MESOP NEWS DOCUMENTARY (II) : The Islamic State & the Kurds – The Documentary Evidence

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi – CTC Sentinel – September 21, 2017

Abstract: Drawing in part on internal Islamic State documents, this article aims to provide a new and more nuanced understanding of how the Islamic State has dealt with Kurds. Though the Islamic State is often characterized as being inherently anti-Kurdish, the organization has recruited Kurds and directed messaging toward Kurdish audiences. At the same time, internal documents in particular show the tensions between realities on the ground for Kurdish communities that lived under Islamic State control and the organization’s ideology that is, in theory, blind to ethnicity.

The controversy over how the Islamic State has treated Kurds is often colored with sensationalist language, with the suggestion that the Islamic State, an entity whose ranks consist primarily of Sunni Arabs, maltreats Kurds simply on the basis of their ethnicity. This narrative stems partly from conflating Kurdish experiences with the Islamic State with the organization’s genocide against the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq, which does not necessarily identify as ethnically Kurdish but speaks the Kurdish language. For example, one article in The National Interest claims that with the rise of the Islamic State, “the Kurds also began to make headlines, first as the victims of the barbaric hordes of the self-proclaimed caliphate, then as its most capable and willing adversaries.”1 Similarly, an October 2014 article in Financial Times spoke of the Islamic State’s “targeting of the Kurds.”2 Ranj Alaaldin, in an opinion piece for The Guardian, goes even further in generalization, asserting that “jihadi groups such as ISIS view Kurds … and other minorities as heretics.”3

The immediate counterpoint to these claims of Islamic State persecution of Kurds merely for being Kurds is that such behavior conflicts with the organization’s ideology. While the Islamic State’s main means of functioning and communicating is the Arabic language, the Islamic State’s worldview is, in theory, based on the dichotomy of Muslims and non-Muslims. Thus, when it comes to those identified as Muslim, their ethnicity should not matter. This line of thought has been expressed with consistency. For instance, in a speech announcing the establishment of the caliphate, the organization’s then spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, drew attention to the precedent of the acceptance of Islam by the Arabs that supposedly resulted in eliminating distinctions based on ethnicity. “By God’s blessing, they became brothers … and they united in faith … not distinguishing between non-Arab and Arab, or between eastern and western, or between white and black.”4

This article seeks to provide a more nuanced understanding between the narrative of Islamic State persecution of Kurds simply for being Kurdish and the theoretical ideal of no discrimination among Muslims on the basis of ethnicity. This subject will be explored primarily through internal Islamic State documents, though some of the organization’s external propaganda will be taken into account as well. As part of the investigation, this article will particularly focus on Islamic State recruitment of Kurds and the policies toward Kurdish communities and Kurds living in its areas.

Islamic State Recruitment of Kurds
The presence of Kurds in jihadi groups is by no means a new phenomenon. Most notably, prior to 2003, the history and background of the jihadi group Ansar al-Islam (Partisans of Islam), which was led by Mullah Krekar, illustrate Kurdish involvement in salafi and jihadi trends in the Iraqi Kurdistan area for decades.5 Beyond Iraqi Kurdistan, Brian Fishman has highlighted the case of Abu al-Hadi al-Iraqi, a Kurd from Mosul who was a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War.6 Abu al-Hadi al-Iraqi migrated to the Afghanistan-Pakistan area and became a leading figure in al-Qa’ida by the end of the 1990s. Among the training camps for residents of the al-Qa’ida guesthouse run by Abu al-Hadi al-Iraqi was a ‘Kurds Camp,’ which, as its name suggests, was intended to train Kurdish jihadi operatives.7

Given these precedents, it should not be surprising that the Islamic State would recruit Kurds who are ideologically committed to its cause. In this regard, there have been multiple propaganda items from the Islamic State featuring Kurds in the organization’s ranks. Prior to the caliphate announcement, one such item was the 26th video in the series “A Window Upon the Land of Epic Battles,” released in November 2013 by what was then the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham’s al-Itisam media. The video, entitled “A Message to the Kurds and a Martyrdom Operation,” features a Kurdish speaker threatening the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, vowing that “by God’s permission, we will return to Kurdistan with the arms we have placed on our shoulders.”8The speaker continues, “By God’s permission we will defeat you just as we have defeated the apostates of the PKK and the shabiha of Bashar…despite the force of their arms and their large numbers.”9 The speaker is thus making a clear distinction between fighting Kurds merely for being Kurdish and fighting Kurdish political entities that are deemed apostate (i.e., Muslim by origin but having left the fold of Islam) for espousing a heretical, nationalistic outlook.

