Extremism is back at the heart of debate in the Kurdistan province of Iraq as three Isis extremists recently attacked a government building in Erbil leaving one person killed and four wounded.
Observers say the authorities in the Kurdish province have ignored the problem of extremism, focusing more on political and economic troubles affecting the northern area of Iraq for many years.
With many warnings accusing TV channels of promoting fanaticism and mosques propagating a rigorous version of Islam, it was no surprise that such attacks occurred. The three extremists killed in the attack were locals, none of whom was over 18. Dressed as Kurds and speaking Kurdish as their mother tongue they demonstrated that the threat of ‘home grown’ extremist attacks was back. Relatives of Bilal Suleiman Abdulrahman, one of the attackers, assert that their son was brain-washed by an extremist Imam and they urged the local government to take measures. It is commonly said in the town that no-one in Bilal’s family has ever held extremist beliefs or been involved in terrorist practices.
After the attack, police in Erbil arrested many suspects and issued a warrant against a former member of the Iraqi parliament thought to have ties with Isis.
A Iraqi Police source, who prefers to remain anonymous, confirmed that a Salafist preacher called Mulla Ismail Soussi was detained three weeks ago over suspected links with the brutal terrorist group. Soussi admitted his collusion with Isis and told the investigating judge that he knows the three attackers who assaulted the government building on July 23rd very well. Investigators also reexamined any ties between political bodies in Kurdistan such as the Islamic group and the three attackers.
Some extremists have become hyper-active in the media recently while many civil associations are warning against uncensored broadcasts. Mulla, who is a well-known Salafist, transformed his own channel into an offensive platform by encouraging polygamy and insulting women who do not accept the practice. Mulla sparked a debate when he described women who refuse polygamy as “dinosaurs”. However, the ministry of culture in the province shut down the ‘Srusht’ channel but the media outlet was able to resume its activity within a few days.
Other clerics have also been in the heart of debate in the last few years, such as Abdullatif Abdulhamid, who is a teacher at the Islamic Institute in the university of Sulaymaniyah He has a PHD degree and has published more than 90 Islamic papers. Abdulatif Abdulhamid owns Annassiha TV channel (literally advice), which uses the Kurdish language to warn young people against having extramarital sex and listening to music The controversial teacher has also said that taking a ‘selfie’ photo is not allowed in Islam.
The ministry of Islamic affairs in Kurdistan revealed in 2015 that 48 of its employees had joined Isis and it is believed that the terrorist group had influence in the province even before the announcement of the caliphate in 2014, as many extremist groups were attacking touristic entities and alcohol shops as early as 2011.
The expert on extremist groups, Hashem Hashemi, believes that there are still strong remnants of Isis and he has urged Erbil and Baghdad to cooperate in order to achieve victory. Historically, extremist groups have rarely gained a foothold in Kurdish culture despite the establishment of the first Kurdish armed group in the eighties when the so-called “Kurdish Islamic Army” was formed. However, the influence of these extremist Salafist groups grew in the nineties and the ‘noughties’ and small entities were been founded as “Attawhid” (monotheism) and “Almerkez” (the centre) fringe parties. Officially, only three Islamist parties in Kurdistan are authorised to take part in political life. However, extremist groups have carried out attacks against foreigners, Christians and journalists.