[Marxism] Signs of Kurdish radical Islam
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jul 6 07:11:42 MDT 2006
Pro-US Kurds eye nascent Islamic parties
Largely secular, the Kurds view Islamic groups as an alternative to
entrenched parties, seen as corrupt.
By James Brandon | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
ARBIL, IRAQ AND LONDON -
The creation of a new constitution for Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region was
meant to be relatively straightforward. But instead, Kurdish Islamic
parties have courted controversy by calling a greater role for sharia, or
"The Kurds are a Muslim nation and we have to follow Islam," says Mohammed
Ahmed, a member of parliament for the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), the
largest Kurdish Islamic party in the regional parliament, the Kurdistan
Such calls may well go unheeded by secular parties which hold 80 percent of
seats in the parliament, where a cross-party committee is now drawing up a
However, the demands for Islamic law reflect the growing popularity of
Islamic parties like the KIU and its smaller, more radical rival Komala,
which was once allied with the Al-Qaeda's Kurdish offshoot Ansar Al-Islam.
While unlikely to change the political power balance in Kurdistan any time
soon, the Islamic parties may cultivate the ground for more radical ideas
to take root.
"The KIU could become an organization that germinates radicals," says Joost
Hiltermann, Middle East Project Director at the Brussels-based
International Crisis Group (ICG). "People will join it and then later feel
that it doesn't go far enough and then go on to join other more radical
Such radicalization could pose problems for the US, which relies heavily on
the Iraq's Kurds' long-standing opposition to radical Islamic groups to
gather intelligence against Arab and Islamic insurgents. The US now plans
to build a network of long-term military bases in Kurdish-controlled
northern Iraq - known as Kurdistan.
Iraq's Kurds are ethnically distinct from Iraq's Arabs, with a separate
language, culture, and history. Unlike Iraq's Arabs, Kurds have
traditionally seen Islam as a personal issue.
"[Kurds] are ... unlikely to respond to the calls of a fundamentalist
notion of Muslim brotherhood," Sarah Keeler, a lecturer and specialist in
Kurdish issues at the University of Kent in England.
Rather than advocating loyalty to Islam over nationalism, Kurdish Islamic
parties are seizing the moral high ground against Kurdistan's ruling
secular parties, whom they accuse of corruption and economic mismanagement.
"People know that our followers and members are not corrupt," says Mr.
Ahmed, whose KIU party more than doubled its vote in last December's
national election, winning five seats out of 275. Analysts largely agree,
pointing out that even secular Kurds are disenchanted with the two ruling
Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic
Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and are ready to give other parties a chance.
"For devout Kurds the Islamic parties are the obvious choice ... as well as
for those who want an alternative to the ruling Kurdish coalition," says
the ICG's Dr. Hiltermann. "I don't think this is a one-off protest vote,"
he says. "The KIU is being seen as a viable alternative."
Iraqi Kurdistan's secular parties admit that corruption is a problem, but
point out that neither they nor the KIU can solve high unemployment or
attract foreign investment as long as Iraq remains a war zone.
"It is difficult for the government to meet the demands of everyone," says
Azad Jundiani, spokesman for the PUK.
"There are problems of petrol, jobs, electricity, and education that we
need to solve, but we haven't got the money," says Mr. Jundiani.
But if the Kurdish parties' economic promises are not always realistic,
they have a parallel strategy to build broader long-term support among
Kurds. In Arbil, Iraq, the Kurdistan Islamic Union is building a large,
hi-tech television studio to run a 24-hour satellite television station
that they say should be operational by the end of 2006. Its programs will
all have an Islamic flavor and aim to build a Kurdish Islamic identity,
which the party hopes will help consolidate its recent electoral gains.
Rebwar Adoo - a young, program manager for the party's private television
network - is typical of those who are attracted to the Kurdish Islamic
Parties. Always politically minded and concerned about the welfare of his
people, he initially worked for socialist parties and then the KDP.
"Neither party was what I was looking for," says Mr. Adoo. "But the Islamic
parties seemed to be the only ones that were going straight and actually
cared about the Kurdish people. So after two years of thinking about it I
joined this party."
But experts say that throughout Kurdish history, ethnic identity, rather
than religion, has been the main unifying force.
"Kurdish populations throughout the region have never, in past centuries or
today, shared religion as a unifying force," says Ms. Keeler. "The Kurds
have, generally speaking, subordinated their religious identity to first an
ethnic, and now a national identity."
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