Iraqi Kurdish City on High Alert, with Jihadi Monitoring and Prayer Groups Banned
With extremists moving in next door, the Iraqi Kurdish province of Sulaymaniyah [Slemani] is ramping up security measures. This includes banning vehicles with other Iraqi license plates and closely monitoring the activities of ex-jihadis. Insiders say the tough new measures have already resulted in the arrest of men who could potentially have been trying to start extremist sleeper cells in the region.
Most recently, the Iraqi Kurdish province of Sulaymaniyah and its capital of the same name has been one of the safest places in Iraq. It was even safer than the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan's other major city, Erbil, which houses local government and military headquarters.
But since Sunni Muslim extremists took over two of Iraq's biggest cities and other territory in northern Iraq, in nearby Ninawa province, earlier this month, all that has changed. Locals have never seen security so tight as it is in Sulaymaniyah right now.
They understand the need for it – between 2001 and 2003 Ansar Al Islam, another Sunni Muslim extremist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, took control of terrain, including small villages, in the nearby mountainous Horaman area. Iraqi Kurdish security forces fought the extremists but only managed to finally expel the groups with the help of US munitions in 2003. Before that, the camps were used to launch attacks on Iraqi Kurdish targets and Iraqi Kurdish locals fear the same thing may happen again if another extremist group gains a permanent foothold anywhere in Iraq.
Which is why getting into the province has become more difficult: There is more security at checkpoints at the entrances to the province and Iraqi Kurdistan's security forces now ask more questions about identity and destination.