After the declaration of the caliphate, propaganda appeals to Kurds emerged in productions such as “The Kurds – Between Monotheism and Atheism” from the Raqqa province media office. The video, which has Kurdish subtitles where necessary, features Kurdish fighters for the Islamic State while highlighting a contrast between Kurdish forbears portrayed as having performed great services for the Islamic cause—such as Salah al-Din, who fought the Crusaders and brought about the end of the Shi’i Fatimid Caliphate—and modern-day Kurdish nationalist causes, such as Mustafa Barzani and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, portrayed as allies of Israel.10

Syria and Northern Iraq

An item from the internal propaganda series Qisas al-Mujahideena and some external media reporting point to the existence of a Kurdish-speaking unit within the Islamic State’s fighting forces known as the Salah al-Din Battalion.11 According to Qisas al-Mujahideen,12 the battalion takes its name from a certain Salah al-Din al-Kurdi, who was originally from Halabja and took up arms against the U.S. occupation, forming his own contingents of operatives. Arrested by U.S. forces in 2008, he supposedly spent time in Abu Ghraib prison, but was then released on grounds of ill health. By late 2011 or early 2012, Salah al-Din al-Kurdi had returned to jihadi activity, joining the Islamic State of Iraq and then sent to conduct a suicide operation in the run-up to the Arab League Summit in Baghdad at the end of March 2012. (See Exhibit 1.)

Finally, there is evidence of significant Islamic State recruitment in Turkey among the Kurdish minority. As Metin Gurcan notes, the recruitment “reflects the fact that many Kurds live in southeast Turkey, the most religious part of the country.”13 Many of these Kurdish jihadis, coming from a historically marginalized minority in Turkey, appear to believe that the Islamic State would grant them equal rights.14

Thus, so far as recruitment is concerned, the evidence is clear that the Islamic State willingly accepts fighters and members of Kurdish origin. The criterion of acceptance that matters here is the ideological commitment to the Islamic State.

Kurdish Communities Living under the Islamic State
While the Islamic State has no problem in recruiting Kurds willing to serve and fight for the organization, most people in the various cities, towns, and villages that have fallen under Islamic State control do not become members of the Islamic State. Rather, they remain as civilians. Many of these civilians might have ended up working in various administrative offices and aspects of governance co-opted by the Islamic State (e.g., teachers in schools), but that does not mean that they became members of the Islamic State.

Kurdish communities and populations are known to have existed in many areas that were seized by the Islamic State, including villages in north and east Aleppo countryside, the cities of Raqqa and Tabqa along the Euphrates in central northern Syria, and the city of Mosul. According to Islamic State maxims, the theory is that the group should deal with these Kurdish communities solely on the basis of their religion. If they are Muslims who outwardly follow the rules and rituals of Islam, then there is no reason to treat them any differently than Sunni Arabs abiding by the dictates of the religion and living under Islamic State control. The principle is well illustrated in a statement distributed by the Islamic State’s Ninawa province media office in Mosul in late July 2014, denying the rumors of forcible displacement of Kurds from the province. The statement affirms, “The Sunni Kurds are our brothers in God. What is for them is for us, and what is upon them is upon us. And we will not allow any one of them to be harmed so long as they remain on the principle of Islam.”15 In practice, however, the widespread suspicions and associations of Kurdish communities with Kurdish nationalist parties have led to discriminatory treatment in many areas under Islamic State control.

The evidence for discriminatory treatment of Kurdish communities primarily comes from internal documents from Syria. Close cooperation between the U.S.-led coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which includes the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—the Democratic Union Party and its armed wing the Popular Protection Units (YPG)—has been vital in pushing back the Islamic State in the north and northeast of the country. In June 2015, the Islamic State issued a notification in Raqqa province requiring Kurdish inhabitants to leave for the Palmyra area in Homs province.16 The decision was justified on the grounds of the “alliance of the Kurdish parties” with the U.S.-led coalition and that there were some among the Kurdish inhabitants under the Islamic State who had “cooperated with the Crusader alliance.” Thus, on the grounds of alleviating tension, the stipulation to leave Raqqa province was imposed. At the same time, the Islamic State was careful to emphasize that the properties of those Kurds required to leave but considered to be Muslims would not be confiscated, and the group made arrangements for their property to be registered with the real estate bureaucracy. A subsequent statement was issued by the emir of Raqqa city, warning Islamic State fighters that they could not infringe on those properties.17 This prohibition was reaffirmed the following month,18suggesting that violations had taken place. It is not clear, in the end, how far these stipulations against seizing Kurdish properties were enforced.

