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Symbol Of Unity:
Why An Iraqi Town, In Middle Of The Desert, Has No Cafes

Qassim al-Kaabi
In the small desert area of Busaya, Iraqis of different sects have lived together peacefully for decades. Locals pride themselves on their hospitality and unity.
9.08.2017  |  Najaf
Most locals in Busaya work for the government or tend livestock.
Most locals in Busaya work for the government or tend livestock.

Up until recently not many outsiders really knew much about the southern Iraqi sub-district of Busaya.

In the middle of the desert and close to the border of Saudi Arabia, the area tends to be Bedouin in nature, closer to the culture of the nomadic Arabs of the Gulf States than many other Iraqis. It recently came to public attention because a group of Qatari hunters in the area for sport, were abducted in 2015. The hunting party, which apparently included members of the Qatari royal family, was released in April 2017.  

The area is well known as a stop for migrating birds from Europe and hunters commonly come here, to seek out birds and hares.

Most of the around 2,200 people here are either dependent on their own livestock or the Iraqi government for jobs. And around three-quarters of them are Sunni Muslims. Yet somehow, they still elected Shiite Muslims to their local government. Locals say that they don’t let what is going on elsewhere in Iraq affect local relationships.

Around another 5,000 locals, many of whom speak with an accent that sounds more Gulf States than Iraq, are nomadic. And the area is so well known for its hospitality that there are no cafes or restaurants here. Visitors to the district are always invited to eat at locals’ homes, another Bedouin tradition. 

“People here are united and they have not been affected by sectarian clashes elsewhere,” says Ahmad Hamdan Jabr, the head of the municipal council. “They have their sheep and their camels; some are farmers, others are government employees.”

There is a military headquarters in the middle of Busaya, established here in the 1920s by a British soldier, John Bagot Glubb, when he was posted to Iraq. The headquarters was established to protect local tribes from marauding Saudi ones. Most of the historic station is crumbling away now but locals still acknowledge its historic significance.

“Whenever I pass near the station I remember the heroic acts of my grandfathers and I am even more committed to my duties,” Abu Karim, a local officer told NIQASH; many of the current police force are relatives of the former officers, who used to be known as “the camel police”.

“In many cases where there are problems, these are resolved by mutual agreement,” Karim adds.

Recently exploratory teams found crude oil in the area too, so things may change soon in this peaceful enclave. The Dhi Qar province is already claiming Busaya as its own, saying the district belongs to Dhi Qar rather than the province of Muthana. Unsurprisingly Muthana officials say that Busaya belongs to them.

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