[Marxism] Signs of Kurdish radical Islam

Louis Proyect 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


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 
Islamic law.

"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 
National Assembly.

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 
draft constitution.

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."



More information about the Marxism mailing list