Kurdish Islam and the Question of Kurdish Integration into the Iraqi State
Rafaat, Aram, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies
The author examines the role of religion in Kurdish national aspirations, with particular reference to the manner in which it affects the relationship between Kurds living in Iraq and attempts to integrate Iraqi Kurds into the Iraqi state.
Key Words: Iraq; Kurds; Kurdish Islam; Sunni; Shiite; Alavi; Sufi; Kurdish Jews; Indigenous Kurdish religious sects.
(ProQuest: Foreign text omitted.)
"Thou, God, must not allow the Kurds to unify; their unification would cause the destruction of the world"
(Prophet Mohammad's saying reported by the medieval Turkish historian Khuja Sadaddin.)
The Kurds are an ancient people, and the Kurdish language, which is of Indo-European origin, is the fourth largest language of the Middle East after Arabic, Iranian and Turkish. With an estimated population of around 30 million, the Kurds are possibly the world's largest nation without statehood, their homeland, Kurdistan, being today divided between Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. Approximately 80-90% of Kurds are Muslim, of which 70-75% are Sunnis, belonging to a plethora of different Sufi orders, and 30-25% Shiite or Alavi. The remaining 10-20% of Kurds adhere to different religions and sects, including Judaism, Christianity, and a number of indigenous Kurdish religions such as Yazidis, Yarsani, Sarlis and Shabaks. Thus, Kurds exhibit a unique religious cultural pluralism and Kurdish Islam has national characteristics which distinctively it from mainstream Islam and are another cultural factor that prompts Kurds to seek independence, or at least a reasonable measure of self-determination if forced to remain within the Arab-dominated state of Iraq.
This article investigates the role that Islam can play in the process of Kurdish integration into the Iraqi state. First, it highlights arguments for considering Sunni Islam as an overarching identity that reshaped Kurdish concepts of self-identity. The article then reports on how Kurdistan was annexed to Iraq, the role of religious leaders in Kurdistan, and the Iraqi attempt to use Islam as a method of integrating Kurds into Iraq. However, in contradistinction to the theory that the Kurds and the Iraqi Arabs are part of a common religious community, this paper argues that Islam is itself a reason for the failure of, rather than a factor promoting, Kurdish integration into Iraq. This is due to the unique nature of Kurdish Islam, which is different from, if not contradictory to, the mainstream form of Islam in Iraq.
Little attention has been given to Kurdish Islam by scholars, and this article focuses on the characteristics of Kurdish Islam' and how it has affected the question of Kurdish integration into Iraq. First, I will highlight how Kurdish Islam has served as a basis for the Kurdish demand for nationhood. Then, the nature of the divide between Kurdish Islam and mainstream Islam will be examined, and the differences between the two forms of Islam will be highlighted. The question of how Kurdish Islam influenced the self-concept Kurdish community, and its boundaries of exclusion and inclusion, will also be studied. I will further examine the role of Kurdish Islam in turning Kurdistan into an Achilles' heel of political Islam in the Middle East. Finally and most importantly, this article will highlight the role of Kurdish Islamic Schools (Hujra)1 as pioneers of Kurdish nationalism (Kurdayeti) 2, secularism, and leftist ideologies in Kurdistan.
The final section will concentrate on Iraqi policies towards Kurdish Islam. First, it will examine the attempt to assimilate Kurdish Islam into mainstream Islam in Iraq through replacing Hujra with state-run Islamic schools (SRIS). Then it will investigate how political Islam and Islamic groups emerged from SRIS. Secondly, it will highlight how the Islamic groups were supported by Iraq and surrounding countries in order to weaken Kurdayeti. Thirdly, it will describe how Kurdish Islam is perceived by surrounding nations and how it contributed to the alienation of the Kurds and prepared the grounds for the al-Anfal operation.3 The Islamic dimension of al - Anfal, and the question of whether it can be considered as mainstream/official Islam revenge against Kurdish Islam or not, is also examined. Finally, I will scrutinize the role of Kurdish Islam in the rupturing of the bond of Islamic brotherhood that had intended to bridge gaps between Kurds and Arabs, and therefore to integrate Kurds into the Iraqi state.
1. The theory of religious community
Religious Community Theory considers Islam as an overarching identity that reshaped the way that Kurds saw their own Kurdish community. In other words, it is Islam rather ethnic solidarity or territorial identity, exists in the minds of most Kurds as their imagined identity. Historically, according to proponents of RCT, Islam has played an important role in the process of Kurdish integration into the Iraqi state. Islamic sectarianism is portrayed as as the basis of Kurdish identity, and Islam as the main justification for the incorporation of Kurds into Iraq, as an integrating factor, and as a reason of the dominant role of religious leadership in Kurdistan.