The documentary evidence suggests that not all Kurds who were living in Raqqa province under the Islamic State ultimately left these areas. It appears that it subsequently became possible to obtain an exception to the requirement to leave. From the Raqqa province city of Tabqa, a document dated December 2015 emerged from the ruins of the aftermath of the Islamic State’s defeat there by the U.S.-backed SDF. The document noted that those Kurds who still wished to reside in Raqqa province had to go to the office of Kurdish affairs.19 Many Kurds, of course, would have fled Islamic State territory entirely, and the Delegated Committee (a general governing body for the Islamic State) issued a directive in mid-August/mid-September 2015 requiring confiscation of property of Kurds who fled to “the land of kufr” (land governed by those deemed to be non-Muslims).20 It should be noted, however, that confiscation of property of those who fled the Islamic State was not unique to the Kurds and other ethnic minorities. A similar fate befell the properties of medical professionals who fled the Islamic State,21 as well as those accused of working with other factions opposed to the Islamic State like the Free Syrian Army.

The suspicion of Kurdish communities in Syria was not limited to Raqqa province. In Aleppo province, a number of villages with Kurdish communities came under the control of the Islamic State. Internal documents obtained by this author reveal a security report issued by the al-Bab office of the public security department in July 2016 and addressed to the higher public security ministry.b (See Exhibit 2.) The report gives a detailed description of “some of the Kurdish villages in the province that represent a danger to the Islamic State because of the loyalty of the majority of their inhabitants to the Syrian Democratic Forces, and their hatred of members of the Dawla [Islamic State].” Among the charges leveled in the al-Bab report are that the Kurdish communities have been deceiving members of the Islamic State about “places of the presence of the atheists” (referring to the Syrian Democratic Forces); “receiving and welcoming the atheists;” videos disseminated on the Internet featuring complaints about impositions of Islamic norms such as payment of zakat taxation and the dress code for women; and informing Kurdish forces in advance of Islamic State raids into their territory. For context, the reference to welcoming the SDF and the displays of rejecting “Islamic” morality are amply attested in reports at the time of the sense of liberation felt by many locals (not necessarily just Kurds) as the Syrian Democratic Forces were capturing the Manbij area in east Aleppo countryside from the Islamic State.22

The al-Bab report proceeds to give some specific cases, such as the village of Qibat al-Shih to the north of al-Bab town. According to the report, 99% of the village is Kurdish, with 70% having been with “the atheist party” (presumably referring to the Democratic Union Party/PKK). The Islamic State, the report claims, “killed many of the sons of this village for their loyalty to their Kurdish nationalism, as in the battle of Ayn al-Islam [Kobani], they were going to Turkey and from there to Ayn al-Islam to fight with the PKK.” In another case, about a village called Haymar Labadah on the route between Manbij and al-Khafsa with a population of 5,000, the report claims that “the majority of them are from those who hate the Islamic State.” More specifically, the report alleges, for example, that by night the people of the village attacked the Hisba [Islamic morality enforcement] base in the village 10 days after it had been opened, stealing 50,000 Syrian pounds ($90-100), a laptop, and some confiscated cigarettes. Moreover, the report says that there are people from the village who have been participating in the SDF campaign to capture Manbij.

On the basis of the various cases presented, the report concludes with the suggestion to “displace the people of these villages in the present time to avoid the cases of treachery that happened in the similar villages that have now fallen under the control of the PKK.”

Despite the recommendations of the security report, it is not clear whether the suggested policy of displacement was actually implemented, as opposed to the documents from Raqqa province where the evidence of implementation of forced displacement is unambiguous. At least some Kurdish communities continue to reside in areas of north Aleppo countryside retaken from the Islamic State by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels.23However, the fact that recommendations for displacement were put forward at all, taken in combination with the displacement that took place in Raqqa province, illustrates that Islamic State policies toward many Kurdish communities in areas under its control were tainted with suspicion and hostility. As one anti-PKK Kurdish activist currently based in the north Aleppo countryside area of Akhtarin explained to this author, more fieldwork will be required to track specific village and town cases of displacement, but in the general sense, the “proportion of [Islamic State] oppression on the Kurds was more” than that on the Sunni Arab communities.24

From a counterterrorism perspective, highlighting the internal documentary evidence of Islamic State suspicion and hostility toward many Kurdish communities, despite the theoretical ideal of only discriminating among people on the basis of their religion, may be worthwhile in an attempt to split Kurdish fighters from the ranks of the Islamic State, who may have joined the group believing that the Islamic State treats Kurdish Muslims fairly. CTC

Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi is the Jihad-Intel Research Fellow at the Middle East Forum, a U.S.-based think-tank, and an associate fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College, London. He has testified on the Islamic State before British parliamentary committees. Follow @ajaltamimi

