Liberating Iraq

ABCNEWS.com : Villagers Rejoice Over Freedom From Militants

“How dare they call us infidels! If you say ‘There is no god but God and Mohammed is his prophet,’ then you are a Muslim,” said Osman Wahab, 65, freely puffing on a cigarette for the first time in three years.

In the village of Biyara nestled in the mountains near the Iranian border in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, men were busy this weekend shaving their beards and smoking ? reveling in their new freedom. A woman stood in the center of town and tore off her enveloping black abaya. She tossed her hair in the sun for a moment, smiling broadly, before donning a simple headscarf.

At least 700 Ansar militants had established Taliban-like restrictions on about 30 villages here, forcing the local residents to practice a narrow interpretation of Islam that was alien to the moderate Muslim traditions practiced among most Kurds.

Wahab lost his house and two shops in the recent airstrikes, but says it was worth it to be rid of Ansar. “We thank God they are gone,” he said. “Even having nothing is better than living with Ansar. Now we are free.”

“They were very angry people, and now we thank God that they are gone,” said Astera Ali, 50. She fled Biyara with her daughter and son two years ago to the nearby city of Halabja because of Ansar. “I saw that when Ansar came, they were very different from the real Islam.”

All across the territory once held by Ansar al-Islam, Kurds were busy reclaiming their religion. At Sergat, the site identified by Colin Powell as a chemical weapons and terrorist training facility, Kurdish soldiers spray-painted the initials for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan on the dome of a mosque. In the Biyara prison, others were gathering up green leather-bound Korans for their own use.

Tariq Said Sadiq, 25, a peshmerga soldier, walked through the ruins of Ansar’s mosque headquarters in disgust. “I graduated from an institute of Islamic law. These people were not Islamic, they were against Islamic principles. Islam is for peace, for health, for faith, not for killing.”

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