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Iraq Report: September 28, 2001

28 September 2001, Volume 4, Number 31

A BIN LADEN THREAT IN IRAQ? Usama Bin Laden, whose name arouses fear among those he has targeted, has begun to receive a great deal of attention in Kurdistan, largely as a result of the activities of the Jund Al-Islam (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 21 September 2001). The Jund Al-Islam is described in a special "Kurdistan Newsline" of 19 September as a group of "Bin Laden mercenaries" which has recently appeared in the region "under the command of a self-styled Amir of Islam by the name of Abu Abdullah Al-Shafi'i who is an Afghan Arab, rumored to be of Egyptian or Syrian origin."

The analysis suggests that "the group's real agenda is to destabilize the Kurdistan region through terror and coercion in order to undermine the regional authorities and the standing of secular parties as well as that of the mainstream Islamic organizations." Furthermore, it says that "the group is playing the role of a fifth column on behalf of the Iraq regime in its disruptive activities."

The group reportedly consists of 400 to 500 armed followers led by Al-Shafi'i and a core of Afghan Arabs who handle terrorist training, finance, and propaganda behind the scenes. The report says that the Afghan Arabs' mission is to hire, train, and control Islamic mercenaries and teach them the terrorist craft learned from Usama Bin Laden's camps near Kandahar, Afghanistan. The analysis points out that most of the recruits are "from the ranks of the other Islamic groups such as the Kurdophobic Muslim Brotherhood and the Kurdistan Islamic Movement." The group is organized into cells which are divided into six military katibas (regiments). It is headquartered in Biyara, in the Hawraman area near Halabcha.

Their weaponry includes three or four Katyusha rockets, four artillery pieces, anti-tank guns, rifles, machine guns, and mortars. And the report adds that "it has been reported that the group has received $600,000 from the Bin Laden network to finance their terror campaign," but the analysis does not give the source for this information.

The report concludes that "the most serious threat" from the Jund Al-Islam is its designation as a fifth column for the Iraqi regime to regain its control over the liberated region. The analysis says that, "According to intercepted intelligence in Kurdistan, Bin Laden's surrogate group is operating in concert with Iraq intelligence services -- Mukhabarat."

As far as Halabcha is concerned, reported on 21 September that Jund Al-Islam "aims to eliminate secular organizations from the area and from foreign influences on both the social and political level."

In this context, Jund Al-Islam issued a warning at the Mlai Chinar Mosque in Biyara. After the prayer, Mula Hama Rashid, a senior member of the Jund Al-Islam militia, said that those who do not support and cooperate with them in their jihad (holy war) will be considered "unbelievers" and killed, according to of 22 September.

On 23 September the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) announced that a prominent physician, Dr. Rebwar Said Omar, was kidnapped from his surgery in Halabcha by the Jund Al-Islam. The PUK Ministry of the Interior notified the Jund Al-Islam that it will hold them responsible for any harm that may be inflicted on the physician. (David Nissman)

IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT BLAMES AMERICANS FOR ATTACK ON U.S., SAYS ATTACKS PRESAGE END OF AMERICA. In an interview published in "Al-Ra'y" on 12 September, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan said that all the participants in the terrorist attacks were Americans and that these attacks mark the beginning of the collapse of the United States. (David Nissman)

IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER ON GULF RECONCILIATION. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri Al-Hadithi gave an interview to the London-based independent, but pro-Libyan, newspaper "Al-'Arab Al-'Alamiyah" on 21 September about the possibilities of reconciliation between Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Al-Hadithi said, "We are ready for reconciliation. But the repeated aggression against Iraq must be stopped when reconciliation is sought." He explained that "the dissimilarity of the Arab systems does not sanction conflict between them." The interviewer noted that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are still asking Iraq to apologize for the Gulf War, to which Al-Hadithi replied: "Anyone who desires reconciliation does not raise this issue." He added that, "Iraq has recognized Kuwait, recognized it legally. It has recognized the border imposed by the Security Council�" He said that the imposition of the border by the Security Council was illegal and illegitimate. And he said that Iraq has pledged to recognize Kuwait, noting that "Iraq has never reneged on a pledge in the past." (David Nissman)

