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Armed Groups

5.127 The Dutch country report December 2004 observed that “Prominent militias include: the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr (mainly active in central Iraq, including Baghdad, and southern Iraq), the terrorist movement of al-Zarqawi (mainly active in Baghdad, central and northern Iraq), Ansar al-Sunna (mainly active in central and northern Iraq), and Ansar al-Islam (mainly active in the north).” […]
Ansar al-Islam
According to a US Congressional research report in January 2004:
"In the mid-1990s, the two main Kurdish parties enjoyed good relations with a small Kurdish Islamic faction, the Islamic Movement of Iraqi Kurdistan (IMIK), which is headed by Shaikh Ali Abd-al Aziz. Based in Halabja, Iraq, the IMIK publicized the effects of Baghdad’s March 1988 chemical attack on that city, and it allied with the PUK in 1998.
A radical faction of the IMIK split off in 1998, calling itself the Jund al-Islam (Army of Islam). It later changed its name to Ansar al-Islam (Partisans of Islam). This Ansar faction was led by Mullah Krekar, an Islamist Kurd who reportedly had once studied under Shaikh Abdullah al-Azzam, an Islamic theologian of Palestinian origin who was the spiritual mentor of Osama bin Laden. Ansar reportedly associated itself with Al Qaeda and agreed to host in its northern Iraq enclave Al Qaeda fighters, mostly of Arab origin, who had fled the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan in 2001. Prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom, during which its base was captured, about 600 primarily Arab fighters lived in the Ansar al-Islam enclave, near the town of Khurmal. Ansar fighters clashed with the PUK around Halabja in December 2002, and Ansar gunmen were allegedly responsible for an assassination attempt against PUK prime minister Barham Salih in April 2002. Possibly because his Ansar movement was largely taken over by the Arab fighters from Afghanistan, Krekar left northern Iraq for northern Europe. He was detained in Norway in August 2002 and was arrested again in early January 2004.
The leader of the Arab contingent within Ansar al-Islamis said by U.S. officials to be Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an Arab of Jordanian origin who reputedly fought in Afghanistan. Zarqawi has been linked to Al Qaeda plots in Jordan during the December 1999 millennium celebration, the assassination in Jordan of U.S.diplomat Lawrence Foley (2002), and to reported attempts in 2002 to spread the biological agent ricin in London and possibly other places in Europe. In a presentation to the U.N. Security Council on February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Powell tied Zarqawi and Ansar to Saddam Hussein’s regime, which might have viewed Ansar al-Islam as a means of pressuring Baghdad’s Kurdish opponents. Although Zarqawi reportedly received medical treatment in Baghdad in May 2002 after fleeing Afghanistan, many experts believed Baghdad-Ansar links were tenuous or even non-existent; Baghdad did not control northern Iraq even before Operation Iraqi Freedom. Zarqawi’s current whereabouts are unknown, although some unconfirmed press reports indicate he might have fled to Iran after the fall of the Ansar camp to U.S.-led forces. Some recent press accounts say Iran might have him in custody. U.S. officials have said since August 2003 that some Ansar fighters, possibly at the direction of Zarqawi, might have remained in or re-entered Iraq and are participating in the resistance to the U.S. occupation, possibly including organizing acts of terrorism such as recent car/truck bombings (see below). One press report quotes U.S. intelligence as assessing the number of Ansar fighters inside Iraq at 150. Ansar al-Islam is not listed by the State Department as Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO)." [33b] (p5-6)
US officials estimated that 250 of Ansar al-Islam’s estimated 700 fighters were killed in attacks by US and Kurdish forces in March 2003. Its bases were destroyed and its arms seized. Hundreds of Ansar members fled into Iran or hid out on the Iran/Iraq border. At the time it was written off as an effective force but there is evidence that it is returning to Iraq and operating in small groups throughout the country. Ansar is closely linked with al-Quaeeda and US officials believe it is one of the groups responsible for attacks on their forces. [103a] In mid-July 2003 US forces uncovered a seven-member Ansar al-Islam cell in Baghdad, suggesting the group had expanded its area of operations, according to a report in Time on 11 August 2003. Further doubt on the extent to which the Ansar threat had been neutralised was raised by the bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad in August, an attack which bore the hallmarks of an Ansar operation. [36a]. As noted in the Reuters report on 24 August 2003 Ansar was also linked with the bombing of the UN’s Baghdad Headquarters but denied that they were responsible. [7b]
