London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Islamic movements have reappeared on the Iraqi Kurdish scene recently after a host of developments, most notably the occurrence of acts of violence and clashes in Al-Sulaymaniyah and bombings in Arbil, which were blamed on the group Ansar al-Islam. These developments raise questions about the future of Islamic organizations in Iraqi Kurdistan under the new reality experienced by Iraq, following the fall of the Baathist regime and after the American superpower imposed itself on Iraqi soil.
Asharq al-Awsat conducted an interview via e-mail with Sheikh Ali Babir, leader of the Kurdistan Islamic Group, who was arrested by the Americans after the fall of the former Iraqi regime. In the interview, Babir spoke about the presence of the fundamentalist group in Kurdistan following the cancellation of its military office. He also spoke about the 22 months that he spent at the Baghdad airport prison with the Baath figures and leaders in solitary confinement, and the conversations that they shared. Following is the text of the interview:
Q) Tell us about the 22 months you spent under the authority of the Americans at Baghdad airport prison?
A) It is very difficult to explain in a matter of lines or pages the suffering and hardship I encountered over the 22 months, which I spent in the prison of the Americans at Baghdad International Airport. I intend to relay my story of my imprisonment or rather, the unjust barbaric abduction, in a book to be published in the Kurdish language in several months time. God willing, the book will also be translated into Arabic. However, I briefly say that I had seen, and suffered a great deal of moral humiliation, psychological and bodily harm since the first moment of my abduction by the US forces to the very end, a total of 659 days. This convinced me fully that all the sugarcoated claims made by America are sheer lies. I told the Americans this much and more during the repeated, lengthy interrogations and investigations held that lasted for more than six months from the beginning of my imprisonment.
Q) What is the truth behind the alleged charges against you such as the claims about your relationship with Ansar al-Islam, the preparations to attack the US forces, and your relationship with the former Baath regime?
A) The charges against me were unfounded. In fact, they were mere lies and fabrications. I have categorically refuted those charges a number of times. As for our relationship with the group Ansar al-Islam, I told the investigators that we have issued an official statement and announced, on many occasions, that that group has no relationship with us and, in fact, there are differences in viewpoints with them. We have many reservations about them, in terms of their way of thinking, their work method, as well as other things.
Concerning the charge of preparations to attack US forces, I have told them that this is merely suspicion that is not backed by any evidence, and that proof is what is needed to show whether one is telling the truth or lying. As God said in the Holy Quran, "Produce your proof if ye are truthful."
As for the third charge about my relationship with the Baath regime, I challenged them more than once by saying that the members of the former Baath regime, including politicians and administrative staff, are all present here in this prison (Camp) Cropper prison, which was specifically for holding the leading members of the former regime. I and Dr Sattam al-Ku”ud were the only two among the Baathist prisoners. I would tell the investigators to question the jailed Baath leaders about our relationship in front of me.
Q) Who are the Baath leaders with you in prison? What kind of conversations did you have with them and did they admit the past mistakes of the former ruling regime?
A) Almost all prominent leaders of the Baath Party were with me at the Cropper prison, from Saddam Hussien to his relatives and assistants in the security and intelligence services and the army. As for the kind of conversations we had, again they are long and cannot be retold here. Many of them would admit their past mistakes or the mistakes of the former regime, in which they were political and administrative officials. However, some of them would insist upon their previous mentality.
Q) What has been the impact of the cancellation of the military office of your Islamic group in April 2003 on your presence in Kurdistan?
A) The cancellation of the military office of our group has not negatively affected the size of our presence in Kurdistan, because we were a mass party before that, and we were well organized in media, and dawa (preaching Islam), cultural, and social activities. On the other hand, everybody showed an understanding towards our new reality in Kurdistan and in Iraq in general. Besides, armed action is a means, and not an end in itself. If goals should remain constant, then means should change, renew, and develop according to time, place, and circumstances.
Q) Is it true that you came under intense pressure from the US before you were released?
A) This is true. The Americans tried to set conditions for my release, but I strongly rejected those conditions. I told them that it is impossible for me to agree to these conditions, even if it means remaining in prison for 100 years, because they contradict my religion and creed. Consequent to this, they delayed my release me despite Washington issuing my release form, as I learned afterwards. They sent me back from the camp administration to the prison, and put me in a cell that was of a worse state than the one before. Finally, however, they abandoned the conditions of release. Following negotiations, I proposed a wording to them, which they drafted later in the form of clauses. Nevertheless, I also tied those clauses to a condition, which is that none of these clauses should be interpreted in a way that contradicts the Islamic Sharia.