1.1. Islamic sectarianism as Kurds common identity
Many argue that historically it was the sense of religious community, rather than ethno-national sentiments, that is the basis of the Kurdish 'imagined community'. For example, Bruinessen (1999); Kirischi and Winrow (1997: 84) insist on the strong sense of allegiance to Islam as a common uniting religion and an overarching identity. Kirischi and Winrow (1997: 84) argue that historically Kurds have "identified themselves closely with their fellow Moslem[s]".4 According to Bruinssenes, Sheikh Mahmud, the Kurdish leader in the 1920s-30s, had "contemplated cooperation with the Kemalist movement in Anatolia on the basis of common Muslim identity".5
Furthermore, it is widely believed that in addition to tribal solidarities and regional and linguistic dichotomies, the sectarian division between Sunni and Alavi/Shiite Kurds has resulted in a weakening of the Kurds' desire for sovereignty on the basis of Kurdish ethnicity. Furthermore, many argue that most Kurdish uprisings, including the Sheikh Ubeydullah's movement of1880,6 and Shaikh Said's rebellion of19257 were more Islamist-oriented than nationalistinspired. 8
1.2. Kurdish Muslim piety as a factor in the annexation of Kurdistan into Iraq
Considering Islam as the overarching identity of the Kurds, and especially their strong sense of Sunni Islam, led King Faisal to see them as members of the same sect. Therefore, Faisal thought that the incorporation of Kurdistan into Iraq might create a new demographic balance in favour of Sunnis.9 This is because, by adding 'Sunni Kurds to Sunni Arabs, the total number of Sunnis would increase from 20% to over 40%, and the Shiite's numbers would decrease from 80% to 55% of the Iraqi population.10 Thus, it would become easier for Sunni Arabs to "secure a permanent preponderance of Sunni over Shiite in the Constituent Assembly".11 In other words, the Kurds' adherence to Sunni-Islam might bind them to the Sunni Arabs, and therefore secure the latter's rule in Iraq.
In the early years of monarchy era many leaflets were distributed in Kurdistan by the Iraqi state to promote the vision of 'religious community' among the Kurds. In some leaflets Kurdistan was described as a bilad al-Islami (Islamic homeland) and Iraq as an Islamic state: the Kurds' incorporation into Iraq was described as Islamic unification.12 Viewed in this way, Kurds are often counted as part of the Sunni bloc in the Sunni versus Shiite equation.13 Moreover, the term "Sunni Kurds" is popular among scholars14, and Kurdistan is often described as "a predominantly Islamic society".15 Similarly, in post-invasion Iraq, many Sunni politicians often argue that the Sunni community is a majority in Iraq, on the grounds that the Kurds are also Sunnis.
1.3. Kurdish loyalty to Islamic leaders
Another argument for the domination of Islamic and sectarian beliefs in Kurdish society is the role of religious leaders in Kurdistan. Jawaide argues that religious leaders, especially Sheikhs, in Kurdistan enjoy a greater respect and loyalty than secular nationalist leaders. Bruinssense draws a connection between the role of religious leaders in the Kurdish movement and Islam as an overarching identity:
It is not a coincidence that many of the early Kurdish uprisings with a nationalist dimension were led by Sufi shaykhs: the large rebellions of Shaykh Ùbeydullah (1880) and the shaykhs of Barzan in central Kurdistan, Shaykh Sàid (1925) in the North, and Shaykh Mahmud Barzinji (1919, 1922 and 1931) in southern Kurdistan, and several minor uprisings.16
Several important religious figures who had a leading role in Kurdish society can be added to Bruinssens's list. Among others are Sheikh Ahmed Barzani17 and his brother Mulla Mustafa Barzani18, Qazi Muhammad19, and Jalal Talabani.20 Based on these arguments, one can conclude that the Kurdish strong sense of allegiance to Islam is evidenced in (and has culminated in) the fact that most important political leaders in Kurdistan have been religious figures.
Further evidence that is presented in favour of the 'religious community' theory is the role of Sufi orders in reshaping Kurdish society. Many attribute divisions of Kurdish society and political life to the Kurdish allegiance to a certain sect of the Sufi order. For example, it is known that Talabani and Barzani belong to rival religious orders; Talibani to Qadiri, and Barzani to Naqishbandi. It is argued that the historic tension between the two rival orders has contributed to the internal political rivalry between the two main Kurdish partis: the PUK and KDP.21 These divisions also apply to the cases of Sheikh Mahmud from the Qadiri order, and Sheikh Ahmad of Barzan from the Naqishbandi order in the 1920s and 1930s.22 Thus, the subjugation of Kurdayeti to Islam or a sect of Islam meant most Kurdish "rebellions remained limited in geographical scope and elicited little sympathetic support from other parts of Kurdistan."23
1.4. Using Islam as method to integrate Kurds into Iraq
According to al-Barzani, in the early years of the annexation of Kurdistan to Iraq, both the British and Iraqis had attempted to use Islam as a weapon against Kurdayeti and its demands.24 Secessionists who called for independence were accused as being unbelievers for their attempts to dismember the Islamic state (Iraq).25 Moreover, during the Kurdish rebellion in early 1930s, Iraqis unsuccessfully attempted to use the notion of brotherhood in Islam to convince nationalist leaders in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya26 and the leaders of the Barzan Movement,27 to abandon their nationalist demands. Similarly, from 1960s to the late 1980s Iraq had put money into Islamic establishments; consequently, religious centres in Kurdistan proliferated.28 The Baath regime in particular was interested in using religion to keep "the Kurds divided so that a cohesive movement did not challenge its exploitation of Kirkuk oil."29 Thus, "bankrolled with oil money," McDowell explains, "many sheikhs acquired new patron status locally."30
1.5. Unsolved questions
However, contrary to the 'religious community theory,' and despite the fact that Muslims constitute the overwhelming majority (98 percent) of the Iraqi population, and the fact that Islam has been recognised as the official religion of the state and its identity since the creation of Iraq in 1921, the Kurds have not been integrated into Iraq. This "religious community" approach also fails to answer the questions of why Kurds were in constant rebellion over the past eighty years, the reason for the domination of Kurdish nationalist parties versus the absence of Iraqi political parties in Kurdistan, the weakness of Islamic parties among the Kurds, and most importantly, the popularity of the leftist (at least until the 1990s) and secular movements. In other words, it cannot explain why Kurdish religious leaders who led Kurdish rebellions founded secular and leftist parties rather than Islamist parties. This section argues that the answers to these questions lie in the characters and traits of Kurdish Islam
2. Kurdish Islam:
2.1. Kurdish Islam as a basis of making Kurds a nation apart
Contrary to the 'religious community' theory, from its early beginnings, Kurdayeti used Islam not only to prevent the assimilation of the Kurds into mainstream Islam, but also to distance Kurds from the surrounding communities: Persians, Arabs and Turks. Furthermore, Kurdish Islam is often used to call for and justify the creation of a Kurdish state. Contrary to McDowell's arguments mentioned above, UbeydullaUbeydulla's movement of 1880 sought to create an independent Kurdish, rather than Islamic, state.31 His revolt was against Ottoman Turks and Persian rule in both Persian and Ottoman Kurdistan. Participants of his movement that had more than 60,000 fighters were exclusively from Kurdistan, but they were from different religious backgrounds, including Alavis, Sunnis and Christians.32 Thus, his boundaries of exclusion and inclusion were based on being Kurdish or Kurdistani (regardless of religion or sectarian background), rather than on being a Sunni Muslim (regardless of ethnicity). Therefore, Ubeydulla destroyed one important foundation of the 'religious community', namely the Islamic brotherhood. Moreover, his call for an independent Kurdish state was based on his belief that Kurdish "laws and customs are distinct" from those of Arabs, Persians and Turks.33 As it is known, in the 'Islamic community' Islam is the main, if not the only, source from which all laws and customs should be derived. Therefore, laws and customs are to be the same in all communities regardless of the ethnicity. By emphasising the different character of Kurdish customs and laws, he countered one of the foundations of the 'common Islamic religious community' Argument.