The Los Angeles Times reported on 3 September 2003 that some Iraqi local authorities doubted that Ansar had the resources or the sophistication to mount a co-ordinated nation-wide campaign, particularly in the south where they did not have the necessary knowledge of the terrain, but acknowledged that the group may be involved in some attacks. It was also suggested that the US and the Kurds were exaggerating the threat from Ansar al-Islam as an excuse to maintain the pressure on political Islamic groups more generally. [103a]
The Economist reported on 5 August 2003 that
“The forces of the largely Kurdish Sunni extremist Islamists, Ansar al-Islam, who were believed by the Kurdish leadership before the war to be linked to the al-Qaida organisation of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden and to have had “international” fighters among their number, appear to have been largely dislodged. However, some are alleged to remain close to the Iranian border, as well as on the run in Baghdad itself, and they could target coalition forces.” [19f] (p3)
On 27 August 2003 an Ansar fighter known as Mullah Namo and two or three (reports vary) other Islamic militants were involved in a battle with over 100 Kurdish police and security forces according to reports in Los Angleles Times on 29 August and 3 September 2003. After lengthy negotiations Mullah Namo agreed to surrender but, as police approached, he and the militants opened fire, killing a Kurdish colonel and, according to one report, a young girl. Namo and 2 militants were killed. In one report, a third militant was arrested. [103a] [99f]
A May 2004 Middle East Intelligence Bulletin reported that, "In October, coalition forces in Mosul captured a senior Ansar leader, Aso Hawleri. A week later, Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz, director of operations for the Pentagon’s joint staff, warned that Ansar al-Islam had reemerged as the coalition’s ’principal organized terrorist adversary in Iraq.’" [39b] (p2)
Ansar al-Sunna
As noted by AFP on 11 February 2004: “The newspaper said Ansar al-Sunna broke away from the Ansar al-Islam group [in] October [2003] and was led by an Arab whose alias is Abu Abdullah Hasan bin Mahmud. Ansar al-Sunna is more extreme, said the newspaper”. The group claimed responsibility for twin suicide bomb attacks on the offices of the PUK and KDP in Arbil in which at least 105 people died. “The newspaper said the motive of the attack was to ’punish’ the two Kurdish secular groups, which control Iraqi Kurdistan, for their alliance with the US-led coalition.” [99c]
In May 2004 the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin noted that, "According to Hawlati [independent Kurdish newspaper], Abu Abdullah’s deputies, in order of rank, are Hemin Bani Shari and Umar Bazynai. Hawlati alleges that Bani Shari was once a KDP peshmerga. Subsequent claims of responsibility and statements indicate that in addition to its political leadership, Ansar al-Sunna maintains both military and information operation committees." [39b] (p2)
The same article added that, "Ansar al-Sunna unequivocally presents itself as a pan-Islamic movement. Of seven Ansar al-Sunna suicide bombers who have given pre-operation interviews on video, the accents and appearance of six clearly suggest that they are non-Iraq Arabs; one is an Iraqi Kurd." [39b] (p2) The same report stated that, "Ansar al-Sunna’s activities show a well-trained group able to operate throughout much of northern Iraq and Western Iraq, though it does not appear able to operate effectively in the Shiite heartland." [39b] (p3)
Jund al-Islam
See Ansar al-Islam. [33b] (p5)
Kurdistan Workers’ Party (aka: PKK; KADEK; Kurdistan People’s Congress (KHK); People’s Congress of Kurdistan; KONGRA-GEL)
(For clarity, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party is referred to here as the PKK throughout.)
The PKK is a proscribed group under the British Terrorism Act 2000. [30d] (p3)
According to an AFP report on KurdishMedia on 13 January 2004, the latest names to be adopted by the Kurdistan Workers Party were the Kurdistan People’s Congress, the People’s Congress of Kurdistan and KONGRA-GEL. The names were added to the US terrorism blacklist. [99h]
According to the Federation of American Scientists, the PKK had 5,000 heavily armed guerrillas, mostly based in northern Iraq. At its 2000 Congress, PKK claimed that it would henceforth use only political means to achieve its new goal of improved rights for Kurds in Turkey. At its April 2002 Congress the PKK changed its name to KADEK: the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress, although most reporters tend still to use PKK. It also restated its commitment to non-violent activity but refused to disband or disarm its armed wing, the People Defence Force. [41a] AFP reported on 2 September 2003 that on 1 September PKK revoked its cease-fire although it said that it did not plan an immediate offensive. [99d] The US and Turkey were working together to disband PKK guerrillas in northern Iraq and were offering a partial amnesty to fighters who were not part of the leadership: if they surrendered by February 2004 they would earn lenient sentences, according to a report by BusinessWeek on 29 September 2003. [43a] On 10 November 2003 the BBC reported that US forces had clashed with `unknown forces’ near Dahuk. The Turkish foreign minister said the clash had been with PKK rebels; if that is confirmed it would be the first known clash between US and PKK forces. [4k] The Kurdistan Observer reported on 11 November 2003 that the PKK announced that it was dissolving in order to make for a new, more democratic structure that would allow for broader participation with a view to negotiating a peaceful settlement. The announcement made no direct mention of the clash with US forces just days before. [10a]
