mines and other ordinance to be deployed along the border with Turkey’s Sirnak province. Fighters have been repositioned to the evacuated villages of Haftanin, Metine, Zap, Avasin-Basyan and Harkuk in Northern Iraq. These weapons would pose a serious threat to Turkish armed forces operating in the region.
The weapons, worth about $200,000, have been acquired from Armenia, Iran and Iraq in the last couple of months. Most of the arms are Russian made.

Victims of Arabization

BINISLAWA DISPLACED PERSONS CAMP, Iraqi Kurdistan — The day is hot, damn hot. It’s the middle of July, and the air is dry and thirsty with the thermometer bumping against the 45 degree Celsius mark. Little dust devils curl up around my heels as I walk. Yet inside a tent that 11 people call home, the water is cold and refreshing and the hospitality is genuine.

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Wahab Mashoor Muhammad and his sons © 2002 Christopher Allbritton

BINISLAWA DISPLACED PERSONS CAMP, Iraqi Kurdistan — The day is hot, damn hot. It’s the middle of July, and the air is dry and thirsty with the thermometer bumping against the 45 degree Celsius mark. Little dust devils curl up around my heels as I walk. Yet inside a tent that 11 people call home, the water is cold and refreshing and the hospitality is genuine.
Abdullah Salam, my guide from the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and I have come here to Binislawa where thousands of tent homes are set up and tens of thousands of people wait for relief from … someone. As we approach one tent, Wahab Mashoor Muhammad, 49, greets us and welcomes us into his home.
It’s not much, to be honest. The floor is poured concrete and the walls are cinderblocks packed with mud to hold them in place. Poles support the canvas “roof” which is all that protects them from the winds and the cold of winter. There is no heat or running water. But it’s clean, and Wahab’s wife and daughters arrange pillows for us to sit on. Another daughter brings me a glass of water from a plastic cooler.
He’s been here since July 18, 2001, almost a year to the day that I visit. He’s from Kaznafar, a village outside Kirkuk, the largest Kurdish city in Iraq, where he was a taxi driver. He was forced to leave his home with a few blankets, some kitchen items and his family when he refused to change his nationality from Kurdish to Arab under a program called “Arabization” that Saddam Hussein’s regime has been engaging in since the 1970s. In other parts of the world, it would be called ethnic cleansing.
“I’m a Kurd,” he says. “How can I be an Arab or change my nationality? It’s wrong for a man to deny his nationality.”
Arabization has been going on since the 1920s, ever since the Kingdom of Iraq was created out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire by the United Kingdom. But it was intensified after 1975 after the Algerian Agreement between Iran and Iraq, under which the Shah cut his support for Kurdish rebels in Iraq. Kurds are forcibly evicted from their homes in Kirkuk, Mosul and other oil-rich regions of northern Iraq unless they agree to have their registered nationality changed to Arab. If they refuse, which many do, they are expelled from their homes, usually with only a few hours to gather their possessions and turned north, to the Kurdish enclave in the north. Arab families are lured from the south to the vacant Kurdish homes in the north with money, land and pickup trucks, all confiscated from the displaced Kurds. It is estimated that more than 8,000 families live in Binislawa. That’s more than 50,000 people.
NATO went to war in 1998-99 in Kosovo and Yugoslavia to prevent this kind of stuff.
But changing his ethnicity isn’t all Wahab was expected to do. The Iraqis demanded he join the elite Jerusalem Brigade, which now holds positions about 20 km outside of Arbil. So named because Saddam has said this fighting force will be the one to liberate Jerusalem from the Jews, the Kurds say that the road to Jerusalem runs through Kurdistan. Wahab was being told he must be prepared to make war on his own people.
Since he refused all this, he was expelled, along with his wife, his mother and his eight children. Now they all live in a tent, and they might be considered the lucky ones.

  • In 1983, 8,000 Kurds were “disappeared” by the Iraqi regime.
  • In 1987-88, 180,000 people disappeared or were executed under the Anfal Campaign. “Anfal” is a principle from the Koran and it allows the looting of a non-Muslim population when Muslims conquer them.
  • In 1988, Halabja became a nightmare when Saddam used chemical weapons against women and children, killing 5,000 people in about 15 minutes. More than 10,000 people were injured and the region suffers from lingering health problems. In all, more than 200 villages were gassed and no one is sure how many people died. There have been no studies on the after-effects of the chemicals on the population or the environment.

So, Wahab is understandably anxious to see Saddam go. “If Saddam is overthrown, I would run back to Kirkuk!” says Wahab. “My family has been living there for 300 years.”
He may get his wish come February.