Ironically, not only were 'distinct laws and customs' used by Ubeydulla to draw the boundaries of what he saw as a distinct Kurdish community, but also he insisted that the Kurds' "religion is different." As he was a religious figure and a leader of a Sufi order of Islam, there is little doubt that by 'Kurds' religion' he meant Islam, and therefore, by implication, he meant that Kurdish Islam was different. In other words, for Ubeydulla there is a 'Kurdish Islam' and an 'others' Islam'. However, UbeydullaUbeydulla's 'Kurdish Islam' is so different from 'others' Islam' that it makes "the Kurdish nation ... a people apart."34 Thus, as Ubeydulla destroyed the bonds of the 'common religious community' argument by emphasising the separateness of Kurdish Islam, he uses Islam to build an alternative 'imagined community,' which is a 'Kurdish community'. For him he Kurds were not part of, or bound to, the Ottoman Millet as a 'religious community,' which claimed an overarching identity as the dominant belief at the time.35 He rejected such a community; led a rebellion against it, and struggled for a separate 'community', namely an independent Kurdistan. Thus, Ubeydulla consciously adopted a separate notion of the Kurdish community at the expense of the hitherto dominant concept of a common 'religious community'.
Three decades later, "Cemiati Ta'ali Kurdistan," which was founded in 1908 and was considered as the first popular nationalist Kurdish organisation, adopted the same Ubeydulla's doctrine of calling for an independent Kurdish state based on the Kurds' distinct laws, customs and religion. Later, Sahreef Pasha Khandan,36 who was the head of the Kurdish Delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1918, viewed the idea of a common 'religious community', as an obstacle to Kurdish identity.37 Differences between Kurds and Arabs on the basis of religion were used as another reason by Taufiq Wahbi,38 in 1930 in his call for Kurdish self-rule within the Iraqi border.39 Wahbi, who tried to highlight these differences, also argued that the Kurdish vision of religion is more similar to that of Europeans than that of Arabs.40 Again, in 1945, a Kurdish movement in Iraq, in an appeal to the League of Nations, called for a united independent Kurdish state. Among other reasons for this call was that Kurdish Islam is "very different from their other Mohammedan neighbours".41
2.2. Grounds for the departure of Kurdish Islam from mainstream Islam
'Kurdish Islam,' is not a baseless allegation used by the Kurdish nationalists for merely political ends. In many ways, historically 'Kurdish Islam' is reinforced by, if not a result of, the principality system of Kurdistan. First, under principality rule, Kurdish Islamic schools known as Hujra flourished throughout Kurdistan.42 These Hujra networks were limited to Kurdistan, and each Hujra accepted students from all parts of Kurdistan43. Hujra had a significant role in unification and reshaping the Kurdish Islam. For example, students of Hujra who travelled for study throughout Kurdistan played a significant role in the adoption of the Shafi'i Mezheb44throughout Kurdistan.45 The Shafi'i Mezheb is different than the Hanfi Mezheb that has been adopted by most of the surrounding Arabs and Turks.
Second, for at least three centuries (from the mid-16th to the mid- 19th) both Ottoman and Persian empires had only nominal rule in Kurdistan, and Kurdish principalities enjoyed real authority. Therefore, Ottoman 'mainstream Islam' and its 'Millet system' had not extended to the mass of the population within the borders of these principalities. Third, Kurdish principalities had derived their legitimacy from their feudal and tribal background. Therefore, neither Kurdish princes nor their principalities had derived their legitimacy from Islam or used Islam to justify their rule.46 Most of these principalities possessed a more secular nature than an Islamic one. The geographical boundaries of each principality were limited, and this led to the survival of Kurdish communities detached from the wider Muslim nation. At the same time, the combination of the worldly nature of principalities, their limited geographic boundaries, and their isolated population provided fertile ground for the development of Kurdish Islam, and for religious pluralism in Kurdistan.
