North Africa, West Asia

This week's window on the Middle East - October 8, 2013

Arab Awakening's columnists offer their weekly perspective on what is happening on the ground in the Middle East. Leading the week, Tunisia’s political impasse.

Arab Awakening
8 October 2013
  • Tunisia’s political impasse
  • There will be blood: a dispatch from Cairo
  • Sudan: peaceful revolution a dream
  • My neighbourhood and its impact on world affairs
  • The Kurdish Jihadist battleground in Syria: ramifications in Iraqi Kurdistan
  • Tunisia’s political impasse

    By Omar Belhaj Salah

    It’s easy to be depressed about Tunisia these days. The dream of a free and prosperous society fuelled by the January 2011 revolution seems to have been suspended. A relatively widespread feeling of dissatisfaction - measured through a 2013 UN report and in-depth PEW polling - characterizes the general mood among the people today and could be interpreted as a sign that Tunisia’s transition is stalling.

    Indeed, soon after the assassination of the pan-Arab opposition figure Mohammed Brahmi on July 25, existing tensions between opposition parties and the ruling Troika mushroomed into a grave political crisis. In an attempt to smooth over the conflict the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), together with UTICA (the employers’ union), the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH), and the National Bar Association initiated a series of indirect shuttle negotiations between the opposition and the Troika in response to UGTT’s 29 July “initiative to surmount the political crisis”.

    Both camps are now striving to move towards an agreement involving the resignation of the Islamist-led troika government. Negotiations are circling around different ideas about how and when that government would resign, and to what extent the sitting government would be replaced. The opposition is pressing for total replacement of the sitting government with a non-partisan “technocrat” one, which, according to the opposition, will pursue a “salvation”-style rescue mission of liberating Tunisia from its security and economic straits.

    In theory, Ennahdha has agreed on making such concessions to the opposition and approved the creation of a mini-caretaker government which would focus on preparing for the elections. In practice, however, Ennahda maintains that any such plan must be in harmony with the law on the provisional organization of public authorities, which grants the prerogative of appointing the prime minister to the majority party in the NCA. This law was recorded in the so-called “small constitution,” a five-page document adopted by the National Constituent Assembly in December 2011 to frame its work and prerogatives and those of the government and the presidency.

    Ennahdha insists that a new government should be grounded in legal legitimacy. Moreover, it holds that forming an apolitical government would marginalize Tunisia’s October 2011 electoral experience, dissolving a democratically elected government and replacing it with the old top-down ruling style of the past. This would effectively turn Tunisia’s political clock back to January 13, 2011 -- the night preceding Ben Ali’s escape to Saudi Arabia. 

    Conversely, the opposition argues that no legitimacy derived from an electoral victory could ride out the murder of political leaders for which it claims Ennahdha is responsible, or the incompetence it argues Ennahda has displayed in running the state. “Their compliance with political violence and perpetual attempts to ‘conquer the state apparatuses’ is conspicuous and intolerable,” said Hamma Hammami, spokesman for a major opposition front, Jabha Chaabia, in an address to protesters in front of the NCA building last month. “We will continue to mobilize the people to occupy governorates and bring down the traitorous government and Constituent Assembly.”

    Ironically, the country was in a similar position just seven months ago, and Ennahda largely conceded to the opposition’s demands. In February of this year, following the assassination of leftist politician Chokri Belaid, the opposition succeeded in pushing one government into resignation and forced Ennahdha to make tough concessions and ultimately withdrew its ministers from heading the foreign, justice and interior ministries. Remarkably though, the quota of political pressure on Ennahdha did not abate as the opposition kept boosting more demands adding more confusion to the ongoing struggle for a genuine consensus with the Troika.