Appendix: Previously Unpublished Internal Documents Referenced in This Article

Exhibit 1: Biography of Salah al-Din al-Kurdi from the series Qisas al-Mujahideen

Exhibit 2: Security report on Kurdish communities issued by the al-Bab office of the public security department, July 2016

Exhibit 2 (cont.): Security report on Kurdish communities issued by the al-Bab office of the public security department, July 2016

Exhibit 2 (cont.): Security report on Kurdish communities issued by the al-Bab office of the public security department, July 2016

Exhibit 2 (cont.): Security report on Kurdish communities issued by the al-Bab office of the public security department, July 2016

Substantive Notes
[a] As a source for information, the series needs to be treated with a degree of caution. The stories related are designed to boost the morale of Islamic State fighters, and as such they are open to considerable embellishment and perhaps even total fabrication.

[b] These documents were obtained through an intermediary via the Syrian rebel group Ahrar al-Sharqiya, which is based in the north Aleppo countryside. Its members, who originate in the eastern Deir ez-Zor province, participated in battles against the Islamic State in Aleppo province and have taken Islamic State members as prisoners. In addition, they continue to maintain connections with contacts in eastern Syria and thus, have multiple avenues for obtaining Islamic State documents. The study obtained reflects a typical function of the Islamic State’s security department in the provinces—that is, to investigate anything that may be considered a security threat to the Islamic State.

[1] Burak Kadercan, “This is what ISIS’ Rise Means for the ‘Kurdish Question,'” National Interest, September 9, 2015.

[2] Thomas Hale, “A short history of the Kurds,” Financial Times, October 17, 2014.

[3] Ranj Alaaldin, “The ISIS campaign against Iraq’s Shia Muslims is not politics. It’s genocide,” Guardian, January 5, 2017.

[4] Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, “This is the promise of God,” Al-Furqan Media, June 29, 2014.

[5] Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, “A Complete History of Jama’at Ansar al-Islam,”, December 15, 2015.

[6] Brian Fishman, “The Man Who Could Have Stopped The Islamic State,” Foreign Policy, November 23, 2016.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Al-Itisam Media presents a new video message from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham: ‘A Window Upon the Land of Epic Battles #26,'” Jihadology, November 15, 2013.

[9] Ibid.

[10] “New video message from the Islamic State: ‘The Kurds: Between Monotheism and Atheism, Wilayat al-Raqqah,'” Jihadology, August 2, 2016.

[11] For example, “Who is leading the Da’esh forces on the right side in Mosul…and why?” Qoraish, January 19, 2017.

[12] Story of Salah al-Din al-Kurdi, Qisas al-Mujahideen (see Exhibit 1). This was obtained by the author (via an intermediary) from an individual who worked in the Islamic State administration in Manbij and left for the Azaz area in the north Aleppo countryside.

[13] Metin Guran, “The Ankara Bombings and the Islamic State’s Turkey Strategy,” CTC Sentinel 8:10 (2015).

[14] Ibid.

[15] Specimen 8Y in Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, “Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents,”, January 27, 2015. This archive of Islamic State administrative documents is housed on the author’s website and reflects an ongoing project that began in January 2015 to collect and translate Islamic State documents, which total more than 1,000 in number. This archive includes gathering of documents available in the open-source realm and documents collected privately from contacts, with determinations made as to their authenticity based on a number of criteria (e.g., use of stamps, absence of red flag motifs. etc.).

[16] Specimen 5M in “Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents.”

[17] Specimen 6B in “Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents.”

[18] Specimen 9Z in “Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents.”

[19] Specimen 37R in Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, “Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents (continued … again),”, September 17, 2016.

[20] Specimen 25J in “Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents (continued … again).”

[21] Specimen 5I in “Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents.”

[22] For example, Wladimir Van Wilgenburg, “Syrian Arabs around Manbij overjoyed IS vanquished, welcome SDF, Kurds,” Middle East Eye, June 12, 2016.

[23] Aymenn al-Tamimi, “#Syria: Shami Front and Ahrar al-Sham visit Kurdish village of Susenbat in north Aleppo countryside: outreach to Kurdish tribal figures,” Twitter, May 1, 2017.

[24] Author interview, Ahmad Masto, anti-PKK Kurdish activist in Syria, September 2017.


Political divisions among Turkey’s Kurds resurface over referendum


  • The HDP saw it essential to distinguish itself from PKK on the issue of the referendum 

  • Sertac Bucak in Middle East Eye

Despite widespread popular support among the Kurds in Turkey for the Kurdish referendum, political parties are divided on the matter – Arwa Ibrahim –  Wednesday 20 September 2017 12:55 UTC – MIDDLE EAST EYE

As Kurds in northern Iraq prepare to cast their ballots in Monday’s independence referendum, the controversial vote has already exposed deep-rooted divisions within the Kurdish population of neighbouring Turkey. While public opinion among Kurds in Turkey is considered to be strongly supportive of the process taking place across the border in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, the leanings of the country’s Kurdish political groups and movements are less clear cut.

