Written By: FA ME
When George W. Bush came to Iraq in 2006-2007 and orchestrated the establishment of “Awakening Movement”, which was led by some famous Iraqi tribes in Anbar Province under the rule of former Prime Minister Al-Maliki, the Bush administration came under scrutiny because these tribes had been involved in nurturing and fostering Al-Qaeda Organization in Iraq because of their shared anti-American anti-Shia agenda, also to attack both U.S. and Iraqi Forces. But this alliance between Iraqi government and U.S Forces from one side, and Arab tribes in Western Iraq from the other side succeeded at some point and contributed in neutralizing insurgency, until they were abandoned by the US and became target for militants.
But how does this tribal system work?
The tribes are bond by certain norms and laws among other tribes and within. In addition to alliances created from long time between each other, also kinship and affinity rule to these laws. In history, members of these tribes have chosen to be living away from the authority of any ruler, because the structure of their laws is in paradox with constitutional items. For instance, if a feud rises between two tribes, and one is killed among them, the other tribe is obliged to shed blood and revenge to that death, or in other cases “blood money” is asked in compensation.
When Britain occupied Iraq back in 1916-1920, the British introduced a legal code that aimed to rule over tribal areas, claiming that some stipulations and laws don’t apply to tribal areas, these areas were also under their occupation, so they incorporated what was known as (The Tribal Criminal and civil Disputes Regulations) into the Iraqi constitution. This code allowed tribal members to have their own “Tribal Council” to decide on their disputes and litigations by appointing prominent figures or head of tribes to run this council in accordance to their tribal traditions and laws.
Since 2003 the Shia majority successive governments in Iraq have failed to meet the needs of Sunni tribes and Sunni people in general. When Sunnis were ruling Iraq for more than 30 years, they came to realize that the throne has been taken away from them after the US invasion to Iraq. The Sunnis in Iraq (The majority are members of famous tribes and clans) have enjoyed prestigious positions at the time of Saddam, they were given high ranks in the Army, and access to authority that no one else could have ever enjoyed. As a result to the disastrous decisions made by the former US governor to Iraq Paul Bremer, who disbanded the Iraqi Army and leaving big sector of Sunni people neglected and underprivileged of their social and economic status, therefore, Ba’athists switched to Terrorists!
The weakness of Iraqi governments and of civil society institutions and political parties caused to make the tribe the only “institution” to embrace youngsters’ sense of belonging. It also made tribalism predominate over the sense of citizenship. “There has been a consistent trend that it is not about performance-based selection. And there’s cronyism involved, there’s tribalism involved, there’s a number of factors that ought not be influencing, you know, putting the best leader qualified to provide the leadership to a particular mission.” said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn US Army’s number two General talking about training and forming Iraqi Forces.
Despite the considerable impact that tribalism has had on the Iraqi society, a closer look to that impact shows that it started to fade out before ISIS “ISIL”, the latter is using the carrot and stick policy to induce or subjugate these tribes. Controlling vast majority of areas by ISIL where these tribes are inhabiting in both Iraq and Syria, was huge factor to rift traditional tribal solidarity, these tribes who were indivisible at some point became divided over joining ISIL’s newly established state and “Caliphate”. The tribal loyalty is key for ISIL militants to consolidate their authority over areas they control, therefore, tribal chieftainship is put under threat of losing their presence, money, belongings, and even girls into slavery if they chose not to plead allegiance with ISIL. Several clips circulated on the internet show the “Sheikhs” of these tribes pleading allegiance especially in Anbar Province in Iraq. Refusing to do so might result in a massacre, the same we saw against “Al-Shiettat” Sunni tribe in Syria who was fighting ISIL militants and lost about 900 of their men in some heinous ways of executions and decapitation.
Popular Mobilization Units “PMU” members of Shia tribes.
As a result for the rapid advance made by ISIL, joined by some tribal members whom plead allegiance to the jihadi organization earlier, as some observers noted that Al-Bu-Ajeel tribe accused of carrying out the massacre of Iraqi recruits in Spyker base near Tikrit in 2014, this triggered hidden sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni people. Therefore, the Popular Mobilization Units were created by a Fatwa “Religious Opinion” introduced by the highest Shiite authority in Iraq Ali Al-Sistani.
The fatwa states that Iraqi citizens who are able to take up arms should volunteer in the ranks of the security forces to defend the country against ISIL. However, there are some who considered the fatwa a call for Shia to take up arms against the Sunnis, despite the fact that the fatwa identified thwarting the terrorist threat as a collective responsibility and not the responsibility of a specific sect or party.
Taking in consideration that the majority of fighters among the Iranian-backed PMU are members of Shia tribes, parallel to Sunni tribes who joined ISIL, they as well have been isolated disconnected from their tribal traditional coherence by following a religious issued law. Even though the future of PMU as some experts see will be an armed wing for the Shia in Iraq similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon, still tribes of both sects are driven by religious motivation and each is seeking to destroy the other.
A sense of loss and despair is prevailing among Iraqis who have been caught between the hammer of a weak and corrupted government and anvil of scarce international attention to their ordeal. One thing contributed to leaving Iraq in this chaos is the poor judgment of withdrawing US troops from Iraq, a decision made by President Obama in 2009 and was backed by some prominent army and security experts who found that Iraqi Forces are capable of securing the country, while indeed they were not.
Iraqi people’s struggle with ISIL is widening the gap between its different sects, the lack of trust and insecurity is common feeling sensed by every individual, besides the vast number of people displaced internally and outside Iraq reflects the inadequate performance of the Iraqi government to protect its people, by favoring nepotism and tribalism over the qualification of individuals. However, serious steps are being taken now by Iraq’s younger generation represented in demonstrations in different cities of Iraq, calling upon the government for overhaul and holding corrupt officials responsible to improve the reality of their life, a hope that everyone seeks in this torn apart country.