Thaier Al-Sudani / Reuters A member of militias known as Hashid Shaabi kneels as he celebrates victory next to a wall painted with the black flag commonly used by Islamic State militants, in the town of al-Alam March 10, 2015.

The Kurds of ISIS

Why Some Join the Terrorist Group

“Jihadism has existed here for decades, and ISIS will be defeated just like the rest of them,” a confident senior Kurdish intelligence official told us. The Kurds are particularly self-assured when it comes to the threat that the Islamic State poses to the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan, which the group menaced before the Kurdish peshmerga forces (and Western airpower) began beating it back in August 2014.

We spent two weeks in Iraqi Kurdistan in order to gain a better understanding of ISIS and the war against it. Our research involved interviewing Kurdish security officials, peshmerga commanders, intelligence officers, and Kurdish prisoners who had joined ISIS. We learned more about the conditions that take someone away from his or her home, family, and friends to the so-called caliphate.

During a peshmerga-guided trip to Taza, a settlement just outside Kirkuk that represents one of the front lines against ISIS in Iraq, Kurdish commanders appeared genuinely relaxed. The head of the base there told us that, since the start of the U.S.-led air campaign in 2014, ISIS has been unable to mount any serious assaults in the area. “All we see now are a few mortar shells,” he said, “just to remind us that they are there.” In some cases, ISIS has resorted to using shells laden with chlorine and mustard gas. A week prior to our visit, Taza was the site of one such attack, which led to hundreds of casualties. Despite the concern it caused, this attack was more a demonstration of the group’s increasing desperation than anything else.

ISIS, however, is not just a terrorist insurgency threatening the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan. It is also a domestic problem, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) internal security services have been hard at work preventing ISIS attacks within its territory, arresting Kurdish and Arab members (and even Western foreign fighters, we were told) and dismantling the group’s remarkable recruitment and logistics network.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters inspect an rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher as they take control of the area, on the outskirts of Mosul February 6, 2015. REUTERSFile Photo

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters inspect an rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher as they take control of the area, on the outskirts of Mosul February 6, 2015. REUTERSFile Photo

ISLAMISTS AND KURDS

Jihadist groups have historically found it

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