Iraqi Kurds fear the IS threat from within

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Reports of significant numbers of Kurds joining the Islamic State has authorities left wondering how best to combat extremism.

The Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs in Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), announced that security authorities have arrested over 53 [Kurdish] young men accused of being linked to the Islamic State (IS).

A Kurdish deputy confirmed unofficial statistics revealing that of the 400 young men who joined the group since its establishment in Syria, 50 were killed.

Kurdish news channel Rudaw, with close links to KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, declared yesterday [Aug. 20] that seven of the IS members who were killed on the battlefield in Mosul, which occurred a few days ago, were KRG citizens and six were from the Kerman area, in the Sulaimaniyah province and their emir was from Badinan in Dahuk.

Kurdish media already announced that security authorities arrested 20 young men accused of being linked to IS from the city of Halabja in Sulaimaniyah. These arrests were made following reports of Kurdish families filing missing persons complaints at competent authorities’ offices, in fear of them being affiliated with IS.

The Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs spokesman, Mariwan Naqshbandi, told Al-Hayat, “The news of the arrest of 20 young men from Halabja alone has unknown purposes. We consider it an injustice against Halabja, where around 3,000 of its citizens are currently fighting IS. The arrests encompassed all of Sulaimaniyah province and not just Halabja alone. A few weeks ago, we received information about 12 missing young men, some of whom were students in public religious schools. At their families' request, we followed up on the cases with the security authorities, but we do not have clues on where they live, since some of them have only contacted their families by mobile phone and through the local communications network.”

Naqshbandi continued, “After the fall of Mosul, IS militants spread along the borders of KRG. The head of the anti-terrorism apparatus in Sulaimaniyah, Lahore Sheikh Genki, declared that the number of young men who had joined IS was over 400. I believe that this number is slightly exaggerated, yet I am certain there are plenty of young men who joined, since some actually joined its ranks when IS was only Syria-based, despite the distance, and now the group is at a much closer distance to KRG.”

He added, “A Kurdish citizen and his wife from Juman, in Erbil, joined IS and publicly threatened to cut off my head on several occasions in the event that IS enters Erbil. I have Facebook posts and phone calls as proof. His real name is Ferhad, but he is known as Abu Saray al-Kurdi. The reason for these threats is the fact that I launched campaigns, along with several clerics, to fight IS ideology. Some [clerics] even carried weapons and preached against the group.”

IS posted a video showing a masked young man, surrounded by gunmen, threatening to invade and occupy the KRG. Reports indicate that one of the five most prominent IS leaders in Mosul is Kurdish. Hawlati newspaper reported a citizen declaring that his brother, a 26-year-old cleric and his wife and child had joined IS, along with five other people.

A member of the interior and security committee in the Kurdish parliament, Abu Bakr Heldni, told al-Hayat, “A week ago, we visited the district officer of Halabja where we confirmed that 18 young men joined IS, 12 of whom were killed, while the others were arrested for sympathizing with the group and becoming members. According to certain statistics revealed by the Ministry of Interior, hundreds have joined IS, and we must go after the people who are assisting them with the recruitment process. Certain unofficial statistics also indicate that 400 young men have joined the group so far, 50 of whom were killed.”

Heldni called for “avoiding taking advantage of this campaign to attack moderate Muslims and the people who sympathize with them.” He said, “This campaign should be executed with justice and according to the law. The competent authorities, including clerics and Islamic parties, should spread the culture of forgiveness, coexistence, patriotism to avoid the disastrous repercussions of extremism. We have already started working on this campaign.”

Heldni noted, “Emphasizing on this matter serves economic, political and social purposes. Thus, job opportunities and an increase in living standards should be leveraged in this regard, in addition to eliminating the narrow social environment. An effective media plan should be executed in order to spread awareness against IS ideology which insults Islam and ruins its image. We should finally target the group’s media outlet which gave it more importance and power.”

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Found in: mosul, kurds, krg, islamic state, iraq
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