Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Release of pro-Jihadi Kurdish Cleric by Norway elicits mixed reactions in Kurdistan

Erbil – On January 25th, Mala Krekar or Najmaddin Faraj if we go by his real name, a former Islamist-Jihadi from Kurdistan whose group of fighters was in a bloody conflict with the more secular groups before he fled to Norway in early 2000s, was released by Norwegian authorities after completing a 34 month jail term.

The news of Krekar's release traveled fast back to Kurdistan and with it came a whirlwind of mixed reactions from the different political parties of the region: both joyful and threatening ones.

The welcome-home kind of reactions

Islamic groups were quick to welcome the news including the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) which is known as a peaceful, anti-violence Islamic party in Kurdistan, Komal (or the Islamic Group) another Islamic group that is seen a degree less moderate than the former, but still a civilian group taking part in the political game in Kurdistan, and the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) which is the most conservative of all the Islamic parties in the region and is also like the mother group among whose ranks Mr. Krekar was an active leader before the group broke up after which he established his own called Ansarul Islam. 

The KIU‘s Politburo member Omar Mohammed said: “We hope that he benefited from his imprisonment, that he looks at it as a life experience, so he can better serve" it is not clear what he meant by "better serve" or whom and what to serve as most of the time Krekar was the IMK, or when he had his own group, he was in conflict with the Kurdish parties militarily. 

He continued, “His fault was that the way he thought and preached was to a great extent harsh, especially when he was with Ansarul Islam. We hope that Mamosta [in reference to Krekar, the word in Kurdish means teacher, but is used for a spiritual leader, a religious leader, or any person of great abilities, a master] can use his abilities in literature, rhetoric and influencing [others] to better serve.”

IMK said Krekar was a fellow citizen and had the right to return to Kurdistan. Abdullah Warty, a member of the IMK leadership said “a new page should be opened with people like him.”

Komal was probably the happiest of all the Islamic groups with Mohammed Hakeem, Komal spokesman, saying “in case he returns [to Kurdistan] and decides to work in our ranks, we will be happy to accept him.” Komal was also an armed group once that was established after the break-up of IMK. Their militants were subjected to disarmament after the 2003 war on Iraq with US warplanes and rockets destroying their bases in Sulaymaniyah province. They are now engaged in the political process in Kurdistan with a minister in the KRG cabinet.

You-filthy-terrorist kind of voices

The most vehemently opposing faction on the ground is the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a secular social democrat party whose Peshmarga militia was in a bloody conflict with Mala Krekar’s group before he fled the country to Norway in 2002.

Ata Sarawi a leader with PUK, and brother of one of the Peshmargas killed by Ansarul Islam militants when they were at war with the PUK, said “No party should dare welcome him back. We are going to treat him like a Daesh (the Arabic acronym for ISIS or ISIL, which is now known as Islamic State or IS). We will not be silent, neither as PUK, nor as the families of the Kheli Hama martyrs, about anyone who brings a man killer into this country” referring to the death of 43 PUK Peshmargas in one surprise attack by Ansarul Islam in 2001. The men were brutally killed with many of them by beheading. Later PUK said the bodies of most of the fallen Peshmargas were also disfigured by Ansarul Islam.

Sarawi said all of the families of the Kheli Hama massacre were ready to file lawsuits against Krekar as soon as he sets foot on Kurdish ground. 

Another PUK official, Lateef Sheikh Omar, says “If Mala Krekar, or anybody else, is involved in a lawsuit, they will have to be immediately handed over to the security forces and sent to court... The court will decide, with political consensus. It is not up to anybody, or and party, to grant him forgiveness. This is PUK’s principle”

So is he a dangerous man to return to Kurdistan?

Well, you should first read something about the latest developments in Kurdistan. Calm and prosperity was disrupted in August last year when ISIS militants turned their barrels on Kurdistan following a lightning fast land grab in the northern and western parts of Iraq’s mainly Sunni populated areas. 

Since then, over 800 Kurdish soldiers have died in the battle pushing back ISIS from the territories they took in the first attack. In the ranks of the ISIS fighters were hundreds of foreigners lured by Jihadi ideology, but also around a couple hundred Kurds from Kurdistan Region itself. This group of young Islamists were radicalized either in mosques by hard-line preachers (and patterns show they mainly came from areas where Krekar had influence before going to Norway), or online. Now the security forces claim that the number of Jihadists from Kurdistan who joined ISIS could be a lot higher. And in the latest video released by ISIS, a Kurdish-speaking fighter dressed in Kurdish clothes beheaded a captured Peshmarga fighter after he delivered threatening messages to US President Barack Obama, France, Belgium, as well as the Kurdish President Massoud Barzani.

Now, ISIS may not be that big a threat to Kurdistan as it appeared to be last year. Peshmarga forces are gaining ground against the Jihadists ever since the US-coalition airplanes started bombing ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Last week Peshmarga forces pushed deep into ISIS held territories recapturing some 600 square kilometers in an operation west of Mosul (the ISIS stronghold in Iraq) in which ISIS sent about 14 suicide car bombers to break the lines of the Kurdish solders all of which were taken out either by the coalition warplanes or the Peshmarga who used their newly received MILAN anti-tank rockets from Germany with brutal effectiveness. Officials said over 200 ISIS militants had been killed in the operation, and they said that they were so close to Mosul now that they could shell the center of Mosul with artillery fire - and had actually done so to destroy ISIS positions before Barzani ordered the Peshmarga to stop shelling ISIS positions in Mosul for fear of civilian casualties and that ISIS could use that as a propaganda tool arguing Peshmarga are targeting civilian populations, attracting more recruits from the city.

In this video, Kurdish Peshmarga Forces blow up ISIS suicide bombers, and destroy ISIS armored vehicles with their new anti-tank weapons. 

The real deal is that there are hundreds of Kurdish militants in the ranks of ISIS, and there may be hundreds more inside Kurdistan Region who all look up to Mala Krekar, and his return to Kurdistan in addition to some influential Jihadi speeches, could encourage many pro-Jihadi young men, and awaken a sleeping generation of Jihadi-minded fellas inside Kurdistan. 

According to Kurdish media outlets, ISIS had posted a message on social media pages "welcoming back Mala Krekar" but refrained from commenting on what the group thought about Krekar before he opens his mouth. "We are not going to say anything before he speaks and we find out what he thinks about the Caliphate and the US-Peshmarga alliance"

Mala Krekar is known to have said he is against the idea of young Kurds joining the war in Syria to wage Jihad. "It is better for them to stay in Kurdistan and learn Islamic sciences" his brother once quoted him as saying. He has also claimed that Krekar supports the creation of a Kurdish state. 

As for the question: Is he going to return to Kurdistan or stay in Norway? it is not clear what his plans are yet. 

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