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Revenge Attacks Scar Anbar Peace

Special Correspondent
Thirty seven-year old Umm Saber lost her four sons to al-Qaeda gunmen in 2006. Now, the only thing that keeps her going is the thought of revenge once their murderers are released from prison.
5.08.2009  |  Anbar

“Nothing will end my sorrow and sadness or that of my tribe other than revenge,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes as she remembered her lost children.

The desire to avenge the loss of loved ones is widespread in Anbar province. Numerous young men were killed by al-Qaeda prior to the emergence of the Awakening movement in 2006 and victims’ relatives are now seeking to apply tribal law and kill those who murdered their sons.

Umm Saber still remembers the day when al-Qaeda raided her house and seized her four sons. “They were later found beheaded with their heads placed over their bodies,” she said. Immediately after their execution relatives from her tribe tried to kill family members of the perpetrators. "If we had found them we would have killed them all. But they escaped with their lives," said Umm Saber.

But Umm Saber still hopes tribal justice will prevail. “It is the only delight for the hearts of those who suffered the loss of their beloved ones,” she explained.

Others have already avenged the murderers of their loved ones.

On the outer wall of the home of Sheikh Hamid al-Dulaimi, a Ramadi city leader, a note is scribbled in henna ink expressing family joy because “after three years of impatiently waiting, we were able to ambush the murderer of our son after his release from prison. We arrested him and took him to my son’s grave and shot him dead in revenge.”

Now fear is creeping into the prisons. One ex-inmate of Basra’s U.S-run Boca Prison, Abu Omar al-Rawi, told Niqash that "many detainees refuse to be released for fear of revenge." Others will only accept their release if it is through the main gate of the prison, rather than being handed over to Iraqi troops who they fear will be tribal members.

Local police and security forces say they are trying to combat the practice. According to Major General Tariq al-Asal, Anbar’s police chief, taking the law into one’s own hands "is illegal and revenge acts are punishable by the law.” Any person who commits an act of revenge against an accused person exonerated by a court “shall be prosecuted on charges of murder,” he said.

However, despite the open display of revenge by al-Dulaimi, he has yet to be punished, leading many to believe the practice is in fact tolerated by security forces. He is still enjoying his freedom because “tribal norms are being applied in our province,” al-Dulaimi told Niqash.

Abdul-Jabbar Abu Rishah, security chief of Anbar’s tribal awakening believes that "tribes should first resort to the law in order to prevent the return of chaos to the province.” But he says that “if the law does not protect victims’ rights, then tribes can resort to revenge."

Hikmat Jasim, Anbar’s deputy governor, blames security forces for the proliferation of revenge acts saying that they are “incapable of imposing security." Moreover he says the law is not doing enough to punish criminals. “Many detainees who were involved in terrorist operations and killed innocent people were released from Iraqi prisons despite security agencies knowing that they are criminals,” he told Niqash. “This is why people feel unfairness and injustice and resort to revenge.”

But according to al-Asal, the police chief, the failure of the legal system is, in part, caused by a desire for revenge rather than legal justice. “Five hundred detainees were recently released and including many al-Qaeda members. No personal charges were filed against them because tribes want to take their revenge rather than wait for the law to bring them to justice,” he said.

Al-Asal acknowledged that it was impossible for local security forces to provide adequate protection for released detainees.

Government officials, including Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, have called on tribes to refrain from acts of revenge. “There are issues that Iraqi tribes can resolve through procedures such as the Diyeh [blood money], according to social and tribal norms,” he said. “Revenge will not be tolerated because it will lead to violence and we will not allow this to happen.”

Religious figures are also backing the campaign to end the practice. “The killing of murderers by victims’ relatives is against Islamic law. It may lead to violence and bloodshed and Anbar will once again become a place of never ending atrocities,” said Sheikh Ahmad al-Mufti, the imam of Anbar mosque, calling on other religious figures to speak out against the practice.