Q) What is the internal situation of the Islamic Group in Kurdistan at present, in light of what was said about the existence of a moderate trend, which wants to adapt to this stage, and another hard-line trend?
A) The internal situation of the Islamic Group in Kurdistan is good at present. Our first conference, which we held a few days ago, has helped us solidify our internal ranks, and further shape our ideological and political approach. Despite the existence of individual views, which range between flexibility and severity, the overwhelming trend in the group is the moderate, balanced trend, which is not inclined toward excessiveness or abandonment of the Islamic Sharia. This trend is the moderate line, on which the cadres of the Islamic Group have been raised. Obviously, both flexibility and softness on the one hand and severity and force on the other have their own appropriate place in the Islamic Sharia, since neither complete flexibility nor absolute severity is commended in all circumstances. Rather, "every situation has its own consideration," as the saying goes. The important thing is that we should base all our positions on a profound understanding of the Sharia and its rules and an accurate knowledge of reality and its circumstances.
Q) There are questions marks above the fact that your candidates ran in the elections within the list of the Kurdistan Alliance, whereas in lat year”s elections, they ran in an independent list. In addition, why did you not think about setting up a Kurdish Islamic Front?
A) We have thought about forming an Islamic list in Kurdistan to run in the elections, scheduled to be held in mid December 2005. We have tried to do this. However, the brothers in the Kurdistan Islamic Union preferred to participate on their independent list and did not accept our request.
Q) What is the approximate number of members of the Islamic Group in Kurdistan and do you hope to set up an Islamic state in Kurdistan one day?
A) The Islamic Group has a large number of members and we ask God to grant us further success and blessing. God willing, we hope to transform our Kurdish society, of which the vast majority is Muslim, into an Islamic society, which adheres to Islam as a creed, system of worship, conduct, way of living, policy, and judiciary and which applies God”s just and prudent Sharia in all walks of life. This is to achieve happiness for the people of Kurdish society in this life and success in the Hereafter. Besides, there is no doubt that Islam is the only common denominator that can unite all components of Iraqi society, whose absolute majority is Muslim.
Q) What is the truth of reports that there are efforts to unite the Islamic Group, led by you, with the Kurdistan Islamic Union, led by the Kurdish Islamic figure Salah-al-Din Baha-al-Din, former member of the disbanded Governing Council?
A) In the Islamic Group, we have good, strong fraternal ties with the brothers in the Islamic Union, led by Salah-al-Din Muhammad Baha-al-Din. There are also visits and continuous contact and meetings between us. We hope that those ties and meetings will develop to a level that enables us to present ourselves, the Islamists of Kurdistan, as the third strongest party, which has influence in political decisions and changing the course of events in Kurdistan in particular and in Iraq in general.
Q) We heard that you have supported the Iraqi draft constitution, although some parties have reservations about it. Why did you support it, and are you going to adopt the same position on the draft constitution of Kurdistan?
A) The reason we supported the Iraqi draft constitution, on which a referendum was held in mid October 2005, is that although we have observations about it, it is considered a good attempt and a positive step towards drafting the constitution of a deep-rooted Islamic country at this critical stage. This is especially since the draft constitution contains an article, which says that Islam is the official religion of the Iraqi state. It also bans the enactment of any law that violates the constants of the Islamic Sharia. Therefore, it is considered the cornerstone in establishing an Islamic state that embraces Islam, God”s true religion, as a creed and a way of life. The Iraqi draft constitution was also based on a good foundation, which many positive aspects can be built on, concerning the legitimate rights of the Kurdish people and other peoples that make up Iraqi society.
On the other hand, as far as I know, the draft constitution of Kurdistan has not yet been completed. We have several reservations about this draft constitution, especially concerning the position on Islam, as an official religion of the region and as a law, which should be observed. In addition, we should not enact any law that contradicts the constants of the Sharia. We, the Islamic Group, and the brothers in the Islamic Union have written a joint letter of protest, in which we expressed clearly that we, the Islamists of Kurdistan, do not accept a position on Islam that falls short of what was contained in the Iraqi constitution. We have informed everybody that unless our demand is met, we will reject that draft and boycott the referendum on it. We hope that the draft constitution of the region will be reviewed by the Constitution Drafting Committee before presenting it to the people, whether in parliament or through putting it to a referendum.