2.3. Differences between Kurdish Islam and 'mainstream Islam'
Kurdish Islam possesses a distinctive character that makes it different from the beliefs of most Islamic nations. The first difference between Kurdish Islam and 'mainstream' Islam is that with more than 20 different religions and sects, Kurdistan is one of the most pluralistic societies in the Middle East. "Isolated communities [in Kurdistan]" as Acker (2004) explains, "have often preserved customs and beliefs and even developed entire religious systems that contain elements alien to mainstream Islam".47 In other words, these 'religious systems,' that preserved 'customs and beliefs' which are 'alien to mainstream Islam' had further alienated Kurdish Islam from mainstream Islam. Moreover, common grounds and similarities had been found between the old religions, many of whose 'customs and beliefs' had been preserved, and on the other hand, 'Kurdish Islam' that absorbed many of those customs and beliefs.
Consequently, Kurdistan is not only a land in which its "heterodox religious communities could survive longest," but also a land of "the most heterodox communities of the Middle East".48 Heterodoxies enjoyed a more tolerant environment under 'Kurdish Islam,' than under the mainstream Islam. Even some of these non- Islamic sects were adopted as the official religion of Kurdish dynasties. For example, from its establishment in 16th century until its destruction in 19th century, the Ardalan dynasty49 adopted the Yarsan religion,50 and the Gorani dialect,51 its Holy language, as the official religion and language respectively. Being an official religion of one of the strongest Kurdish principalities, many Muslim Kurds adhered to or even converted to the Yarsan religion.52 In the same way, Gorani was adopted as an "official language of the Kurds throughout a rather large region in Kurdistan".53
The Second significant difference between Kurdish Islam and the Mainstream Islam is the Kurdish adaptation of the Shafi'i Mezheb. Although Shafi'i has never developed into a religious ideology' however, Shafiism in many ways has become linked to Kurdishness. Shafi'i Mezheb, as Bruenssens notes, "neatly distinguishes them from the Shi'i Azeris and Persians as well as from the Hanefi Turkish and Arab Sunnis". 54 In Turkey where the Kurdish identity has been banned, "a stranger is frequently asked what his Mezheb is, as a cautious way of finding out whether he is a Turk or a Kurd".55 One difference of Shafi'i from other Mezheb is that, Imam Shafi'i insisted that if a practice is widely accepted throughout the Muslim community, it cannot be in contradiction of Sunnah.56 In other words, the Shafi'i Mezheb provided the Kurds a room for maintaining their pre-Islamic beliefs and incorporating elements from older cults into Kurdish Islam.
The third difference between the Kurdish Islam and MI is the adoption of a distinctive Sufi order; the Qadiri and the Naqishbandi. The Kurds combined Islamic faith with mystical Sufi practices and worldly concerns. From the early of 19th century until the middle of the last century, the head of almost every family either followed Qadiri or Naqishbandi orders, and that practice was inherited by its family members.57 Even sometimes within one family, the wife followed one Tariqa and the husband was an adherent of the other.58
Another difference is the creation of Kurdish Islamic schools (Hujra) networks throughout Kurdistan that were independent from and different to the Mainstream Islamic schools. The language of Hujra is Kurdish and it teaches Shafi'i laws. The combination of the Sufism and Hujra has further facilitated the emergence of a distinct form of Kurdish Islam. Sharia (Islamic law) was not the only subject to be studied in Hujra. Instead, principles of Sufism and other worldly matters, especially Persian Literature, were studied in Hujra.59
Moreover, the Sharia in Kurdistan had combined with Sufism for daily affairs. Accordingly, this had resulted in another difference between Kurdish Sufism and other Muslim Sufism. In Kurdistan Sufism has changed from merely a theory to a practical ritual (Tariqat). Hence, the combination of Sharia and Sufism resulted in the emergence of a form of Islam which is a mixture of mystical and worldly concerns. This combination has provided a clear political meaning to Kurdish Sufism.
Furthermore, the Kurdish Sufism, were deeply impregnated with the popular culture of Kurdistan. One example is the use of musical instrument by the Qadiris during their daily worshipping ceremonies. Another example is a strong sense of egalitarianism among some branches of Sufi orders, especially among Barzanis,60 and Heqe61 branches of Naqshabandi. Heqe, originally emerged as an egalitarian movement in the late nineteenth century. It implied equality between the peasants and landlords and equity between men and women.62 Contrary to the main-stream Islam Both Barzani63 and Haqqa64 movements called their followers not to conduct their prayers, Ramadan and the pilgrimage, three of the five Islamic pillars.65
Sheikh Ahmad Barzani, whose family led Kurdayati for most parts of the last century, aimed to "unite the religiously fragmented Kurds." 66 For that end he introduced several reforms into the Barzani Branch of Naqishbandi order. For example, he "challenged traditional Islam by instituting a new religion, which was to bring together Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in one."67 To symbolize the link between Christians and Naqshbandis, he even permitted his followers to consume pork.68 Moreover, he "included elements of Yazdanism by declaring himself the new avatar of the Divine Spirit." 69 Sheikh Ahmad, however, is not a pioneer of such a reform as many believe, rather it had been followed by his predecessor. Sheikh Salam, his older brother, for example, was "called the 'Sheikh of the Christians' because he treated his Christian subjects so well." 70
Such cooperation between Muslim Kurds and non-Muslim Kurds is not confined to Barzanis and Naqishbandi branchs. Rather it embedded in Kurdish cultural life and social structure. This is evident in that in the 19th century many Kurdish tribes included more than one religion. For example, tribes such as Hewerkan, Dasikan, Aliyan, Dermane, 71 had included Yazidi72, Islam and Christians. The Shabak tribe has Sunnis, Shiites and Kakayis. 73 The Barzan tribe had both Muslims and Jewish, Sindi both Muslims and Christians,74 and Milli includes Muslims and Yazidis. 75
Thus incorporation of elements from older cults has provided a distinct character and a syncretistic nature to the Kurdish Islam. The influence of such 'un-Islamic' cults is so significant, that that it reshaped many "Kurdish religious and social practices".76 Hence, Kurdish Islam is often described as an "un-Islamic" form of Islam.77
2.4. Kurdish Islam and boundaries of exclusion and inclusion
Many Kurds, According to Acker, "take pride in their 'un-Islamic' form of Islam .78", Kurdish Islam, however, is often used by Kurdish nationalists to consolidate Kurdish identity and to distance Kurds from the rest of the surrounding nations. Three interconnected consequences of this special character of Kurdish Islam, however, are: a religious pluralism; Kurdish nationalism; and secularism. With its population of Christians, Jews, Sunnis, Shiites, Alavis, Yezidis, Yarsani, Sarlis79, Shabak, Heqe, and a plethora of Sufi orders, Kurdistan possesses a unique religious pluralism. Consequently, the unique religious composition of Kurdistan has reshaped boundaries of exclusion and inclusion, and therefore Kurds' 'imagined community'.
