September 2001: Ansar al-Islam's precursor group, Jund al-Islam, violently clashed with Patriotic Union of Kurdistan forces in a two-week long battle near Halabjah in northern Iraq (20 killed).
March 2010: Ansar al-Islam claimed responsibility for 8 attacks against Coalition targets between January and March (Casualties unkown).
February 15, 2012
Ansar al-Islam (AI), formerly known as Ansar al-Sunna (AS), is a Sunni extremist group primarily made up of Iraqi Kurds intent on establishing a Salafi Islamic state in Iraq governed by its interpretation of Sharia. AI was formed in December 2001, though precursor elements existed before this date. Its formation was the result of a merger of the Islah, al-Tawhid Islamic Front, and Jund al-Islam. Some AI members participated in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan and have received financial and ideological supported from Al Qaeda leaders. AI provided Al Qaeda members safe-haven after they fled Afghanistan in September 2001. Prior to the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, AI was primarily known for its violent clashes with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). However, after the invasion, AI became one of the most potent elements of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. Today, it collaborates with other local Sunni groups, like al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI), to conduct attacks on Iraqi government, coalition forces, and Kurdish interests, particularly in northern Iraq.
In many ways, AI has been defined by its relationship with AQI, a relationship which has included periods of collaboration and confrontation. Its relationship with AQI began in early 2001, when AQI founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was provided safe-haven within AI-controlled territory in Northern Iraq. After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Kurdish and Coalition forces attacked AI's stronghold in northern Iraq, causing group members to flee and disperse throughout the country and into Kurdish territory in northwestern Iran. Viewing itself as the primary Sunni Islamist militant group in Iraq, AI regrouped and became Ansar al-Sunna and declared itself an umbrella group for Iraqi and Arab jihadists fighting the Coalition in Iraq. Meanwhile, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group was conducting the war's earliest spectacular terrorist attacks in August 2003: suicide attacks against the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad, the United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad, and the Shia Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf. Recognition of AQI's emergence as the most capable jihadist group in Iraq seriously hindered the new Ansar Al Sunna's efforts to become the umbrella group it had declared itself to be, as it did not seem to be the natural focal point for finances, fighters and other resources flowing into Iraq from jihad supporters.
Though it never effectively challenged AQI's dominance, AI did mount major attacks of its own that generated some support. In February 2004, it killed 105 people (including PUK members) in simultaneous suicide attacks in Arbil, Iraq. Then in August 2004, it claimed responsibility for the beheading of 12 Nepalese hostages. In December 2004, AI conducted the most devastating single terrorist attack on U.S. forces after it infiltrated a Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq and a suicide bomber detonated a bomb in the base mess hall, killing 22.
While at the strategic level, AI and AQI compete for influence and have divergent views, at the tactical level, the groups often cooperate closely. AI members consider AQI's heavy-handed enforcement of Shariah and indiscriminate attacks counterproductive and have complained to AQI leaders about AQI attacks against AI members. AI was also never a significant supporter of AQI's anti-Shia campaign. Additionally, despite the fact that within Iraqi insurgent group circles AI is most ideologically similar to the AQI, AI has resisted pressure to officially endorse and join AQI's Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).
In November of 2007, Abdullah al-Shafii renames the group Ansar Al Islam. Earlier in 2007, internal tension had sprung up in the group. Ansar Al Sunna's legal council criticized AQI for killing some Ansar Al Sunna members and began promoting a partnership with an unknown group that was considered by some members of Ansar Al Sunna to deviate from Shariah. To counter the actions of their legal council, Ansar Al Sunna issued statements supporting prominent acts of the Islamic State of Iraq and purported joint actions with AQI. To formally distance itself from the high-profile defection of its legal council, the group changed its name back to Ansar Al Islam. After this name change, the group remains aligned with AQI and AQI's increasingly hardline tactics for insugents and Sunnis who participate in the political process. 
Mullah Krekar served as the Emir of AI from 2001 to 2003. Previous to serving as Emir of AI, Krekar was the leader of Islah, one of the precursor groups to AI. During his leadership period, Abdullah al-Shafii, a leader of another of the precursor groups, served as Deputy Emir. In 2003, following Krekar's prolonged absence from Iraq, AI dismissed him as leader and named Shafii the new Emir. He served until May 2010 when he was captured by Iraqi security forces. Mullah Halgurd served as Deputy Emir while Shafii was Emir, but was detained in July 2009. The current leadership is unknown.
Mullah Krekar (December 2001 to February 2003): Mullah Krekar, Emir of AI, was ousted due to prolonged absense from Iraq.
Abdullah al-Shafii (February 2003 to May 3, 2010): Abdullah al-Shafii replaced Krekar as Emir. He was later arrested by Iraqi security forces on May 3, 2010.
Ideology & Goals
AI is a violent, Salafi extremist group advocating imposition of its interpretation of Shariah in Kurdish territory and Iraq. AI has no transnational attack goals.
December 2001: Ansar al-Islam. Jund al-Islam was renamed Ansar al-Islam.
September 2003: Ansar al-Sunna. Ansar al-Islam was renamed Ansar al-Sunna.
November 28, 2007: Ansar al-Islam. Abdullah al-Shafii renames the group Ansar al-Islam.
