Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Iraq Tribal alliances now helping the coalition

Iraq Tribal Alliances Pay Off by Richard TomkinsZuwayyah, Iraq (UPI) Dec 13, 2007 Nearly five years into the occupation of Iraq the United States is learning what the British, the Turks and even Saddam Hussein knew and practiced before them: Forming alliances with tribal sheiks is essential to pacifying and governing the country. For tribal identification in Iraq is not just an asterisk in a personal biography, it's fundamental to identity, even a person's place in society and livelihood. In western Anbar province, U.S. courting and alliance-building means paying special attention to al-bu Nimr. The influential tribe, which mainly lives on or near the Euphrates between Ramadi, Hit and Haditha, numbers between 300,000 and 400,000 people. It was one of the first Sunni tribes to battle al-Qaida on its own, and one of the first to begin cooperating with coalition forces early in the occupation. "Two groups (tribes) in Anbar went to the coalition forces," Sheik Hatim Abdal Razzaq said. "One was in the west and one in the east of the province. We were both attacked by terrorists and insurgents for it. "We lost people. We gave blood. But by working with the coalition forces we saw a future and we agreed to get together, and we've cleaned up the bad areas like Hit." Hatim, 27, took over the leadership of the tribe two years ago following the death of his father. His uncle, Sheik Jabair, was the de facto head of the tribe then but stepped aside because of ill health. He acts, however, as Hatim's chief adviser and confidant. Hatim's and Jubair's relationship with U.S. forces is on many levels and complicated, a balancing act between short- and long-term U.S. interests, Iraqi government interests, and the payback interests of the tribe, whose militia now make up the majority of police forces in the Hit district. The U.S. part of the courtship involves growing the friendship and cooperation of Hatim and Jubair, but at the same time ensuring that other tribes aren't slighted, that infrastructure projects and governance actions wanted by the them benefit all the people of the Hit district as equitably as possible. It's a juggling act on both sides, pure and simple, and one that's given heavy attention by Marine Lt. Col. Jeffrey Dill, the commander of U.S. forces in Hit who has forged a strong personal relationship with the sheiks. That relationship means frequent and lengthy informal meetings with Hatim over endless cups of sweet tea and huge platters of lamb kabob and chicken at the sheik's compound. Those meetings all start the same: with a handshake, a kiss on the cheek and a bumping of right shoulders. It's the greeting of friends rather than official counterparts. During those meetings serious subjects are broached and discussed almost casually, as if in passing, as each side gauges the other's intent and the seriousness of the issue at hand. "Oblique" rather than "direct" is the operative word, although blunt discussion also takes place when needed. This especially occurs during formal meetings with sheiks and officials in city council meetings around the district. The young sheik was in a good mood the night a reporter accompanied Dill to the tribal compound on one of his "courtesy" calls. Eyes dancing, and with an amused look he wanted to be questioned by his new guest. When asked if he or his tribe received financial consideration for cooperation, he insisted he did not. (Payoffs were a practice of previous Iraqi governments and foreign occupiers). "Feluus (money)?" he asked rhetorically while rubbing his fingers together and laughing. "Laa, laa -- no, no feluus." "We get respect from the coalition forces and they trust us, we have security they make many projects here, and projects mean jobs for the people." Hatim voiced concern over tribal and political rivalries in Shiite tribal areas that could further tear Iraq apart, but ever the diplomat said in the end all the political and sectarian factions would realize they were Iraqis and fighting would destroy chances of a better national future. But he also cautioned that a strong, central government was years away and patience was needed. "For 35 years Saddam Hussein was president," Hatim said. "Now his government is gone and the one we have is not yet strong. Now we face the problems his government caused or ignored. And it's not easy, it will take time. "I like the future for the Iraqi people. I like the security for the Iraqi people because without security we will have nothing." The alliance between Hatim and U.S. forces is still a work in progress, as are other budding relationships with Sunni sheiks and tribes. But the special importance of the al-bu Nimr connection was highlighted last September when Hatim was one of five sheiks in the province invited to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush during his visit to Iraq. That meeting -- including the news photo published around the world of it -- put the young sheik high -- very high -- on al-Qaida's hit list, a U.S. intelligence source said. At least one of the five has already been assassinated, which may help explain why Hatim and his uncle openly carry pistols in the compound despite being surrounded by heavily armed bodyguards.

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