Can Iraq curb Tribal Disputes?

By Adnan Abu Zeed for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Tribal struggles are weakening Iraq’s efforts to battle the Islamic State, which has occupied large parts of the country since June 2014.

It seems Iraqis, who often complained that former President Saddam Hussein’s regime involved them in absurd wars, are now fighting each other while still engaged in complex and costly battles against IS. The disputes are widespread and deadly. Some examples from 2015 alone include:

  • In February, a financial dispute between the Batbout and al-Hamadaneh tribes triggered a conflict in Basra that left one citizen dead and two injured.
  • In March, battles between the tribes of al-Fartous and al-Bu Ali in southern Iraq killed nine people and wounded 30 others, including women and children. This bloody conflict was fueled by disputes over financial issues and land.
  • In September, four people were killed or injured in armed tribal clashes in Abu Saida in Diyala province.
  • In October, an armed clash between the Dabbat and Miryan tribes took place in eastern Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar province, killing or wounding four people, including a woman.
  • A December tribal conflict erupted in Sayyed Dakhil in Dhi Qar province in southern Iraq over honor killings.

Tribal clashes in Iraqi society are nothing new. They posed a significant problem during the Ottoman Empire, the British colonial period and the kingdom of Iraq created in 1921. With time, the state grew stronger than the tribal system and subdued its internal conflicts. The leaders of the 1958 revolution adopted strategies designed to promote civil society in the country and limit the role of tribes in the state. The modern Iraqi state involved the tribes in political decision-making.

Yet when the state’s power began to weaken under Saddam’s regime, he turned to the tribes, arming them to strengthen his rule in an example of how Iraqi rulers’ interest in the tribes has allowed the tribes to also develop political influence.

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