Sun, Feb. 09, 2003 Associated Press
SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq – Kurdish leaders on Sunday blamed a Muslim militant group believed linked to al-Qaida for the weekend slaying of a prominent Kurdish politician and five other people in northern Iraq.
The assassination of Gen. Shawkat Haji Mushir, 55, a senior official in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, underscored increased tensions between the autonomous Kurdish administration and Ansar al-Islam, which Secretary of State Colin Powell accused of harboring al-Qaida fugitives from Afghanistan.
The attack took place Saturday night in Qamesh Tapa, 45 miles east of the Patriotic Union capital of Sulaimaniyah. Mushir had been trying to use his influence and standing as a prominent member of the Jaf tribe to lure Ansar al-Islam fighters out of their mountain stronghold and into the fold of the Patriotic Union.
But three Ansar members apparently laid a trap by posing as would-be defectors, witnesses and party officials said. After coming to negotiate, they turned on Mushir with Kalashnikovs and grenades, killing him, two other party officials and three civilians. The Ansar attackers escaped, officials said.
“His death was a loss to the nation, a loss to peace,” said Sadi Ahmad Pire, a high-level Patriotic Union official who spoke at Mushir’s burial. “May God bring his killers to justice.”
“He worked hard to split Ansar,” said Fereydoon Abdul Qader, the interior minister for the Patriotic Union-controlled section in northern Iraq.
On the eve of a possible U.S. attempt to oust Saddam Hussein, Ansar has become a major distraction for the Kurds, who have been unable to dislodge the militant Islamists from their mountain base.
Kurdish officials accuse Ansar of terrorizing local residents with mines and booby traps, carrying out assassinations and attacking Patriotic Union military positions.
Patriotic Union officials also say that failing to dislodge Ansar before an invasion would make U.S. troops vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
The Patriotic Union and Ansar have been warring for nearly two years. Ansar violently opposes the Patriotic Union’s secular rule, and wants to spread its version of Islamic law throughout the region.
The troubles have spilled over onto his lush, picturesque valley of streams and rustic farming villages, where residents have been terrorized by a series of disasters that have turned the former resort area into a somber land of constant funerals and heartache.
The region lies near the Iranian border and was a major battleground in the bloody 1980-1988 war between Iran and Iraq. It was subjected to Saddam’s brutal campaign against the Kurds in the late 1980s, and was bombed with chemical weapons in 1988.
Battles between Islamic militant groups and the secular Patriotic Union began in the mid-1990s, culminating in a bloody one-day battle between Ansar and the Patriotic Union that left scores dead.
Mushir, who was among the founders of the Patriotic Union when it broke off from the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party in 1976, could also count on his standing in the community to get things done.
He ran a social services agency that addressed the area’s economic problems. By addressing those economic problems, Abdul-Qader said, Mushir posed a far greater threat against Ansar than all the weapons of the Patriotic Union.
“He was from the area,” said Abdul-Qader. “It was very important for him to solve the economic problems in the area and draw people away from Ansar, who take advantage of poverty and illiteracy to bring in recruits.”