Ansar al-Islam and pan-Islamic Fundamentalism
Kurdish politics are so Byzantine, both literally and figuratively, that I can not organize my thoughts on the Ansar al-Islam. I can't seem to nail down anything about the nature of the group, its leaders, its allies, or its connections. In lieu of putting together a conclusive post on Ansar, I am going to post a series of open-ended arguments.
Preface: Middle East Scholarship and an Introduction to Ansar al-Islam
There is a lot of information about Ansar available on the web. Unfortunately, much of it is contradictory, and most of it comes not from policy analysts but policy entrepreneurs [I stole that phrase from Krugman, but a quick google shows that it has been used in the context of ME policy]. M.A. Muqtedar Khan, writing in Middle East Policy, describes policy entrepreneurs:
The policy community has seen the gradual development of a third dimension, composed of non-academic and even some academic experts, former government employees, journalists and lobbyists. Unlike the academics, the policy entrepreneurs' interest in the issue is not intellectual, nor is their objective the advancement of knowledge. They are primarily driven by a policy preference, which they seek to impose on the policy-making process. They bring a composite of concern, professionalism and ideological activism to bear on this task.Many policy entrepreneurs are characterized only by the ability to google and a reluctance to "do nuance."
The most articulate and outspoken policy entrepreneur is Daniel Pipes, director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. Others are Judith Miller, a senior New York Times reporter; Steve Emerson, a free-lance reporter and documentary film maker; professors Barry Rubin, Patrick Clawson and Bernard Lewis (the quintessential Orientalist); Martin Kramer, an Israeli academic; and think-tank analysts like Peter Rodman of the Nixon Institute. These individuals stand out for their consistent policy preferences regarding Islamic resurgence. I am not suggesting that the group acts in cohesion to advance a particular objective. But in their similar policy preferences and their radical departure from the policy recommendations of the practitioners and academics, they constitute a distinct group.
Much of the public information on Ansar originates with conservative think tanks. Two in particular, the Jamestown foundation and the Washington Institute, are widely cited. The Jamestown Foundation accepts money from right-wing foundations, as does the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Obviously, these people are pushing an agenda, and their information should be received very skeptically. Unfortunately, it's what we have to work with.
Michael Rubin, The Islamist Threat in Iraqi Kurdistan, Middle East Intelligence Bulletin December 2001. "Michael Rubin is an adjunct fellow of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, currently resident at Hebrew University's Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations. He spent nine months in the 2000-2001 academic year as a visiting lecturer in northern Iraqi universities." He discusses the rise of Jund al-Islam, the predecessor of Ansar, from various Kurdish fundamentalist groups.
Mahan Abedin, Analyzing Ansar al-Islam, 6/12/04. Abedin provides a nice, credulous summary of some of the Rubin and Schanzer's claims about Ansar. Abedin is a "financial consultant and Middle East analyst" for the Jamestown Foundation.
Jonathan Schanzer, Ansar al-Islam: Back in Iraq, Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2004. "Jonathan Schanzer is a Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. This article draws upon his forthcoming monograph, Al-Qaeda's Affiliates: Exploiting Weak Central Authority in the Arab World (The Washington Institute)."
Matthew Levitt, Placing Iraq and Zarqawi in the Terror Web, PolicyWatch #710. Matthew Levitt is "a senior fellow in terrorism studies at The Washington Institute [for Near East Policy]." He provides a run-down of the claims alleged to support Colin Powell's Feb. 03 speech citing Ansar as a reason for invading Iraq.
Human Rights Watch has a backgrounder on Ansar. It has no by-line and is unsourced.
IISS, Al Qaeda in Northern Iraq, Strategic Comments 8:7 9/02
Michael Howard, Militant Kurds Training al-Qaida Fighters, The Guardian 8/23/02
The Christian Science Monitor has two pieces, one from
March 2002 and one from October 2003.
C.J. Chivers, “Kurds Face a Second Enemy: Islamic Fighters on Iraq Flank”, The New York Times, 1/13/03 reprinted here.