CHINA OPENS CULTURAL EXHIBIT IN BAGHDAD. A week-long Chinese Exhibit of Bronze Wares began in Baghdad on 23 September. The Iraqi minister of culture, Hamid Yusif Hummadi, opened the show, Xinhua reported on 23 September. Chinese Ambassador to Iraq Zhang Weiqiu told the news agency that the exhibit displays a collection of 45 bronze wares dating back more than 3,000 years. He said: "I believe the exhibition will enhance the cultural cooperation between China and Iraq and thus help promote bilateral relations." (David Nissman)

TALABANI CONDEMNS JUND AL-ISLAM. Jalal Talabani, the general secretary of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) discussed the threat of the extremist group Jund Al-Islam and their tactics at a town hall meeting in the Tawaguzi area, according to "Kurdistan Newsline" of 22 September. He described them as "Soldiers of Anti-Islam" and "Soldiers of Aliens." Talabani stressed that neither the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) nor the PUK will allow these "misled elements" who are abusing and perverting Islam to commit human rights crimes against ordinary citizens, and preventing by force communities from exercising religious rites, particularly those related to the ancient Naqshbandi Tariqa in Biyara and Tawila.

He emphasized that the PUK's preference is always to avoid conflict and rely on dialogue to conduct public discourse. But the PUK and KRG have the duty of preventing harm to the region. The Jund Al-Islam, which he calls an "armed fanatical" group, consists of Afghan Arabs who have infiltrated the region from Afghanistan. Talabani also appealed to the leaders of the Kurdistan Islamic Group and asked for their efforts to safeguard the security of the region and their participation in combating "the ugly face of the Islamic extremists." (David Nissman)

PUK OFFICIAL RULES OUT BIN LADEN REFUGE IN KURDISH REGION. Dr. Barham Ahmad Salih, head of the Kurdish government in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan PUK) sector of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), said in an interview published by London's "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" of 23 September that there is no possibility that Usama Bin Laden may seek refuge in the towns of Biyara and Tawila in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Salih said that his government will block any attempt to destabilize security in the region. He explained that, "In this region, there is a special case resulting from divisions within the Islamic movement in Iraqi Kurdistan. We in the government of Kurdistan are in the process of investigating reports that followers of foreign organizations are present in the region. In this respect we are in constant contact and coordination with the moderate Islamic parties in Iraqi Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)."

Asked whether the Jund Al-Islam was present in his region, along with 200 fighters from the Al-Qa'ida Organization who arrived in July, Salih said that he was aware of the reports and that the Jund Al-Islam has issued statements that are being taken seriously.

Talabani, also interviewed by "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat," said that armed troops from the PUK had headed for Halabcha and its vicinity to expel the terrorists from the border towns of Biyara and Tawila, which are adjacent to the Iranian border. He added that the Jund Al-Islam are terrorists who mostly came from Afghanistan, including Arabs who had been trained in special camps there.

The KDP has placed its special troops on alert in anticipation of any joint military operation to liberate the two towns, expel Kurdish Taliban members from it, and uproot terrorism from northern Iraq. (David Nissman)

BAGHDAD BLAMES INFANT, MATERNAL MORTALITY ON EMBARGO. An Iraqi study of rising rates of infant and maternal mortality argues that this trend reflects the impact of the international embargo against Iraq, the "Iraq Daily" reported on 16 September. It said that the basic food and water needs of the Iraqi people are not being met, and that diseases like typhoid have increased by a factor of 15 since 1989. (David Nissman)

IRAQI OFFICIAL FLEES TO WEST. Usama Abdulahad, an Iraqi senior trade official, has fled to an unidentified European country following an official visit abroad, according to "Iraq Press" of 18 September. Abdulahad is the Trade Ministry's director-general in charge of the free-trade zone on the fringes of Kurdish territory in northern Iraq. He had held an influential position at the ministry, which oversees the multibillion-dollar external trade under Iraq's oil-for-food deal with the United Nations. Most of Iraq's illegal trade runs through the zone under Abdulahad's control. The zone regulates the flow of goods from Turkey in return for shipments of Iraqi crude. Abdulahad is said to suffer from heart problems. He allegedly has asked for political asylum in a European country. (David Nissman)

