Iraqi Kurdish men chat at a tea house in the Kurdish town of Halabja, near Sulaimaniya, 260 km (160 miles) northeast of Baghdad, February 1, 2014. Picture taken February 1, 2014. (REUTERS/Yahya Ahmad)
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Twenty-five-year-old Ako Abdel-Qadir went to wage holy war in Syria vowing to return and conquer all of Iraqi Kurdistan in the name of Islam on the way back to his hometown of Halabja.Abdel-Qadir is one of around 200 young Iraqi Kurds who have joined the ranks of militant Islamists in the Syrian war – it's an alarming trend for Iraqi Kurdistan, which has shielded itself from the violence afflicting the rest of Iraq and nearby Syria, and attracted investment from some of the world's largest oil companies.Kurdistan is not alone in worrying about jihadist backlash, but the autonomous region's proximity to Syria makes it especially vulnerable. And while Kurdistan is used to dealing with external threats, not least along its tightly controlled border with the rest of Iraq, this one is posed from within. The region suffered its first major bombing in six years last September, claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), a militant group also active in Syria. Many of the young Kurds who have gone to Syria come from this area, including Abdel-Qadir, who joined Ansar al-Islam as a teenager.
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