    Led by Nidaa Tounes, the opposition’s driving rhetoric against the government seems to bear more blanket accusations than constructive criticism. Its motto, even in relatively stable times before the political assassinations and now as UGTT attempts to mediate the situation has been “a government of failure.” The Troika dismisses this phrase as unfounded and irresponsible, arguing that such accusations of failure should be grounded in objective assessment, which, it believes, the opposition has so far failed to undertake. For the opposition, however, this has become a highly powerful, oft-repeated mantra, based more on rejection of the Troika than engagement and potential compromise. Such mantras have contributed to a charged and polarized atmosphere in Tunisia that has made dialogue much more difficult.

    These polarizing portrayals have existed on both sides, though. Nidaa Tounes, now a well respected party and certainly the most popular among the opposition, was publically caricatured by Ennahdha, not long ago, as an evil spinoff of Ben Ali’s old RCD machine. “Nidaa Tounes is more dangerous than extreme Salafism… fighting religious extremism is easier than fighting the phenomenon of the reemergence of RCD, which will find its way through Nidaa Tounes,” stated Ennahdha president Rached Ghannouchi last October. Today, however, Ennahda has softened its discourse on Nidaa Tounes. In a televised interview on August 25, Ghannouchi said that, “together with Ennahdha, [Nidaa Tounes] is the biggest party in the country, and the state cannot be run properly unless its biggest political parties are in agreement.”

    This softened position on Nidaa Tounes is now the subject of contentious debate between Ennahdha’s leadership and its grassroots devotees. Grassroots members and supporters of Ennahda adamantly refuse rapprochement with Beji Caid Essebsi and his party, in view of its assumed strong ties with individuals whom they think were politically and personally responsible for torturing, repressing and killing many of them within the last fifty years.

    Despite all the talk of negotiations with Nidaa Tounes, and its internal vulnerabilities, Ennahdha’s biggest vulnerability has been its failure – either because of lack of will or inability -- to push the judiciary into faster substantial reforms. Ennahdha has likewise failed to reverse the rotten arsenal of laws through which those past abuses were carried out, leaving Tunisia’s old regime-era penal code intact.

    On the surface, restoring friendly relations with Nidaa Tounes will calm the situation politically and would also foster an environment more conducive to security and economic stability. A major beneficiary of political agreement will also likely be the old, Ben Ali-affiliated network of interests – a network which has never been efficiently dismantled. What sustained decades of dictatorship in Tunisia was not just the dictator and his top-down apparatus, but also the gradual formation of a layer of individuals below the state level who willingly learned to leech off and be loyal to a corrupt system that served their interests.

    They learned to accept tyrannical governance, embrace and perpetuate nepotism, and prop up an unquestioningly obedient bureaucracy. People like Fouad Mebazaa, Hamed Karoui , Abd Wahab Abdallah, Faouizi Loumi, and Essebsi himself - who admitted to having falsified the elections while he was Minister of Interior - often served as the guardians of authoritarianism and watchdogs of a culture that promoted loyalty to despots.

    Today the speed of progress between the Troika and the opposition relies largely on how far Ennahdha goes in acknowledging Nidaa Tounes as a legitimate political entity. In other words, how much legitimacy Ennahdha is willing to cede to Nidaa Tounes before the next elections and before trying to pass the transitional justice law which would launch comprehensive investigations into past crimes.

    Since the very first days of the revolution, the success or failure of Tunisia’s transition has been a fierce battle against time. The recurrent incidents of insecurity, economic instability and social unrest constantly challenge the people’s patience, plungeing them into speculation over the country’s elite capacity to realize the revolution’s core demands: employment, freedom and dignity.

    There will be blood: a dispatch from Cairo

    By Franco Galdini

    The writing was on the wall. The road map agreed upon by the army and the interim government is delivering according to plan. A ‘Committee of 50’ is drafting a new constitution and parliamentary elections will be held in late January or early February 2014, followed a few months later by presidential ones. Critical voices from the United States and Europe, that had previously arisen in condemnation of the military deposing a democratically elected president (lest it be called a coup d’état), have now switched to the language of reconciliation.

    Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned yet again by a Supreme Administrative Court order after enjoying legality as an NGO for a few weeks, see the continuation of demonstrations as the only way to restore legitimacy. And so it was that the October 6 celebrations turned into bloody clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi crowds, the latter supporters and supported by the army and security forces against the former. Official sources speak of 34 killed and 200-plus injured, but the numbers are bound to rise.

    Two days before today’s clashes, the eerie silence engulfing Cairo resembled that of East Jerusalem on any given night: a city under occupation. And yet, such has been the Egyptian capital on most Friday nights since President Morsi was toppled last July, due to the strict 7 PM curfew imposed by the Egyptian army, which is meant to prevent Muslim Brotherhood supporters from mounting mass protests on the Muslim weekly holiday.

    Nowadays, the army seems to be enjoying a great degree of popularity among ordinary Egyptians. ‘Under President Morsi, divisions were emerging in the population, something never seen in Egypt before. We are all brothers, us and the Christians, and Morsi was trying to divide us. The army intervened to save the country,’ says Ihab, a taxi driver. ‘They were allowing Al Qaeda types to go through Cairo airport and set up training camps in Sinai : El Sisi felt the country was at risk, he does not want to be President,’ adds Aiman, who works in the tourist industry.

    General Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s portrait, whom former President Morsi himself had appointed as his Minister of Defence, has become ubiquitous around the Egyptian capital. His radiant face in impeccable military attire can be seen on posters glued to the armour of the many military vehicles standing guard at key power centres in Cairo. Some carry the banner ‘the people, the army and the police are one (hand)’, or ‘the country loves you.’ Often, General El Sisi is pictured alongside President Gamal Abdul Nasser and his successor Anwar al-Sadat, both military men turned politicians. Former President Mubarak, also a career officer, is conspicuously absent. There is no dearth of Egyptian flags, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs displaying one that stretches for 20 of its 30-plus-storey building.

    Another indication of the popularity the General enjoys at the moment lies in the simple question of who Egypt’s current President is. Most people in the streets wouldn’t know. The idea of having former President of the Constitutional Court ʻAdly Mansour as President of the Republic would be very progressive in principle. There are serious doubts, though, about whether Mr Mansour is really calling the shots in the country.

    Massive celebrations had been organised for Sunday October 6, the fortieth anniversary of the October war against Israel, which is proudly commemorated in Egypt as it led to the return of the Sinai peninsula – lost to Israel in the 1967 war – followed by the 1979 Camp David peace agreement. Over the past few days, radio programmes have constantly been reminding people of Sunday’s important commemoration. But for some, the party had already started on Saturday afternoon: in Talaat Harb street in downtown Cairo, the horrific traffic ground to a halt due to a group dancing around a minivan with loudspeakers blasting out music, along the lines of ‘thank you for your help, oh army of my country.’ Women were ululating intermittently, as they would at weddings, while one of them held a poster of General El Sisi high above her head.

    The polarisation on the streets is palpable: on Friday night, a couple of nights before October 6, pro-Morsi protesters attempted to march to Tahrir Square, which the army completely sealed off to traffic for the weekend. The crowd dispersed when soldiers started shooting in the air. The same night, four people died in clashes between pro-Morsi protesters and locals in the Cairo quarters of Zaitoun and Maniyyal.

    On Saturday, October 5, a group of students wearing t-shirts with ‘forty years since the October victory’ written on them, symbolically paraded in front of the soldiers stationed in Tahrir Square, waving the Egyptian flag in sign of support for the army. Two hours before the Anti-Coup Alliance had called for a massive rally in Tahrir Square for October 6. The mood was sombre: everyone seemed to predict that there would be blood on the streets.

