Sharia Alert from the Christian Science Monitor:
The creation of a new constitution for Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region was meant to be relatively straightforward. But instead, Kurdish Islamic parties have courted controversy by calling a greater role for sharia, or Islamic law.
“The Kurds are a Muslim nation and we have to follow Islam,” says Mohammed Ahmed, a member of parliament for the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), the largest Kurdish Islamic party in the regional parliament, the Kurdistan National Assembly.
Such calls may well go unheeded by secular parties which hold 80 percent of seats in the parliament, where a cross-party committee is now drawing up a draft constitution.
However, the demands for Islamic law reflect the growing popularity of Islamic parties like the KIU and its smaller, more radical rival Komala, which was once allied with the Al-Qaeda’s Kurdish offshoot Ansar Al-Islam. While unlikely to change the
political power balance in Kurdistan any time soon, the Islamic parties may cultivate the ground for more radical ideas to take root.
“The KIU could become an organization that germinates radicals,” says Joost Hiltermann, Middle East Project Director at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG). “People will join it and then later feel that it doesn’t go far enough and then go on to join other more radical groups.”
Such radicalization could pose problems for the US, which relies heavily on the Iraq’s Kurds’ long-standing opposition to radical Islamic groups to gather intelligence against Arab and Islamic insurgents. The US now plans to build a network of long-term military bases in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq — known as
Iraq’s Kurds are ethnically distinct from Iraq’s Arabs, with a separate language, culture, and history. Unlike Iraq’s Arabs, Kurds have traditionally seen Islam as a personal issue.
“[Kurds] are … unlikely to respond to the calls of a fundamentalist notion of Muslim brotherhood,” Sarah Keeler, a lecturer and specialist in Kurdish issues at the University of Kent in England.
Rather than advocating loyalty to Islam over nationalism, Kurdish Islamic parties are seizing the moral high ground against Kurdistan’s ruling secular parties, whom they accuse of corruption and economic mismanagement.
In that position, the KIU would be taking a page from the Hamas and Taliban playbooks, among others who have advocated political Islam as a solution to all the problems they believe to originate in secular government.
But experts say that throughout Kurdish history, ethnic identity, rather than religion, has been the main unifying force.
Famous last words: “But that won’t happen here.”