KURDISH PARLIAMENT TO START SECOND SEASON. The Kurdistan Parliament (Kurdistan Democratic Party-KDP) started its second season on 20 September, according to a report in KurdishMedia of 22 September. The speaker of the house condemned the terrorist attack on the United States and stressed the importance of cooperation between the legislative and executive authorities to provide wider service to citizens. Barzani, the leader of the KDP, also condemned the terrorist attack on the U.S. He pointed to some terrorist activity in Kurdistan. "Our party insists in principle on its unchangeable determination against this phenomenon. The situation necessitates all political parties�to create a united front and support the police and security forces to protect the tranquility of citizens�" He added that, "I assure you that the Kurdish Regional Government and the Party [KDP] would be at the forefront fighting the terrorist groups without fear." He also noted that there would be a "wide-reaching coordination with all the parties, particularly, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan," reported the "Kurdistan Observer" on 24 September. (David Nissman)

KURDISH ISLAMIC GROUPS FIGHTING AMONG THEMSELVES. Non-aligned Islamic groups, who had tried to talk to each other in order to reach some common ground, decided to try again, according to an article in the Sulaymaniyah newspaper "Hawlati" of 16 September. This time talks were conducted between the non-aligned groups and Mala Ali Bapir, emir of the Islamic Group in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Recently, the non-aligned groups agreed to affiliate themselves with the Islamic Group. Shaykh Muhammad Barzinji was made leader of the group, and Mala Ali Bapir was accepted as the general emir. Together with this reunification, two Islamic armed forces also affiliated themselves to the Islamic Group. Some of their headquarters are in Halapcha. This is likely to cause a crisis between the Islamic Group and the Islamic Unity Movement.

The Iranian government welcomes this reunification.

Mala Krekar, a former military commander for the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan who had trained in Afghanistan, was rumored to be toying with the idea of joining the Jund Al-Islam. However, it is understood that he has hopes of becoming an emir (military commander) for them. As it is, announced on 24 September that Mala Krekar has joined the Jund Al-Islam to fight against the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

Ali Bapir and members of the political bureau paid a visit to Jalal Talabani, leader of the PUK. In the meeting, it was decided that both sides were committed to adhering to the terms of the Tehran agreement, signed between the Islamic Unity Movement and the PUK, according to the Sulaymaniyah newspaper "Komal" on 16 September. They have also pledged to strengthen peace and security in the region.

It has also been reported that the PUK forces have taken full control of Halabcha following heavy fighting against the militia of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK), according to the "Kurdistan Observer" of 26 September. Following the battle, the IMK leader Mala Ali Abdulaziz and his group are said to have joined with the Jund Al-Islam forces in the areas near Sharazor.

An Iranian delegation has arrived to mediate between the PUK and IMK. Iran is believed to be pressuring the PUK leadership to allow the IMK leader and his group to return to Halabcha. (David Nissman)

RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS, PARLIAMENTARIANS MAKE FACT-FINDING TRIP TO IRAQ. On 24 September, ITAR-TASS reported that a large group of Russian journalists and parliamentarians had flown to Iraq to "familiarize themselves with the situation in Iraq, visit some economic and cultural facilities," including those that came under U.S.-British airstrikes. They are also scheduled to visit health-care, scientific, and educational establishments. The agency said, "The trip by Russian reporters acquires particular importance in the light of the recent terrorist attacks in the U.S.A. and taking into consideration the fact that Iraq may become one of the retaliatory aims by the U.S." (David Nissman)

ROYAL JORDANIAN CANCELS BAGHDAD FLIGHT. The "Jordan Times" on 23 September reported that Royal Jordanian Airlines had canceled the 23 September flight to Baghdad because of a lack of insurance coverage in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks on the U.S. Officials said that they continue to seek insurance. Royal Jordanian started regular flights to Iraq in May. Majali said is a "profitable line despite high insurance premiums." (David Nissman)