Boundaries of inclusion and exclusion, from the very early stages of Kurdish nationalism, were exclusively based on ethnicity. Three founding fathers of Kurdish nationalism, namely; Sharaf Khan Bidlisi80, Ahmadi Khani81, and Koyi82, from the 16th , 17th and 19th centuries respectively, had excluded their supposed co-religious Turks, Persians and Arabs, and included all Kurds. Their Kurds included Shiites, Alavis, Sunnis, Yezidis and Yarsani groups. Such an imagined community, however, required a departure from religion and instead the adoption of more worldly and materialistic principles. These principles reflect the works of both Khani and Koyi, who emphasised the Pen and Sword in order to achieve an independent Kurdistan.83 Koyi, also criticised the establishment of Islamic sheikhdoms in Kurdistan.84 Even Jwaideh argues that his poems have "a materialistic and agnostic flavour."85
2.5. Kurdayeti's detachment from mainstream Islam
With the creation of highly centralist and assimilationalist state in the Middle East, both Kurdayeti and Kurdish Islam felt they were threatened by mainstream Islam. Mainstream Islam is perceived by Kurdayeti as a factor in the division of Kurdish society. For example, Yamulki86, attributed divisions in Kurdish society to Islam, and stated that both Sunni and Shiite Kurds are from the same race and should not be divided on the basis of religion.87 Moreover, Kurdish nationalists of the twentieth century looked on mainstream Islam adopted as an official religion by the centralised states of Iraq, Turkey and Iran as a means of "the assimilation of the Kurds on the ground of similarity of religion."88 Similarly, Sheikh Ahmed of Barzan, a religious and nationalist leader, accused the British of using religion to subjugate nations.89 Thus, most Kurdish nationalists believe that Islam is used by the "opponents of the Kurds...to oppress them and stymie their national ambitions."90
To contain such a challenge posed by official Islam, Kurdayeti ceaselessly sustained the pre-Islamic myths to homogenise mentalities and to construct an overarching identity for the Kurdish nation. This Kurdish policy is embedded in the three of the most important symbols of Kurdish 'Nationhood', namely: the Kurdish flag, the national day and the national anthem. In the Kurdish flag, the pre- Islamic symbol is represented by the sun of the Zoroastrians and the Medes. The Kurdish national day, Nawroz, represents the myth of the Kurds' victory over tyranny in 600 BC. Nawroz also represents both the Kurdish new-year and calendar. Finally, the Kurdish anthem, Ey Reqib, emphasises that "We [Kurds] are the children of Medes and Cyaxares [first king of Meds]....Both our faith and religion are our homeland." Hence, both Muslim and non-Muslim Kurds resorted to the Kurdish identity as a framework to resist forced assimilation policies of the central governments
In addition to these pre-Islamic sentiments, Kurdayeti adopted secular and often leftist principles. Until the foundation of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan-Iraq (IMK) in 1987-8, almost all political parties were exclusively secular and mostly leftist. Among others are Jamiati Teali Kurdistan (1908), the National League (1930), the Hiwa Party (1939), the Kurdistan Communist Party (1943), Rizgari Party (1945), the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)(1946), the League of Marxist Leninists of Kurdistan -Komele- (1970); the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (1975) and the Socialist Movement of Kurdistan (1976). All these political parties are/were secular and apart from the first three parties, all parties have adopted, to different extents, leftist ideologies. Furthermore, the Kurdish national anthem represents a more radical departure of Kurdayeti from religion. It says: "Both our faith and religion are our homeland." Considering one's homeland as one's "faith and religion," which is in odd to the Islamic world, shows the extent of Kurdayeti departure from Islamic culture and instructions. It is also a strategic attempt to subjugate the Kurds' loyalty to Islam to that of Kurdistan, and hence to challenge the notion of 'religious community'.
2.6. Kurdish Islamic Schools (Hujra) as pioneers of Kurdayeti and leftist ideologies in Kurdistan
Mullahs from Hujra were pioneers of Kurdish Nationalist ideologies. Three of the founding fathers of Kurdish nationalism, Sharaf khan, Khani and Koyi, graduated from Hujra. Both Khani and Koyi showed a secular tendency in their nationalism.91 Moreover, in addition to religious leaders of the late 19th and early 20th century, most Kurdish leaders of the 20th century were from religious families and/or graduated from Hujra. Among other leaders were Sheikh Ahmed Barzani, the Sheikh and the leader of the first Barzan uprising (1931-1932). His brother, Mullah Mustafa Barzani, who is considered one of the most famous leaders in the Kurdish movement in addition to being a mullah, was also a leader of the second Barzan uprising. He is also the founder and the president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) since 1946, the legendary officer defending the first Kurdish republic in 1946, and the leader of the longest Kurdish rebellion in Iraq, known as the Aylul (September) revolution (1961- 1975).
