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Islamic Party in Kurdish Iraq Growing in Popularity


The Kurdish region of Iraq is dominated by two pro-American secular parties -- the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. A third party, the Islamic Union of Kurdistan, advocates an Islamic state and is growing in popularity. VOA's Brian Padden reports.

While the two parties that control the Kurdish region of Iraq may endorse democratic values, critics say they practice one-party rule.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan controls the eastern section, with the city of Suleymaniya as its power base. The Kurdistan Democratic Party controls the rest and is centered in the regional capital, Irbil. Both parties have their own militias, and after a brief civil war in the mid-1990s, have shared power over the region.

The most popular alternative to the ruling parties is the Islamic Union of Kurdistan. It has no militia, only a local television station to present its vision of a moderate, Islamic democracy.

Hadi Ali is one of its leaders. He says his party is growing in popularity, particularly with young people. "We presented something new. The other parties – they were fighting against the regime before. And after the uprising, they started to fight each other and formed a corrupt administration that disappointed many young people,” he says. “Young people found our party as a non-corrupt alternative."

Ali says that his party advocates an inclusive democracy in a framework of Islam that would be very similar to western democracies.

"We want the secular like in the western countries with a separation of religion and the state,” says Ali. “But we are not against religion and here in these countries, when they say secular, they mean they are against religion.

David Romano of Rhodes College in Tennesse is a Middle East researcher and recently published a report on the growth of the Islamic movement in the Kurdish region of Iraq. He says the rise of the Islamic Union of Kurdistan should be a concern to the U.S. and other Western countries.

"I think they do have a marked, more anti-American stance than the secular Kurdish nationalist parties. You just have to remember that the Kurdistan Islamic Union comes from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Iraqi chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood," said the professor.

The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928. Since then, the Egyptian government has banned the Muslim Brotherhood and other political parties based on religion. But its members continue to speak out and have called for a board of Muslim clerics to oversee the government.

Still, Romano does not agree that banning opposition groups is good for the long-term future of the region. "As long as they play by the democratic rules of the game, as long as they talk the talk and walk the walk of democracy, so to speak, they need to be allowed a chance to compete and win elections; otherwise a turn to radicalism is legitimized," he said.

Romano says suppressing dissent will turn the loyal opposition to extremism and violence.

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