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MESOP NEWS SPECIAL : The Growing Power of Water in Syria Samuel Northrup – FIKRA FORUM

Samuel Northrup is a research assistant in the Military and Security Studies Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  Also available in العربية  – September 12, 2017

Syria’s economic and political stability have long been predicated on a grand bargain of water access. Since Hafez al-Assad seized power in 1970, the Syrian government has manipulated public access to water for political ends. The regime uses water to buy and maintain loyalty, intimidate opponents, and fracture insurgencies, all in an effort to suppress and control the populace. While water has always been politicized in Syria, access to drinking and irrigation water will become an ever more powerful tool of the Assad government as global climate change exacerbates water scarcity in the Mediterranean.

Water and Loyalty

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MESOP NEWS Special Report – What do Yazidis make of Kurdish independence?

Martyn Aim/IRIN – Tom Wescott  –  ERBIL, 19 September 2017 – IRIN NEWS

Part of an in-depth IRIN series exploring the challenges facing Kurdish people throughout the Middle East as Iraqi Kurds vote on independence . – Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence referendum hangs on tenterhooks, with Iraq’s prime minister promising military intervention should Monday’s vote lead to violence, the US, UK, and UN urging Kurdish leaders not to move forward, and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s parliament voting to do just that.With much of society apparently in two minds about the referendum, especially its timing, one group the authorities long believed they could count on for a “yes” vote was the Yazidis, a Kurdish minority singled out by so-called Islamic State for especially cruel treatment in a campaign the UN has deemed genocide.But Yazidis – displaced in different camps and mostly hailing from Sinjar, a contested area that could become a flashpoint for further conflict if the vote goes forward – are themselves divided on the independence question.

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ISIS’s Expanding Campaign in Europe – By Jennifer Cafarella with Jason Zhou – BY ISW (Institute for the study of War)

Key Takeaway:  ISIS’s attack campaign in Europe is expanding despite ISIS’s losses of terrain and senior leadership in the Middle East and North Africa. ISIS continues to plan, resource, and execute attacks from its remaining safe havens in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. ISIS has successfully expanded its coordinated attack campaign in Europe to target the UK and Spain. Rising levels of ISIS-inspired attacks in Sweden and Finland may signal growing online ISIS activity targeting vulnerable populations in those states and receptivity among those populations to the ISIS message. Coordinated attack attempts could follow. ISIS is sustaining its attack efforts in its initial target states of France and Germany, meanwhile. ISIS’s activity in Belgium, also an initial target state, is much lower, but the lack of ISIS attacks in Belgium does not signal incapacity. ISIS may be using its networks in Belgium to support attack cells elsewhere in Europe. ISIS also appears increasingly successful at inspiring low-level attacks in Europe despite its territorial losses, indicating its messaging is still resonant. ISIS’s campaign in Europe will continue and may even increase despite its losses in Iraq and Syria.

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2 New Iraq Opinion Polls Find Sea Change In Views


Two new public opinion polls from the Spring of 2017 found that Iraqis still hold very divergent views. What was a big change was that most Sunnis felt positive about the country and the government, although they were still worried about the Islamic State. Shiites on the other hand, showed high levels of pessimism, while Kurds appeared to be done with the central government.

The results of the two surveys were incomplete. One was done by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research from March to April 2017, and included areas under Islamic State control. A total of 1,338 people were questioned, 293 from Baghdad, 500 in southern Iraq, 363 in western Iraq including 200 in Mosul, and 184 in Kurdistan. The margin of error was +/- 2.19%. The other was done by Almustakilla for Research in April 2017, but was only written about in the Washington Post. How many people were interviewed and where, the questions asked, the margin of error, etc. were not mentioned, which is a serious drawback when evaluating the results.