Qazi Muhammad, another legendary Kurdish leader, was a mullah from a famous religious family in Eastern (Iranian) Kurdistan. He was a founder of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), and most importantly the founder and the president of the first Kurdish republic in history in 1946. Finally, another important figure is Jalal Talabani, the founder of the PUK (1975), the general secretary of the party since its establishment; and the president of the Iraqi republic since 2005. Talabani is the son of Shikh Husameddin, the leader of Qadri order in Koysanjaq.
The revival of the Kurdish language as important symbol of Kurdish nationalism is also owing to poets graduated from Hujra. The most famous poets, in this regard, are Khani, Jeziri, from the 17th century, and Nali, Mahwi and Salm from the late 18th; Wefayi and Koyi from the 19th , and tens of poets from the 20th century. As poems constitute the largest part of Kurdish literature for decades, the poems of nationalist mullahs such as Piremerd (the revival of Nawroz as a Kurdish National day), Qanii, Hajar and Hemn had a vital role in spreading Kurdayeti. Therefore, in contrast to the view of Bruinssen, who sees the religious leaders' role in Kurdish nationalism as an indication of the religiosity of Kurdish society, this phenomenon could be seen as indicative of the role of Hujra as a pioneer of Kurdayeti. Similarly, "Sufi Zawiya (lodges) were the intellectual centres where the Kurdish dialects emerged as written language.92" This is specially true with "Naqshbandiya order. According to Tejel, it "contributed to the systematisation of the Kurdish literature culture.93" The sufi brotherhoods, deeply impregnated with popular culture.
The Hujra contribution in the reshaping of political life in Kurdistan is not limited to Kurdayeti only, but has made a real contribution to its Marxist and secular nature. Ironically, the leftist and Marxist ideology and organisations, which dominated the Kurdish political movement for decades (from the 1940s until 1990), owe their existence to the Hujra's educated/graduated mullahs. It is important to realise that none of the Kurdish leaders mentioned above founded an Islamic party. In contrast, the KDPI, KDP and PUK of Mohammad, Barzani, and Talabani respectively were secular parties with Marxist rhetoric. Furthermore, Mullah Sherif Rengerejani94, graduated from Hujra95, was the first Kurd to become a member of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) and its Central Committee.96 He also became the first Secretary/President of the Kurdistan Branch of the ICP; and the editor in chief (1946-1960) of the Azadi journal.97 The journal had a pivotal role in spreading communism in Kurdistan and promoting Kurdish nationalist consciousness. Additionally, Azadi's concessionaire, Nafii Younis, also belonged to a religious family, as his father was a mullah who graduated from Hujra.98
Salih Haydari and Jamal Haydari also belong to one of the most famous religious families in Kurdistan. They were founders of the Kurdistan Communist Party (Shorish) in 1943.99 Salih was elected as a secretary of Shorish and an editor in chief of its publication (Shorish), and Jamal had a leading role in the ICP's Politburo for many years. Behaadin Nuri (1927-) who belonged to a Sheikh (religious) family, was still a student in Hujra when he became a member of the ICP, and then the party's secretary from 1949-1953.100 Another mullah from the Hujra was Mullah Ahmed Bani-Khelani, who was elected as the Secretary of the Kurdistan Region branch of the ICP in 1967. Moreover, the founders and the first two secretaries of the Kurdistan Marxist Leninist (Toiler) League, or Komele, were Shahab and Aram, cousins from a Sheikh family in Sulaimaniya. Similarly "Kurdish Toilers of Iran (Komele), [....] a Marxist- Leninist movement [....] has received the moral support of Sheik Ezzedin Husseini, a charismatic and highly popular religious leader among the Kurds."101
Thus, religious families and mullahs from Hujras had a significant contribution in importing and spreading Kurdayeti, secularism and communism in Kurdistan. In contrast to mullahs in surrounding nations, Kurdish muslim scholars from Hujras, instead of being involved in the Islamization of Kurdistan and the birth of political Islam, became leaders of Kurdayeti secularism and leftist organisations.
2.7. Kurdish society as an Achilles heel for Islamists in the Middle East
Against this well-established secular tradition of the Kurdish nationalism, Kurdistan represents the weakest link in the chain of the Islamic movement in the Middle East. "Islamist politics," as Romano explains, never "attracted nearly as much support in Iraqi Kurdistan as Kurdish nationalism did.102" and it "never seemed to enjoy as much broad popularity in Iraqi Kurdistan as it has amongst some neighbouring Arab populations".103 The Islamic movement in Iraq goes back to the 1940s, and it evolved into a powerful Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) in 1960. The IIP has become the major Sunni political organization in post-invasion Iraq.104 Apart from a handful of followers, who later withdrew from the party and joined the Kurdish nationalist movement, the IIP failed to gain any support in Kurdistan. Only after three decades, and only during the tumultuous years of the 1990s did Kurdistan experience the rise of Islamism. A combination of the double embargoes on Kurdistan (Iraqi and UN) and Kurdish internal conflicts resulted in a power vacuum and desperate times for the Kurds. These harsh circumstances were exploited by Persian Gulf Islamists, and a huge petro-dollar Islamization campaign was directed at Kurdistan.105
However, Kurdish Islamists remained a simple minority in Kurdistan. For example, the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) failed to gain any seats in the first election in Kurdistan in 1992.106 In the second election in 2005 and the third election (2009), Kurdish Islamist parties gathered just above 10 percent of votes. Second, most Kurdish Islamists are both Islamists and Kurdish nationalists at the same time. This nationalistic nature of Kurdish Islamists makes them more ready to work with the Kurdish secular-nationalist parties and less sympathetic to Iraqi Islamists. Moreover, all Kurdish Islamist parties have a Kurdistani, rather than an Iraqi, identity. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the IMK became a member of the dominant nationalist front (1989-1992).
