Understanding the roots of Kurdish resilience to violent extremism in Iraq

What are the reasons behind the limited impact of violent extremism and the Islamic State in the Kurdistan region of Iraq?

In Iraq, by some considered to be the very cradle of the Islamic State, most people were not radicalised. The contemporary history of Iraq represented the frontier between the Kurdish Peshmerga and the forces of Daesh, that is, the Islamic State. But there is much more to this story than headlines of violence and destruction.

Many of the people who lived under the Islamic State’s control tried to resist, either silently or openly. How do we explain this? Are there factors of resilience to violent extremism that have been overlooked? Despite being exposed to the same conditions and events that fostered radicalisation in other parts of the country, the Kurdish population has largely remained resilient, resisting radicalisation and preserving their cultural and national identity.

In this episode of the NUPI podcast The World Stage, Dlawer Ala’Aldeen, Juline Beaujouan and Morten Bøås are standing at the top of the citadel of Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq to discuss this topic. Settled more than 6,000 years ago, the Erbil citadel is believed to be one of the longest continuously inhabited sites in the world. With life going on about its daily routine in the contemporary city of Erbil at the foot of the citadel, the experts have gathered to talk about the manifestation of violent extremism in Iraq and the neighbouring Middle East. The researchers delve into factors such as political representation and a strong sense of Kurdish identity that have contributed to this resilience.

Dlawer Ala’Aldeen is the Founding President of the Middle East Research Institute. Formerly, he served as Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research in the Kurdistan Regional Government and as Professor of Medicine at Nottingham University in the UK. He has long been engaged in Iraq’s capacity and nation building projects and has published extensively on political and security dynamics, governance systems and democratisation in the Middle East.

Juline Beaujouan is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh, a senior research fellow at the Open Think Tank in Dohuk, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and also a member of the PAVE research team in Iraq, a sister project of PREVEX that was funded over the same Horizon 2020 call as PREVEX.

Morten Bøås is a Research Professor at NUPI, and the principal investigator of the PREVEX project, a project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program. The project aims to understand both drivers of violent extremism and how local communities respond and resist through various ways of expressing resilience.

The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870724.

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