Several of the questions and results were similar between the two. One was whether people thought Iraq was going in the right direction. For Almustakilla for Research (AFR) it found 51% of Sunnis, but only 36% of Shiites and 5% of Kurds believed Iraq was on the right track. Those were very close to Greenberg Quinland Rosner Research (GQRR) that had 39% replying right direction vs 59% wrong. Urban areas, 41% right vs 57% wrong, were slightly more optimistic than rural regions, 32% right, 64% wrong, but showed general unhappiness with the country. By region, west Iraq, which included Anbar and Ninewa were the most positive with 64% saying right direction, compared to Baghdad and the south, 62% each wrong, and Kurdistan 95% wrong. GQRR also provided results for the question dating back to November 2010. February 2012 had the highest positive results with 48% saying right direction, and August 2016 had the biggest negative response with 82% saying wrong. Both AFR and GQRR show that while Sunni parts of Iraq are feeling good about the country, but the majority (Shiites and Kurds) are not. The Kurds have been increasingly unsatisfied with the central government since Nouri al-Maliki’s rule (2006-2014), and have remained skeptical of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi. This is due to arguments over the budget, the Peshmerga, oil exports, and the disputed territories. Sunnis on the other hand, appear to be happy that they were liberated from the Islamic State. Shiites are the hardest to explain. One would think that they too would be happy with the victories in the war against the militants, yet 2/3 have a negative view of things. They continue to be victims of mass casualty terrorist attacks, the Shiite political establishment is becoming more partisan and divisive, and there is general cynicism about the government and its corruption and nepotism. There may be other factors as well, but it’s hard to tell from the polling. Overall, this marks a decided change in Iraqi opinion. Since 2003, Sunnis have traditionally felt the most alienated and angry in the country as they lost their dominant position in society and government with the overthrow of Saddam. That was recently surpassed by the Kurds however after their falling out with Maliki. Now the Shiites are generally unhappy.

Almustakilla for Research

Is Iraq going in the right direction?

Sunnis 51%
Shiites 36%
Kurds 5%

Greenberg Quinland Rosner Research

Do you think things in Iraq are going in the right/wrong direction?

Right Wrong
Overall 39% 59%
Urban 41% 57%
Rural 32% 64$
Baghdad 36% 62%
South 35% 62%
West 64% 34%
Kurdistan 3% 95%

Do you think things in Iraq are going in the right/wrong direction?

Month Right Wrong
Nov 2010 45% 44%
April 2011 41% 50%
September 2011 37% 50%
February 2012 48% 44%
December 2012 40% 54%
November 2013 31% 65%
April 2014 41% 51%
March 2015 34% 55%
August 2015 26% 65%
January 2016 10% 82%
April 2017 39% 59%

Another question in both surveys was whether people supported Prime Minister Abadi or not. For AFR 71% of Sunnis said yes as well as 62% of Shiites. That compared to 59% of all respondents being for the PM vs 38% disapproving in the GQRR poll. By region, 78% of west Iraq approved the most of the premier, followed by 64% in Baghdad, 57% in South Iraq, and only 18% in Kurdistan. Abadi’s approval rating actually slipped from 75% in January 2015, down to 65% in August 2015, to a low of 33% in January 2016 before rebounding to 59% in April 2017 according to GQRR. What accounts for the dramatic swing in Abadi’s standing? When he first came into office, many were happy simply because he was not Maliki. He started coming down to earth after that, especially in 2015-16 as his government appeared in disarray as there were growing protests demanding reform, which were co-opted by Moqtada al-Sadr. Abadi also presented a reform program, which turned out to really be about saving money due to Iraq’s financial crisis after oil prices slipped. The PM then changed course and tied himself to the military victories against the Islamic State, which account for his renewed popularity this year. The Kurds are the one exception, as they held an overwhelmingly negative view of anyone running Baghdad.

Almustakilla for Research

Do you support Prime Minister Haidar Abadi?

Sunnis 71%
Shiites 62%

Greenberg Quinland Rosner Research

Do you approve/disapprove of Prime Minister Haidar Abadi?

Approve Disapprove
Jan 15 75% 19%
Aug 15 65% 29%
Jan 16 33% 63%
Apr 17 59% 38%
Baghdad South West Kurdistan
Jan 15 93% 85% 68% 28%
Aug 15 85% 83% 48% 16%
Jan 16 52% 33% 24% 15%
Apr 17 64% 57% 78% 18%


While in the first two questions the AFR and GQRR results were generally the same, that was not true when Iraqis were asked whether they believed the Islamic State would make a return. 61% of Sunnis and 38% of Shiites believed it would according to AFR, vs 58% of total respondents saying yes and 40% saying no to GQRR. One thing was the wording was different between the two countries. AFR asked if IS would comeback in their cities, while GQRR was more general and asked if the insurgents would re-emerge in the country. AFR might have also asked Kurds what they thought, but that was not included. GQRR found that 91% of Kurdistan and 74% of Baghdad respondents feared a militant comeback compared to 44% in south Iraq, and 49% in the west. This could be one difference between the two polls as west Iraq includes the majority Sunni provinces of Anbar and Ninewa, but it was not completely comparable as there are plenty of Sunnis spread out in other parts of the nation.

Almustakilla for Research

Will the Islamic State return to your city?