Third, in post-invasion Iraq, via the two main Islamic parties, IG and UIK, Islamists entered either in a single coalition with Kurdish parties in the Iraqi parliament or to form a united front with them. In post-invasion Iraq, the Kurds remained the main challengers to the Shiite and Sunni Islamists' attempts at the Islamization of the Iraqi state. Believing that "an Islamisized state will merely attempt to subsume the Kurdish identity under the banner of Islam"107, and that therefore such a state would be incompatible with their ambitions. As evidence of this, Jalal Talabani insisted that "Kurds will never submit to an Islamic order"108, and Masud Barzani confirmed that Kurds "won't accept an Islamic identity being imposed on Iraq."109 Moreover, a survey of the role of Islam published in Awene shows that only three percent of Kurds want Islam to become the main source of legislation, as stipulated in the Iraqi constitution. Finally, in contrast to the Shiite-Sunni hostilities, for a time after the collapse of the regime the Kurds and Shiites enjoyed close relationships and cooperated on many issues, including drafting the TAL and the permanent constitution, the vote for the ratification of the constitution, and a parliamentary vote in favor of a law which allowed provinces to unite and form federal regions.
Finally, the clash between non-religious Kurdayeti and the Islamic tendency of Arab nationalism (Arruba) has further widened an already existing gap in Kurdish-Iraqi relations. In contrast to Kurdish nationalism, which emphasises its secularist characteristics, as explained above, Arab nationalism emphasises Arab-Islamic glories. Two examples are the Istiqlal110 and the Ba'ath111 parties, two dominant political parties in the monarchy and post-monarchy eras respectively. Both advocated Arruba as an extension of the Islamic faith and its Mohammadan revolution. They adopted all Islamic glories and its history as the history of Arruba. At the same time, the Arab rulers of Iraq tried to eliminate Newroz and other Kurdish pre- Islamic glories.
3. Iraq's Kurdish Islam policy
Being aware of such a version of Kurdish Islam, the Iraqi government, since the annexation of Kurdistan, followed a policy of encouraging the assimilation of Kurdish Islam into the mainstream Islamic faith. This included weakening and abolishing the Kurdish Hujra, and in their place the establishment of government-run and financed Islamic schools and colleges. Furthermore, public media, schools and curricula were used to introduce mainstream Islam and the glory of the Arab nation.
3.1. State-run Islamic Schools (SRIS) and the assimilation of Kurdish Islam into mainstream Islam
The Iraqi state, which "largely controlled religious teaching and institutions"112, has attempted to assimilate Kurdish Islam into mainstream Islam through the Islamization policy. Teaching official or main-stream Islam through the state-run Islamic schools (SRIS) in Kurdistan has become a useful policy to eliminate the role of Hujra and Kurdish Islam. Halabja is an excellent example of the SRIS role in the Islamization of Kurdish society, the assimilation of Kurdish Islam and the spread of radical and political Islam in Kurdistan. It is no coincidence that one of the first SRIS in Kurdistan was founded in the town of Halabja in early 1950s113, Halabja being the stronghold of Islamist parties in Kurdistan. Halabja historically had been known for being a stronghold of Kurdish nationalists and leftist movements until the 1970s. However, by the 1990s the city had become the first and only Kurdish district to be ruled by Islamic parties. The 2009 election shows that Halabja, with its majority votes for Islamists, still serves as their only stronghold in Kurdistan.
Examining the results of the founding of the SRIS and the process of Islamization in the town of Halabja shows that political Islam in Kurdistan is directly or indirectly a creation of the Iraqi state. One example that shows the SRIS and Iraqi role in importing political Islam in Kurdistan is that the teachers and managers of the same school became the pioneers of political Islam in Kurdistan. The brothers Othman, Ali and Omer Abdul-Aziz were appointed by the Iraqi state as teachers and managers of the Halabja Islamic college. For decades they taught a state-instructed curriculum on mainstream Islam. However, they become the first and probably the only Kurdish followers of the newly established Islamic brotherhood branch in Iraq, and the preachers of Islamic ideology in Kurdistan in the early 1950s.114 They also were the first, and for decades probably the only, Kurds who joined the Iraqi Islamic Party.115 Moreover, the first Islamic Party in Kurdistan, namely the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) was founded in 1987 by the Abdul-Aziz brothers.116 Second, in addition to the Abdul-Aziz brothers, the founders of almost all Islamic parties in Kurdistan - Salah-Adding Baha-Addin, the founder of the Kurdistan Islamic Union, and Sediq Abdul-Aziz, the founder of the Islamic Uprising117 - are from the same city.
