About two weeks ago, Iraqi Kurdish security forces (asayish) captured another ring of terrorists who were planning a deadly attack on Erbil city. Their ability to effectively obstruct this heinous plot, aided by the brother of one co-conspirer, saved lives and uncovered the identity of the perpetrators: Kurdish residents of Erbil who professed their loyalty to Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and were linked together by a mosque and the Internet. The local roots of the plotters — as well as previous ones — indicates IS’ societal reach beyond the front-lines of Iraq’s disputed territories. The terrorist group has been able to feed off and radicalize Kurds not only through extreme Salafist ideology but deep grievances tied to economic and political conditions inside the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Since its onslaught on Mosul one year ago, IS has penetrated the Kurdistan Region on different fronts. The most evident has been along the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) new 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) front-line of the disputed territories, which has become a battlefield between radical Salafist-Sunni Arab nationalists, foreign fighters and Kurdish peshmerga. IS threats have also become embedded in the massive demographic shifts and spillover of Sunni Arab displaced persons into the Kurdistan Region — some 20% of the total Iraqi Sunni Arab population. These external threats have mandated vigilant KRG border security and travel limitations on mainly Arab populations to and within Iraqi Kurdistan.