Sunnis 61%
Shiites 38%

Greenberg Quinland Rosner Research

Are you concerned about ISIS and other groups re-emerging in Iraq?

Very/Somewhat Little/Not
Total 58% 40%
Baghdad 74% 25%
South 44% 55%
West 49% 50%
Kurdistan 91% 6%

The last similarity between AFR and GQRR was what Iraqis thought should happen to the Hashd al-Shaabi. For AFR 45% of Sunnis and 42% of Shiites believed that the Hashd should be integrated into the army. 35% of Sunnis thought they should be disbanded, while only 5% of Shiites shared that idea. There might have been other responses, but the results of the poll were not discussed unfortunately. In the GQRR results, 40% of all respondents thought the Hashd should be dissolved or integrated into the army. 23% thought it should be given more power as a separate member of the security forces, 16% said the Hashd should be disbanded, 7% said they should return to their own provinces, 7% thought they should remain in areas contested by IS, and 5% said they should be in areas where the insurgents were not present. Again, the two surveys were roughly the same with 40% of so thinking that the Hashd should become part of the security forces. At the same time, they are not completely congruent as GQRR included the Kurds, which were vary anti-Hashd with only 2% having a favorable view of the force. The Hashd have been at the forefront of the war against the Islamic State, although they have been relegated to more of a support role in the major battles since Tikrit due to the maneuverings of PM Abadi who wanted the army and police to be in the lead to increase the standing of his government. The Hashd also has a sizeable Sunni contingent, especially if the Tribal Hashd are included. They have an overwhelmingly positive standing amongst Shiite as they are considered the saviors of the country after the Iraqi forces collapsed in 2014. Thus 60% of west Iraq, 90% of Baghdad, and 100% of the south had a favorable view of the Hashd according to GQRR. The Kurds were the one exception with 76% having an unfavorable view, since many believed the Hashd were a sectarian force that threatened the disputed areas in places like Kirkuk, Salahaddin, and Diyala.

Almustakilla for Research

What should be the future of the Hashd?

Integrated into army Disbanded
Sunnis 45% 35%
Shiites 42% 5%

Greenberg Quinland Rosner Research

What do you think should be done with the Hashd after Iraq liberated from ISIS?

Dissolved or Integrated into army 40%
Given more power as separate military force 23%
Disbanded 16%
Remain as is but return to their own provinces 7%
Remain as is but stay only in areas contested by IS 7%
Remain as is deployed to provinces not contested by IS 5%

How would you rate your feelings towards the Hashd?

Favorable Unfavorable Change vs Jan 2016
Total 74% 19% 7%
Baghdad 90% 6% -4%
South 100% 0% +2%
West 60% 28% +22%
Kurdistan 2% 76% 0%

The biggest take away from both public opinion polls was the positive feelings amongst Sunnis. The last time that community was so optimistic was probably in 2009 when Sunnis came out in force to participate in the provincial elections. That included a number of insurgent groups who finally felt that they could have a say in the Iraqi government. That opportunity was lost with the policies of Prime Minister Maliki who went after all of his opponents, especially the Sunni parties and the Sahwa that were created by the United States during the Surge. This time there might be a more profound change amongst them. In 2014, there were a variety of insurgent groups and tribes that believed they could work with the Islamic State against the Maliki regime. They were all fooling themselves about cooperating with IS as it quickly pushed out all the other groups to where they are no longer even active. IS rule proved harsh and deadly as thousands were killed and imprisoned. This has almost completely discredited the militants’ brand. Prime Minister Abadi has also made it a priority to liberate these areas, increase his standing and win over Sunnis to the government. The question is can this be sustained? Outside of military victories, Abadi has little else to offer. The government is still in the midst of a huge budget deficit, and can barely rebuild all of the territory it has re-taken. How Abadi deals with these issues will largely determine whether he can maintain Sunni support. He also has to shore up his own base, while he’s completely lost the Kurds who are increasingly disinterested in most things going on in Baghdad.


Al-Dagher, Munqith and Kaltenthaler, Karl, “A striking positive shift in Sunni opinion in Iraq is underway. Here’s what it means,” Washington Post, 9/14/17

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, “Improved Security Provides Opening for Cooperation, March – April 2017 Survey Findings,” May 2017

