Ansar strikes back
Ivan Watson, an NPR reporter in Halabja, the town best known for the 1988 chemical attacks near the Iranian border, reports that last night the Islamist group Ansar al-Islam came under attack from American cruise missiles and bombing. This morning, Ansar apparently struck back with a suicide car bomb in Halabja that killed three peshmergas and injured nine others. (Background on Ansar here and here.)
Watson described the car bomb in Halabja as a “deadly retaliatory attack.” Ansar has been accused of having ties to al Qa’ida, and the Bush administration has said its presence in Iraq proves ties between Baghdad and Osama bin Ladin. While intriguing, the ties have never been proved conclusively.
Ansar has been waging a war against PUK leadership, and has assassinated several leading PUK figures in the past few months. While I was interviewing PUK Interior Minister Faraidoon Abdul Qisadir last summer in Suleimaniya, he 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.
During the meeting, an aide brought him another note that he said indicated a car bomb, likely headed for my hotel, had 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 just the day before and Qisadir speculated that Ansar agents had seen me.