The Islamic State recently issued a video attempting to appeal to Kurds. It had four IS members talk about the Kurdish role in Islam from scholars to Salahaddin al-Ayubi who defeated the Crusaders trying to relate his struggle against the Christians to the Islamic State’s fight versus the west. The video also touched on modern times accusing Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani of being tyrants and condemning Kurdish nationalism with an appeal to Islam as their true calling. It’s believed that around 500 Iraqi and Turkish Kurds have joined the organization over the years. Iraqi Kurdistan also has a history of Salafism in the rural areas of Sulaymaniya.
Kurdistan had its own Islamist parties that eventually became more radicalized and moved towards Salafism. In the late 1970s spurred on by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution Islamic radicalism spread to Kurdistan. One early group was known as the Islamic Kurdish Army, which sent fighters to Afghanistan. Another was the Islamic Movement in Iraqi Kurdistan based out of Halabja. The group was led by Mullah Osman Abdul al-Aziz who came out of the Muslim Brotherhood. He declared jihad against the Iraqi government. The Anfal campaign in the late 80s scattered the group, but it made a comeback in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Later two more radical Salafi groups were formed in the area, Kurdish Hamas and Tawhid, with many veterans of the war in Afghanistan amongst them. Those two groups later joined together in 2001 to become Jund al-Islam. It called for jihad against the ruling Kurdish parties. Mullah Krekar later assumed control of the group and it became Ansar al-Islam that formed ties with Al Qaeda and hosted Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2002. After 2003 Ansar fighters would help create Ansar al-Sunna and join the Iraqi insurgency. When the Islamic State of Iraq was rebuilding in 2013 had a Kurdish wing headed by Syrians. (1) After IS took Mosul the group had a Kurdish commander named Abu Khattab al-Kurdi who had many fighters from Halabja that took part in the fighting for Kobane, Syria in 2014. Given that history it appears that there are still young Kurds who are open to Salafism in the rural areas of Kurdistan like Halabja that might heed the Islamic State’s latest video.
1. Al Rayy, “Security expert: Daash establish a new mandate in Kurdistan,” 12/21/13
International Crisis Group, “Radical Islam In Iraqi Kurdistan: The Mouse That Roared?” 2/7/03
Nance, Malcolm, The Terrorists of Iraq, Boca Raton, London, New York: CRC Press, 2015
Al Rayy, “Security expert: Daash establish a new mandate in Kurdistan,” 12/21/13
Salih, Mohammed, “How Islamic State is trying to lure Kurds to its ranks,” Al Monitor, 8/12/16
Speri, Alice, “Not All Kurds Are Fighting Against the Islamic State – Some Are Joining It,” Vice, 11/7/14