    Muslim Brotherhood supporters view the army as usurpers of the ballot box, which had given President Morsi a four-year mandate. They conveniently forget about Morsi’s increasingly dictatorial tendencies during his year in power and his forfeited electoral promises. Instead of creating alliances with the social forces who had been behind the January 2011 revolution, he decided to side with the army and inevitably alienated possible allies in the fight against the ‘deep state’ left over by Mubarak’s 30-year rule. Large swathes of the electorate and minorities felt marginalised, including many who had voted him into the presidential palace to prevent Mubarak-crony Ahmed Shafiq from winning the Presidency.

    In turn, army backers view the military’s intervention as the only sensible choice to rescue a country on the brink of social and economic implosion, due to the divisive policies of a president more responsive to a secretive cabal, than to the needs of the Egyptian people. They are ready to overlook the army and security forces’ heavy-handedness when dealing with Morsi’s supporters, as exemplified by the massacre at Rabaa Al Adawiya sit-in in mid-August, the mass arrests of Muslim Brotherhood cadres and the closure of many Islamist-leaning television channels and newspapers. The demonisation campaign against the Brotherhood has reached such peaks of hysteria that it is quickly turning into dehumanisation: slogans such as Al Ikhwan Al Kherfan (‘the Sheep Brothers’) daub Cairo’s walls. The language of fighting terrorism has now been borrowed from the dictionary of US foreign policy elites to justify abuse against the organisation. 

    Polarisation translates into chronic instability, and Egypt will not be able to overcome the huge challenges it faces unless a serious dialogue is initiated between all concerned parties with the aim of achieving reconciliation. The events of the past weeks and months find diametrically opposing explanations in the mouths of those for and against the Muslim Brotherhood, a division that often runs contrariwise with those against and for the army. The two competing narratives are so at loggerheads that the country risks being driven down the dangerous road of constant low-intensity conflict.

    Sudan: peaceful revolution a dream

    By Yosra Akasha

    On Monday September 23 a wave of spontaneous popular protests broke out in Sudan. The wave was triggered by an increase in the price of fuel and basic food items caused by a long history of impoverishment and oppression by the National Congress Party (NCP) that has ruled the country for a quarter of a century. These protests were not incited by any political organization but by citizens who are struggling to earn their daily living. It was led by high school students, youth and breadwinners in the neighbourhoods of the cities of Wad Medani, Greater Khartoum area, Port Sudan, Kassala and Ghadarif.

    The Sudanese regime cracked down without mercy on peaceful protests; on the first day of protests police, security and pro-government militias used live ammunition. Bullets were aimed at the upper part of the body, in what appeared to be a shoot-to-kill. On Monday night Khartoum and Omdurman witnessed heavy tear gas accompanied with live ammunition and protests continued into the early hours of Tuesday. Wednesday September 25 was the bloodiest day in Khartoum with approximately 150 peaceful protesters shot dead by government militia and national security forces. The massacre took place when the internet was cut off for approximately 24 hours. Besides shooting peaceful protesters, witnesses testified that police and security forces retreated from many major streets and neighbourhoods in Omdurman and South Khartoum before sunset, then mass numbers of militias suddenly launched their attack using live ammunition. On September 27 and 28 the demands of the protesters went beyond economic hardship and corruption to the toppling of the regime and justice for the martyrs. This is when the police guided peaceful protestors into traps - a street or square with limited exits, where they were attacked by NISS and government militias leading to numerous deaths. Government officials and police authorities then accused the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) cells in Khartoum of killing peaceful protesters and destroying public and private property.

    Aspirations for regime change

    Within the past two months I’ve been interviewing activists from the Girifna (means we’re fed up) Youth Movement, Sudan Change Now (SCN) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) about the possibilities of peaceful and armed regime change.

    One of the members of Sudan Change Now, Khalid Omer, detained since September 30 said when I met him last August “People previously waited for the National Consensus Forces to bring about change. Now each and every citizen is a change maker. Youth didn’t wait for political parties when they took the streets in January 2011 against the NCP. Now the NCP is on its last legs getting weaker politically and economically, interfering with tribalism and using racism to discriminate against fractions of Sudanese society." 