This Day In Iraqi History – Sep 16

Posted: 16 Sep 2017 12:04 PM PDT

1961 Govt forces began ground offensive to put down Mustafa Barzani Kurdish


1980 Saddam said that Iran would not fight Iraq because it was afraid

Lead up to Iran-Iraq War

1980 Saddam said that Iraq had to regain all the disputed territory it claimed from Iran

1986 Iraq air strike on Iran’s Lavan oil terminal Iran-Iraq War

1990 UN Resolution 667 demanded Iraq release foreign nationals it detained in Kuwait

1991 Mohammed Zubaidi became Iraq’s premier

2001 Bush said unless Iraq connected to 9/11 it would be dealt with diplomatically not

with force

2001 Cheney asked on NBC was there any evidence linking Iraq to 9/11 He said no

Said focus was on Al Qaeda

2001 Fmr CIA Dir Woolsey said stories of 9/11 hijacker Atta meeting with Iraqi

intel showed Iraq needed to be investigated

2002 Iraq told UN it would allow new weapons inspections with no conditions

2002 VP Chief of Staff Libby & DepNatlSecAdv Hadley briefed by Pentagon group

that Iraq and Al Qaeda had cooperated

2002 New draft of UK dossier on Iraq said it had recently produced WMD but no


2003 Rumsfeld said he believed US intelligence that Iraq had WMD

2003 Rumsfeld said no evidence Iraq involved with 9/11

2003 Rice said one reason US invaded Iraq was because he was from Middle East

where 9/11 attacks came from

2003 Senior Iraqi scientist said WMD programs dismantled by UN inspectors in 90s

2004 UN Sec Gen Annan told BBC that US invasion of Iraq was illegal

2004 July Natl Intel Est on Iraq leaked to press Best case Iraq would remain unstable

Worse Iraq would break out into civil war

2007 Blackwater guards fired at car in west Baghdad killing 17 civilians

and wounding 20

2008 Pres Barzani told US Amb Crocker that Maliki was beginning to act like a


2009 US closed Camp Bucca prison which had served as recruiting ground for


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The Kurdish Referendum – Is it Legal? – Co-authored by Margaux J. Day

MESOP NEWS APPEAL : FORWARD TO KURDISH INDEPENDENCE ! –  Paul Williams, Contributor Rebecca I. Grazier Professor of Law and International Relations, American University; Co-Founder, Public International Law and Policy Group

Kurdistan plans to hold a referendum on September 25, 2017 to determine whether its people would like Kurdistan to become an independent state. Iraq objects to the referendum. A number of commentators have addressed the question of whether or not Kurdistan has a right to become an independent state, as well as the legitimacy of its political claims against Iraq. This article addresses the question of whether Kurdistan is prohibited by international law from holding its referendum and from declaring independence, and the significance of Iraq’s objection to the referendum.

Is the Kurdish Referendum prohibited by international law?

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The issue was announced on Friday in a joint statement issued after two days of talks in Astana. The full text of the statement is as follows:

Joint statement by Iran, Russia and Turkey on the International Meeting on Syria in Astana –  14-15 September 2017

The Islamic Republic of Iran, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey as guarantors of the observance of the ceasefire regime in the Syrian Arab Republic (hereinafter referred to as “Guarantors”):

– reaffirming their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic;

– guided by the provisions of UNSC resolution 2254 (2015);

– welcoming the significant reduction of violence on the ground in Syria as a result of measures aimed at maintaining and strengthening the ceasefire regime:

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Iran, US align against Iraqi Kurdistan referendum

Fazel Hawramy September 14, 2017  – AL MONITOR  – Iran and the United States jointly but separately are putting the screws on Massoud Barzani to halt his drive for Iraqi Kurdistan to hold its upcoming independence referendum.

Military commanders and diplomats from both Iran and the United States are swarming Iraqi Kurdistan in a last-ditch attempt to convince the Kurds, an important ally in the war against the Islamic State (IS), to either postpone the planned Sept. 25 referendum for independence or cancel it all together. Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s powerful Quds Force, and Brett McGurk, the US special anti-IS envoy accompanied by US Ambassador Douglas Silliman, were shuttling this week between Baghdad, Erbil and Sulaimaniyah to convince all sides to come to an agreement.

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Inside America’s Secret War with ISIS – U.S.-backed forces are about to seize Raqqa – the capital of the most wanted terrorist group on earth – so why won’t the government talk about it?

A U.S. Marine deployed in northern Syria, March 2017 Lance Cpl. Zachery Laning/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By Seth Harp –  September 6, 2017 – Rolling Stone Magazine –   An hour before dawn on a rooftop in Raqqa, you can see the Milky Way. The Islamic State’s embattled capital in Syria, once home to hundreds of thousands of people, has been bombed back into darkness, but from the city center comes the trancelike recitation of the call to prayer. A sudden flash of red light illuminates the skyline, and a rumbling like distant thunder rolls over the rooftops. As soon as it subsides, the reading of scripture resumes, until it is again silenced by the flash and thud of an American bomb.

On the front lines of Syria with the young American radicals fighting ISIS

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