December 2001: 350 (Christian Science Monitor)
March 2009: 500-1000 (Australian National Security)
The group receives funding from a variety of sources, including expatriate remittances from diaspora communities in Jordan, Turkey and Europe. AI benefits financially, strategically, and ideologically from its association with Al Qaeda, which has provided money as well as training, equipment and combat support to the group.
Prior to the invasion in March 2003, AI had strongholds in Biyara and Tawela. After the invasion until about 2008, AI operated in Sulaimaniya, Arbil, Ninewa, Kirkuk, Baghdad, Salah al-Din, Diyala, and al-Anbar. As of 2009, AI operates in Sulaimaniya, Arbil, Ninewa, and Kirkuk.
Targets & Tactics
AI targets mainly Coalition forces, Iraqi security forces, and Iraqi government interests. It also targets secular Kurdish leaders, especially those associated with PUK and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP).
AI has conducted numerous improvised explosives device attacks, including suicide bombings, kidnappings, beheadings, and rocket attacks. Especially before the Coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, the group experimented with chemical attacks and explored the use of ricin and cyanide gas.
AI produces a monthly publication, Hasad al-Mujahidin (Mujahidin Roundup), consisting of summaries of operational press releases.
AI's refusal to join AQI's ISI demonstrated its independence from the more dominant jihadist group and reflected disagreements between AQI and AI regarding the vision of Iraq's future. AI preferred to remain an independent group. Additionally, the Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI), uncomfortable with ISI's attempts to monopolize the Sunni insurgency, and established the competing pan-Islamic organization, the Reformation and Jihad Front, which reportedly incorporated the IAI, the Mujahideen Army, and AI. 
June 2002: First suicide attacks occur against PUK targets in Sulaimaniya (Casualties unknown).
October 14, 2003: Bombed the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad (1 killed, 24 wounded).
February 1, 2004: Simultaneous suicide attacks at the headquarters of the KDP and the PUK in Arbil (105 killed, 100 wounded).
August 2004: Beheaded 12 Nepalese hostages (12 killed).
December 2004: Suicide attack in U.S. military dining facility at FOB Marez in Mosul, Iraq. (22 killed, 60 wounded).
October 2005: AI beheads two "spies" from Al-Durah (2 killed).
July 23, 2006: AI carried out multiple attacks across Diyala and Anbar, including an assassination of a Shia politician and attacks on US soldiers (3 killed).
April 22, 2007: In Ninawa, AI stopped a bus and extracted all the Yazidi passengers. Though the others were left alone, the Yazidi passengers were taken to Mosul and executed (23 killed, 7 wounded).
May 8, 2007: Suicide attack in Irbil outside the Kurdish Interior Ministry (15 killed, 65 wounded).
August 13, 2008: AI attacked a barracks in Peshmerga (19 killed).
Relationships with Other Groups
he Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) formed in 1987. In 1997, IMK split, spawning Hamas (not to be confused with Hamas Iraq or the Palestinian Hamas), al-Tawhid Islamic Front, and the Second Soran Unit. Between July 2001 and August 2001, al-Tawhid, Hamas, and the Second Soran Unit merged to form the Islamic Unity Front, which was renamed Jund al-Islam on September 1, 2001. Jund al-Islam was led by Abdallah al-Shafi, who replaced Mullah Krekar as emir of AI in 2003, after the latter's prolonged absence from Iraq. In December 2001, the group was renamed Ansar al-Islam.
In early May 2007, two leaders of AI left to form the Ansar al-Sunna Sharia Commission, which aligned with the Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI) and the Mujahideen Army (MA) to form the Jihad and Reformation Front (RJF). AI clarified in May that only the two leaders aligned with IAI and MA and that AI remained separate and unsupportive of the RJF.
AI has cooperated with AQI, but the two are not formally aligned. AI refused to join AQI's Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC) as well as the ISI. The former leader of AQI, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, ran one of AI's training camps prior to 2003. AQI elements have attacked and killed AI members as recently as 2007.
There are longstanding ties between AI and Al Qaeda, given the group's ideological affinity with Al Qaeda and some members' common participation in the anti-Soviet jihad. Al Qaeda leaders have provided AI guidance in the past regarding the Iraq jihad and have reportedly approved funding for the group.
Members of AI are primarily Kurdish Islamist fighters and Sunni Arabs, the latter of which include former Baathist regime elements. The group recruits in Iraq, focusing on the areas of Mosul, Kirkuk and Salah al-Din.
Little information exists regarding AI's relationship with the surrounding population. In general, it is not a popular Kurdish group. It is dominated by larger, more successful, and politically active Kurdish groups that oppose AI, the PUK and KDP.
Soon after its founding in 2001, AI gained control of territory in northeastern Iraq near the border with Iran, where it imposed its interpretation of Shariah law. Its control in this enclave was eliminated when Coalition and Kurdish forces attacked in March 2003.
Other Key Characteristics & Events
AI distanced itself from AQI's Islamic State of Iraq after the emergence of the Iraqi Sunni Awakening movement, a popular armed movement determined to confront AQI and supported by the Coalition. However, AI has criticized and attacked Sunni Awakening members in the past for their cooperation with the Coalition.