A flag belonging to one of the Shiite volunteer militias hangs over a sign that used to mark that this was IS territory near Tikirt, in Salahaddin province (photo: يونس البيياتي)
Political, tribal and even family rivalries in the Salahaddin province are starting to impact on locals’ lives there. There is chaos in various administrative departments, with some moving their head offices around the province, and many of the state institutions paralyzed because nobody knows who’s in charge.
The conflict is all about who should have the two most senior positions in the province – the governorship and the head of the provincial council. Former governor, Ahmad Abdullah al-Jibouri, is competing with his cousin, the current governor, Raed Ibrahim al-Jibouri, for that job.
Abdullah al-Jibouri, who’s commonly referred to as Abu Mazen, resigned from the post when he became an MP in Baghdad. But now he believes he should have the job back because he actually helped his cousin get in a position where he could get the governor’s job in the first place, when the extremist group known as the Islamic State took over parts of the province.
Meanwhile his cousin, Ibrahim al-Jibouri, believes he has the support of locals and, perhaps more importantly, the support of the volunteer Shiite Muslim militias, that played an integral part in pushing the Islamic State, or IS, group out.
He may well be right. One of the most senior members of the volunteer militias, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes of Hezbollah in Iraq, has described Ibrahim al-Jibouri as “the righteous son” of the militias and said that al-Jibouri played a big part in helping fight the IS group in Salahaddin.
There is also a lot of in-fighting going on between the members of the provincial council as to who should head that body. Several smaller political parties formed an alliance to unseat the head of the council, Ahmed Abdel-Jabbar al-Karim, and replace him with Khaled Hassan al-Darraji. This resulted in dozens of lawsuits being filed by the various opposing political parties involved as well as the publication of a number of documents that apparently indicate corruption, embezzlement and all kinds of other bad behaviour.
Threats have been made too, with politicians allied with the volunteer Shiite Muslim militias pressuring those with connections to the US embassy, and others arguing that they even have the support of Iran. Some of the feuding politicians even asked the Iraqi government to dissolve the provincial council and hold early elections because the situation was getting so out of hand.
“The political conflict is having a catastrophic impact on the lives of citizens here, in terms of security, stability and the provision of services,” Sabhan Mulla Jiyad, a veteran local politician who has served in many roles in Salahaddin, told NIQASH. “It’s causing the spread of corruption and preventing the return of displaced people to their homes.”
“There are a lot of different kinds of conflicts in the province,” he continued, “but the most significant is that between Shiite Muslim and Sunni Muslim political parties.”
The Shiite Muslim political parties are extending their influence in Shiite-majority areas like Balad and Dujail while Sunni Muslim political parties are trying to retain influence and stop other parties, secular or ethnic in nature, from muscling in on Samarra city. There’s also conflict between the Turkmen ethnicity, the Arabs and the Kurdish in the Tuz districts, Mulla Jiyad explained.
“There is also the fighting between the province’s political elites,” he noted. “They don’t’ have any real political agenda. They are only looking after their own interests and they’re trying to push their tribes and families into these conflicts to achieve, firstly, their personal goals and, secondly, some benefits for their tribes. That’s what we describe as ‘cousin conflicts’,” Mulla Jiyad says.
For example, members of the provincial council here have happily flip-flopped to support whichever political party or person offers them money or some personal gain.
Hassan al-Darraji says that the political power struggle in Salahaddin is quite normal and, in fact, quite legal. “But the tribal nature of the province has leaked into political alliances,” he points out.
Mohammed Ismail, a local political analyst, has another opinion. “This is a conflict about money and power, rather than tribes,” he told NIQASH. “Senior political positions offer the holder a lot of wealth – it comes from bribes, benefits from contracts and embezzlement. So of course the politicians do anything they can, and fight with all available means, to get those jobs.”
In the meantime it is the ordinary people of Salahaddin who are suffering. A lot of state institutions have stopped working properly, or seem to have taken sides. The passport department has moved to the Balad district while the traffic department has gone to Samarra. Health services are being managed from several different locations and other departments that are supposed to provide municipal services are now based in Baghdad.