Mehdi Army - Moqtada Al-Sadr
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 22 October 2004 stated that, "Moqtada Al-Sadr, a radical Shia cleric has a group of illegal militia supporters, also known as the Mehdi Army. Following a ceasefire with the Iraqi authorities and US military in Najaf, and Sadr city, the Iraqi Interim Government, with the help of the religious authorities and other Iraqi groups, are attempting to draw Muqtada Al-Sadr and his supporters to be brought back into the political process." [66c] (p4)
Al Tawhid wa al-Jihad - Al-Zarqawi (see Other Prominent People)
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 22 October 2004 noted that Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi is based in Fallujah and leads the Al Tawhid wa al-Jihad group of extremist fundamentalist Sunnis. "HM Treasury have ordered any UK assets belonging to the group to be frozen." [66c] (p4)
The US Weekly Standard on 16 August 2004 noted that Umar Baziyani, Zarqawi’s number four, a member of the Tawhid legislative council, and the "emir" of Baghdad, was captured by by the US and through several days of interrogation revealed substantial information about Zarqawi’s militia. The article stated that:
"He claims that there are nine regional leaders of the Falluja-based Tawhid and Jihad under Zarqawi. His deputy, also based in Falluja, is known as Mahi Shami. If U.S. intelligence manages to catch up with these two top leaders, there are still regional ’emirs’ fanned out around Iraq, which could make the network incredibly difficult to break. For instance, Baziyani explained during his interrogation that he had been replaced as emir of Baghdad after his arrest. There are also regional emirs in the Kurdish north (Hussein Salim), the western Anbar province (Abdullah Abu Azzam), and the city of Mosul (Abu Tallah). In this way, Tawhid and Jihad can execute spectacular terrorist attacks throughout the country." [76a] (p1-2)
In addition the article added that:
"Baziyani also details the military strength of Tawhid and Jihad. He lists seven military commanders under Zarqawi’s control throughout Iraq with about 1,400 fighters at their disposal. Not surprisingly, Baziyani stated that the Falluja group, headed by Abu Nawas Falujayee, has the most fighters with 500. Second to Falluja is Mosul, with 400 fighters. (Analysts believe Mosul is a haven for former Ansar al Islam fighters.) There are also strongholds in Anbar (60 fighters), Baghdad (40 fighters), and Diyala, the province just northeast of Baghdad (80 fighters). According to Baziyani, most of the fighters in Tawhid and Jihad are Iraqi Arabs and Kurds--not foreign jihadis--which corroborates reports by U.S. intelligence that the foreign fighter presence is much smaller than previously imagined." [76a] (p2)

Consumption of alcohol

Baghdad residents have accused Iraqi security forces of heavy-handedness and gross indiscipline as they attempt to quell the insurgency in the capital.The complaints were voiced during the constitutional referendum, when Iraq’s military and police, backed by the US army, tightened security throughout the country for the October 15 poll. The ballot was held 11 days after Iraqi forces took over Baghdad security from US-led multinational troops. The government made security a top priority following weeks of violence that left hundreds dead across the country. While few incidents were reported in the capital on referendum day, IWPR reporters came across a number of instances of heavy-handedness and indiscipline by Iraqi troops and police, in one case with fatal consequences.Baha, an unemployed 23-year-old Baghdad resident, said a member of the interior ministry’s elite force harassed him prior to the referendum as he drank a beer in front of his house.
He said the officer accused him of losing his morals and threatened to hand him over to the Mahdi Army, run by Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, for drinking alcohol in public. Baha, who did not want to give his last name, said the policeman and other security forces assaulted him, seized his cellular phone and detained him for a few hours. "I did not commit a crime except for drinking a beer," he said.

Living conditions Iraq

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the ACCORD within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.