    An activist from Girifna Youth Movement, M.M, said “Girifna is a nonviolent resistance movement working on promoting human rights and sustainable peace. We are inspired by Ghandi’s non violence techniques and similar movements from Asia. Changing the regime is not our final goal but achieving social justice is. Thus if the NCP is removed and the revolution is accomplished, Girifna will continue its work on reconciliation, educating people about their rights and promoting sustainable peace”

    According to Khalid, Sudan Change Now is also working on several campaigns targeting social change such as the “Against Racism Campaign” that was launched in May 2013.

    Dr. Abdallah Teia Jumaa, a member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N); a political and armed movement said, “It’s time to topple the NCP or the people of Sudan will continue suffering. It has been proven that the youth can organize themselves successfully and fearlessly take to the streets in peaceful protests. But the regime is killing people daily in South Kordofan, the Blue Nile region and Darfur. Nothing worse could happen to us. More activism is needed to get rid of the NCP.”

    Malik Aggar, head of the SRF, and Gibril Balal, spokesperson for the Justice and Equality Movement - an armed opposition group and member of Sudanese Revolutionary Front, maintained that they will put their arms down and stop military operations as soon as the Albashir regime has fallen. 

    Recent protests have revealed how fragile the NCP is. The false accusations of the SRF being responsible for killing peaceful protesters has made people reconsider the role of the government and police authorities. Residents of Khartoum believe that the NCP is targeting Sudanese citizens financed by resources which ought to be used to feed the poor and offer education and health facilities for Sudanese citizens. The use of excessive force on peaceful protesters undermines NCP justification of protecting Arab Muslim identity from traitors and western agents aimed at dividing the Sudanese community. While people in the war zones are continuing their struggle through both peaceful and armed means; people in the capital are convinced of the legitimate right of self-defence and armed struggle. Although the wave of protests has shrunk during the past few days, the list of grievances is increasing. Popular anger will soon explode in the streets: it’s only a matter of time.

    My neighbourhood and its impact on world affairs

    By Efraim Perlmutter

    I often take visitors around my neighbourhood to show off some of the more interesting sites. I usually begin at the ancient Synagogue of Maon. Maon was a thriving town during the Byzantine era. The Synagogue was built or refurbished sometime in the fifth century. The only thing remaining of the synagogue is its mosaic floor, decorated with images of the flora and fauna of the area. Part of the mosaic includes a small inscription noting the names of the individuals who donated the funds for the floor's construction. It seems that contributors have always been happy to get public recognition for their generosity; a tradition that anyone visiting a modern synagogue or innumerable institutions and forests in Israel can see is alive and well today.

    The town of Maon was one of several dotting the western Negev during the Byzantine era. They were all abandoned and disappeared into the desert sands after the Arab invasion in the seventh century. No one knows exactly why this happened. My guess is that the Arab conquest disrupted the trade relations between the Middle East and Europe, destroying the economic basis of these communities. When the Arabs invaded, the Jews were primarily an agrarian population. A curtain came down over the area for two centuries and when it lifted, the Jews were primarily part of the urban scene. The rural towns of the Negev had disappeared along with the surrounding agricultural populations. There are no signs of human habitation at these sites for the next thousand years.

    The next stop on our tour is the transit station at Kerem Shalom. This is the main crossing point for goods going into the Gaza Strip. Anywhere from 200 to 300 hundred double articulated trucks pass through the station every day carrying up to 40 tons of cargo each. Most visitors are surprised at the amount of food, manufactured goods and raw materials passing through. About a year ago I participated in a demonstration with the residents of this area where we blocked the road leading to the transit point. We were demanding that the government widen the road to four lanes to accommodate the traffic more safely. Our demonstration lasted about two hours, long enough for TV news cameras to capture the scene for the evening broadcast. As I drove away from the demonstration I measured the distance that the trucks were backed up in the two hours that we blocked the road and it was over two kilometers long. 

