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Niqash - politics - Tribal strength and divisions threaten the peace


Tribal strength and divisions threaten the peace

Fears are growing that the strength of resurgent tribes might lead to renewed violence across Iraq, say observers. As the tribes grow in number and power they are increasingly quarrelling among themselves as well as with the central Iraqi government.

In Diyala, where Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds share control over the different cities and communities, areas like Kan’an, Bahraz, Khan Bani Sa’ad, al-Miqdadiya, and Baladrose are all witnessing continued tensions between Sunni and Shiite tribes despite ties of marriage and kinship.

Al-Miqdadiyah, 22km north of Ba’qoubah, which is dominated by the Shiite tribe Tamim and the Sunni tribe al-Jibour, is considered one of the main areas currently witnessing this inter-tribal conflict. Although the zone was previously an al-Qaeda stronghold it is now witnessing disputes between the two US-backed tribes that ousted al-Qaeda.

With the emergence of both tribal and sectarian divisions tribal leaders in the area believe that peaceful co-existence has become impossible.

“Involving tribes in the war against al-Qaeda has it negative impact on the city,” said Sheikh Naser al-Hathal, one of the tribal leaders of Diyala, indicating that the formation of armed tribal councils to fight al-Qaeda has quickly turned into a new crisis. “American officers are now forced to resolve conflicts and tensions between tribal leaders,” he said.

At the same time the issue of weak government control is becoming ever more apparent. Despite the existence of government security institutions, reality on the ground points to the contrary. The influence of local councils has increased and awakening council leaders have occupied positions on people committees that run local areas.

Statements from local tribal leaders now suggest a desire to replace government control and law with old tribal traditions. For one, tribal leaders have assumed the position of the judiciary.

Fahd Naser al-Jibouri, a member of one municipal council, fears that the influence of councils will lead to “the emergence of leaders who will spread their control as legitimate local authorities, the same way currently practiced in al-Anbar.” He says that “the problem lies not only in the absolute power given by the tribes to their leaders. There is also a belief that leaders’ decisions are holy and should be implemented regardless of the law or legitimate authority.”

American and Iraqi authorities say that tribes have been key to the decrease in violence seen across the country in the last six months. Now, however, as their strength grows some political leaders are calling for them to be pulled into the political mainstream.

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the United Shiite Alliance, has stressed the importance of creating links between tribal councils and the Iraqi government and its security apparatuses. However, the government worries that the political process might be endangered if awakening councils are integrated, fearing among other things the infiltration of al-Qaeda members. Accordingly, Prime Minister Maliki is continuing to reject the integration of awakening councils - more than 70 thousand armed men - into the security forces despite the huge pressure exerted by the US.

Meanwhile, some awakening councils have declared themselves political groups, following the footsteps of al-Anbar awakening council, in anticipation of a government decision to dissolve them as security and economic stability returns to the country.

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Muhammed Abdullah

Muhammed Abdullah was born in al-Kazemia in 1968. In 1992 he was forced to flee Iraq for political reasons. Living in London and Beirut Abdullah became the editor of the newspaper al-Manar al-Arabi. Abdullah returned to Iraq in 2003. Since then he has worked as a journalist for various international newspapers and agencies. Abdullah is now based in Diyala.

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