ISIS’s threat to the Kurds in Syria and northern Iraq

Jamestown Terrorism Monitor: The Kurds in both Iraq and Syria have managed to attain significant degrees of autonomy in the last two decades. With the advances of the Islamic State organization, the Kurds have also become one of the West’s most prominent allies against the militant Salafist group. This has made them a target of the Islamic State, whose attacks on the Kurds have led to increased pan-Kurdish cooperation and more Western support for the Kurds despite opposition from Turkey.

There are many ideological differences between Kurdish nationalist groups and the Islamic State organization, however, the Islamic State have said that they are not against Kurdish Muslims per se. As Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State’s spokesman, explained in September: “We do not fight Kurds because they are Kurds. Rather we fight the disbelievers amongst them, the allies of the crusaders and Jews in their war against the Muslims” (Reuters, September 22). The Islamic State organization, like other jihadist groups, has also recruited some Kurds, largely from Iraq, to fight against the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga and the Syrian Kurdish Yekiniyen Parastina Gel (YPG – People’s Protections Units), a Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

In Islamic State operations in both Iraq and Syria, Kurdish jihadists have been used as suicide bombers and foot soldiers and have led operations in Kurdish territories. Reportedly, Abu Khattab al-Kurdi (i.e. the Kurd) was the top commander of the Islamic State’s attack on Kobane. An Islamic State Kurdish bomber, Abd al-Rahman al-Kurdi, also blew himself up in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, on November 19 (AP, November 5). Most of these Kurds have been recruited in the Kurdish Islamist stronghold of Halabja in Iraq, where Kurdish and American forces uprooted Islamist militants in 2003. Recent regional instability has resulted in Kurdish Islamists again posing a threat to the KRG and YPG, now by joining the Islamic State. [Continue reading…]

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