    Kerem Shalom is the name of the nearby Israeli kibbut, Hebrew for the vineyards of peace. Three borders come together at this spot; the Egyptian, Israeli and Palestinian borders. Perhaps some day this will be a place of peace and cooperation but not today. Some months ago a group of Islamic extremists attacked an Egyptian army base just across the border, killed more than a dozen Egyptian soldiers, stole two Egyptian armoured vehicles and crashed through the border adjacent to the transit station. One vehicle blew up as it crossed into Israel and the other was destroyed by a well placed Israeli tank shell before those inside could do any more harm. No one at the Vineyards of Peace seems ready for peace.

    The next site on our tour is the Halutza settlements. The Halutza area was last populated during the Byzantine era. Until the final withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza in 2005, the whole area looked very much like the kind of desert Hollywood produces for its films. It was mostly sand dunes and almost no vegetation. There are some underground water resources but they have remained untapped for more than 1000 years. However, the old Zionist propaganda slogan about transforming the desert into a garden is becoming a reality in this area. Water is being piped in, the dunes were leveled, the sand was planted with various crops and houses are built. The core of the settlers in the Halutza area is made up of people who were evacuated from the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. They were augmented by others from elsewhere in the country. Unlike most of my neighbours, these are religious Jews who see their settlement activities as a religious duty.

    During the Camp David negotiations Arafat was offered the Halutza area as part of a land swap. He was said to have complained that the Jews kept the best land for themselves and offered the Palestinians only desert waste land. I have a hunch that in future years some Palestinian spokesman will point to what will then be a very productive Halutza area as proof that we Jews keep the best land for ourselves.      

    The Kurdish Jihadist battleground in Syria: ramifications in Iraqi Kurdistan

    By Zana Khasraw Gul

    On September 29, a rare attack occurred in Arbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), in which the headquarters of the Kurdistan security forces (Asayish) were targeted. The KRG has brought about rapid economic development in Iraqi Kurdistan, a region of Iraq that enjoys peace and security and is nothing less than a haven for Iraqis. A day earlier, the results had been announced of the parliamentary election of the KRG, which was applauded by some western countries, such as the UK, for its democratic process. However, the attack does not seem to be directly related to the election, which was won by the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP) securing the highest number of votes. Gorran cam second as the main opposition party while the third party of the region, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), was reduced to third place. 

    The way the attack was executed, and the quantity of arms and explosives used, point to a sophisticated network.  Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), an Al-Qaida affiliate operating in Syria, tweeted on its unofficial Twitter account, ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Sham: Four car bombs shake Arbil; response to what they are doing in ash-Sham (Syria). Alla-hu-Akbar’. This tweet attributes the attack to the ISIL or the ISLS and justifies it as an act of reprisal against the KRG’s involvement in Kurdish matters in Syria.

    Furious fighting has broken out in Syria between the Jihadists and the Kurds, particularly the most powerful Kurdish militia, People Protect Unit (YPG), the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which is an offshoot of the PKK. The JN, ISIL, Ahrar Al-Sham Brigade and ten other rebel factions have formed an alliance, the ‘Islamic Army’, that has rejected the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) allegiance to the Syrian National Council (SNC). These developments have brought the civil war to a menacing juncture, with regional ramifications. 

    As Assad’s enemies have fragmented and are fighting each other, a war is going on between the Arab rebels and the Kurds. Massoud Barzani, the President of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, has reportedly warned of intervention in Syria to defend the slaughter of the Kurdish people by radical Islamist groups who are fighting against Assad’s regime, although officials have since backtracked on the statement. In the meantime, the influx of refugees into the Iraqi Kurdistan region is continuing. In the last few months, tens of thousands of refugees, mostly Syrian Kurds, have crossed the border, posing a challenge to the KRG which is hard pressed to cope with their large numbers. 