Third, most students of SRIS in Halabja have become preachers of Islamist ideologies and leaders of Islamist movements in Kurdistan.118 Fourth, the few exceptions to such a category (founders from Halabja) are Ali Qeredaxi, the founder of the Islamic Kurdish League in 1988119, Ali Bapir, the founder of the Islamic Group in 2001, and Mullah Krekar, the founder of Ansar al-Islam, the radical and militant group attacked by the US in the first days of the US war on Iraq, in 2001. However, even all of these graduated from government-run Islamic schools and faculties. Ali Qaradaxi studied in the SRIS in the city of Sulaimaniya, graduated from the faculty of Sharia (Islamic Law) in Baghdad University, and gained his Masters and holds PhD certificates from Al-Azhar University in Egypt.120 Ali Bapir is another who studied in the SRIS in Sulaimaniya, and was educated at the Islamic Fiqih Faculty in Najaf.121 Similarly, Mulla Kerkar graduated from the Arabic faculty in Iraq and holds a Master degree on Prophet Mohammad's Hadith at the Islamic University of Pakistan.122 Finally, even within the same Islamic party, Islamists from the Hujra are more moderate than those of GRIS. This is clear in the case of IMK before its dismemberment. The Abdul-Aziz Brothers in the IMK were known for their moderate Islam compared to that of Ali Bapir and Mula Krekar, who are known for their radicalism.123 Thus, whilst the majority of those who graduated from SRIS joined Islamist groups, the Hujra-educated Mullahs were pioneers and leaders of Kurdayety, secularist, and often leftist movements.
3.2. Strengthening political Islam in Kurdistan
Another policy of the Iraqi state designed to challenge the Kurdayeti and Kurdish Islam is the encouragement and support of Islamist groups. In the 1980s political Islamic groups were "initially encouraged by Saddam's Ba'athist regime in Baghdad.124" In dealing with Kurdish Islamists, the Iraqi government departed from its totalitarian policy of censoring political publications in Kurdistan. By the late 1980s dozens of Islamic books that directly or indirectly criticized Kurdayeti and its leftist ideologies were published in Iraq. In return, in the 1980s, many sheikhs under Islamist influence "lent their religious authority" to support Iraq against Kurdish "nationalists, particularly...Marxist" parties, or to endorse "Sunni struggle versus the Shiite threat."125 There is also a widespread belief that the Iraqi state supported the Islamic organizations with funds and equipment to challenge Kurdish nationalist parties and promote instability in Kurdistan.126
3.3. Al-Anfal: the suppression of Kurdayeti and Kurdish Islam by mainstream Islam
The infamous al-Anfal campaign against the Kurds in 1988 represents the most radical, the harshest, and the most violent policy against both Kurdayeti and Kurdish Islam. Al-Anfal, which is recognised by many as an act of genocide, resulted in the death of more than 100,000 Kurds and the destruction of more than 2,000 Kurdish communities.127 In an eight-stage campaign, which continued for almost the whole year, most of the rural areas of Kurdistan were destroyed and depopulated. The entire rural population were targeted, regardless of whether the victim was a civilian or a Peshmerga (Kurdish fighter), was pro-government or antigovernment, a male or a female, a child or an elderly person.128 Several factors make al-Anfal a departure from Iraq's traditional policy of warfare against the Kurds. Among others are: the duration of al-Anfal, the size of the Iraqi army, the use of chemical weapons, the numbers of victims, the geographical dimension, and the total annihilation of rural life in Kurdistan.129
However, the Islamic dimension of al-Anfal is the most significant characteristic of the operation. Al-Anfal operations barely preceded another campaign known as the 'faith' campaign. The latter was an Islamization campaign of Iraqi society, managed by the Iraqi state in the early 1990s. Despite proceeding from the Ba'athist perspectives and interests, via this campaign the Iraqi state turned from a symbolic use of Islam as its identity and official religion to a policy of reconfiguration of Iraqi society based on Islamic instructions. However, prior to the official commencement of the faith campaign, and through al-Anfal, Iraq showed its inclination towards adopting a more radical Islamic doctrine. The term al-Anfal possesses an Islamic connotation: it is a Qora'anic verse, which means things taken as "the spoils of war." 130 It instructs Muslims how to fight non-Muslims and how to deal with enemies' property, women and children. During al- Anfal Iraq committed widespread looting, theft of property, and dealt with women and children as spoils of war.131 In other words, right or wrong, Kurds were dealt with as unbelievers who were at war with Islam. Kurds were dealt with essentially as unbelievers in accordance with the priinciples of the Islamic world regarding al-Anfal.
Whether these actions were in line with Islamic law or not, the Islamic world in general, especially the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, Al-Azher University, and the Islamic brotherhood remained silent regarding the Al-Anfal operation. In the absence of any official statements by these organisations, it is hard to analyse reasons behind their silence towards such a 'genocidal' action against a 'supposed' Muslim nation. But there are many clues that prove the dictum "silence is a sign of consent" is applicable here. In other words, several points indicate that world-wide main stream Islam showed its understanding or even sympathy towards the Iraqi operations against the Kurds. First, according to Tariq (2008), during the al-Anfal operation more than 2850 Kurdish mosques were destroyed and thousands of copies of the holy Qor'an were burnt.132 However, considering the historical experience of the Islamic world's reactions regarding more moderate issues such as the Salman Rushdie affair, or the destruction of a single mosque in Kosovo, Chechnya, Palestine, and India, it seems extremely ironic that the Muslim countries, organisations and public opinion remained silent in such circumstances.
Second, all eight stages of al-Anfal operations, which took almost six months, were widely broadcast by the Iraqi state. Like other military operations against the Kurds, Islamic titles were given to this operation and code-named al-Anfal. Moreover, during the campaign, Iraq, in statements directed at the Arab and Islamic world, insisted that it followed the Qoranic instructions and that al-Anfal was