Ansar al-Islam is an Iraqi radical Islamist group, unusual in that it is principally made up of ethnic Kurdish Sunnis rather than Arab Sunni or Shi'a, but is strongly Salafist/ It recruits, or threatens, primarily among secular Kurds in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. There may, however, be an Arab branch, possibly called Ansar al-Sunnah.
The group is believed to have support both from Sunni al-Qaeda and Shi'a Iran, an unusual sponsorship. It was added to the UN list of groups linked with al-Qaeda (PDF), the Taliban, or Osama bin Laden, requiring member states to freeze its assets. The US considers it an active source of suicide bombers in the Iraq War, and designated it a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the U.S. Department of State on March 22, 2004.
While Islamist, it is also nationalist, and a number of its members grew angry at the Iraqi casualties caused by the semi-autonomous Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Formed in 2007, the Jihad and Reformation Front is a spinoff from Anwar al-Islam and other groups, still actively resisting U.S. forces but also al-Qaeda.
Formed in the mid-1990s as Kurdish separatists against the government of Saddam Hussein, it initially operated under the name Jund al-Islam (MEIB) under Mullah Krekar, who has been in exile in Norway for allegations of terrorism in his home country. It was made up of offshoots from the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) in northern Iraq. According to Michael Rubin, these included groups called Hamas (not to be confused with the Palestinian organization), Tawhid, and the Second Soran Unit, along with others.
It met with al-Qaeda in August 2001, and made a public announcement of its existence just before the 9-11 Attack. By September 2001, it began to issue strict Islamist decrees: the obligatory closure of offices and businesses during prayer time and enforced attendance by workers and proprietors at the mosque during those times; the veiling of women by wearing the traditional 'abaya; obligatory beards for men; segregation of the sexes; barring women from education and employment; the removal of any photographs of women on packaged goods brought into the region; the confiscation of musical instruments and the banning of music both in public and private; and the banning of satellite receivers and televisions
Although HRW is aware only of floggings for drinking alcohol, Jund al-Islam also announced that it would apply Islamic punishments of amputation, flogging and stoning to death for offenses such as theft, the consumption of alcohol and adultery. Jund al-Islam also announced a crackdown on religious practices it considered polytheistic (i.e., shirk). According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), on 21 September 2001, its forces entered three villages whose inhabitants were members of a minority religious sect, Ahl al-Haq (known locally as Kaka'is), whose beliefs combine Zoroastrianism and Shi'ism. The families were rounded up and ordered to adhere strictly to the Jund al-Islam decrees. They were told, on September 23, to leave, follow the Islamist way, or pay fines. About 450 households were internally displaced, and land mines then put into their fields. .
In late 2003, Abu Abdullah al-Shafii (a.k.a. Warba Holiri al-Kurdi) became the leader in Iraq. He said, September 2003 the organization's name had changed from Ansar al-Islam, but he had not disclosed the new name. "...he may have been referring to an offshoot of Ansar al-Islam called Ansar al-Sunnah (Supporters of Sunni) or Defenders of the Tradition. The name change meant a shift in strategy aimed at Ansar al-Islam's appeal beyond its Kurdish origins...Its founding declaration states "jihad in Iraq has become an individual duty of every Muslim after the infidel enemy attacked the land of Islam" and its members "derive their jihad program and orders from the instructions of the holy Koran and the Prophet Muhammad's Sunnah (tradition)." ...Ansar al-Islam and Ansar al-Sunnah members still operate inside of Iraq, but are largely based in predominately Sunni Arab areas in central Iraq."