    The discourse on Syrian Kurdish matters in the KRG is mainly dominated by two rival political parties of Iraq. The first is the KDP, led by the President of the KRG, which has a close relationship with Turkey and has been supporting the Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria (KDP-S) and Kurdistan National Council (KNC). The second is the PUK, the party of the President of Iraq, which has been backing the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party (PDPKS) in Syria and has close ties with the PYD, an offshoot of the PKK. The latter has tense relations with the KDP due to rivalry for power and territories.

    The Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime have accused the PYD of allying with the regime, while the PYD denies these allegations. The PYD claims that it is neutral in the Syrian civil war and does not side with any party. Nevertheless, the Kurds’ aim is to seek an autonomous region in northern Syria, while the Al-Qaida affiliates’ and the Jihadists’ objective is to form an Islamic Caliphate. As a result, continuing clashes between the Kurds, led by the YPG, and the Jihadists are pushing the latter out of the Kurdish majority areas in northern Syria.

    The call for Jihad in Syria has attracted a considerable number of Iraqi Sunnis and Shias who are also engaged in a brutal sectarian war fighting one another, which has exacerbated instability in Iraq. The Iraqi Shias have joined the Shia militias in Syria, such as Liwa’a Fadil Al-Abbas dedicated to the cause of the Shias across the world, while the Iraqi Sunnis have joined the ISIL, JN and other such extremist groups. A number of Kurdish Jihadists and Salafi individuals from the Iraqi Kurdistan region have also gone to Syria, some recruited via Al-Qaida Kurdish Battalions (AQKB), an affiliate of the Al-Qaida in Iraqi Kurdistan, and Ansar Al Islam (AAI), an extremist Sunni group made up of the Iraqi Kurds. These groups have targeted the KRG and sent insurgents to Syria, who have joined the ISIL and JN. Thus, Iraqi Kurdish insurgents have also collaborated with Syrian rebels. A source stated, on condition of anonymity, that these fighters are smuggled across the border by bribing border guards who facilitate their movements. 

    The actors in the theatre of war between the Kurds and the Islamic rebels in Syria are the YPG forces allied with the Liwa’ Jabhat al Akrad (Kurdish Front Battalion) or the ex-FSA on the one hand, and the JN and a smaller group of Katibat Al-Talaban (Kurdish Islamic group) on the other. The intensive combat zones include the governorates of Al-Hasakah, Ar-Raqqah and Aleppo. These battles between the Kurds and extremist Islamic groups in Syria have caused Iraqi Islamic extremist groups, especially the ISIL, to retaliate against the KRG for supporting the Syrian Kurdish parties. 

    A high ranking KRG Kurdish security official stated, again on the condition of anonymity, that he believed this attack was carried out by the ISIL, and that its elements in the Mosul province facilitated it because of their growing leverage. The worsening clashes between the Kurds and the Jihadists in Syria have played their part, and the attack is a message to the KRG that the Jihadists can reach important targets in the Kurdistan region in broad daylight. 

    A security officer and analyst regarding  extreme groups in KRG stated, again on condition of anonymity, “The Fatwa issued for the attack was from Dr. Ayad al Samarai, also known as Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi , who is the leader of Al-Qeada in Iraq. Furthermore, the group responsible was ISIL and the immediate order came from the ISIL network elements in the north based out of Mosul. The attackers had links to Syria and a number of the operatives are suspected of being non-Iraqi Arabs and have entered Iraq illegally from Syria. Moreover, there are also suspected Iraqi Kurdish operatives linked to the ISIL involved in the attack. We believe that ISIL will try to conduct more attacks in the future.” 

    This obvious spillover of the Syrian civil war, is destabilising Iraq, including the so far safe, peaceful and prosperous Kurdish semi-autonomous region. The prolonged threat confronting Iraq and its Kurdish region will only grow worse unless the civil war in Syria comes to a halt, which seems unattainable in the short term. 

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