As reported earlier, since the security operation in Basra in March 2008 Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been organizing local tribes to back the security forces and his government. So far these Tribal Support Councils have been established in Basra, Maysan, Babil, Wasit, Karbala, Dhi Qar, and Baghdad provinces. They are paid $21,000 by Baghdad when they first form, then receive $10,000 a month afterwards. They answer directly to Maliki’s office.
This has caused increasing tensions with the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) who rules most of the south. The SIIC is afraid that Maliki will use these sheikhs to help his Dawa party gain seats in the upcoming provincial elections. The Prime Minister has publicly declared that the councils are non-partisan in nature, and that he would disband any that are allied with a party, but their political nature is apparent to everyone.
Recently, a tribal leader in southern Iraq publicly said what has been an open secret for months now that the Tribal Support Councils are meant to sway voters to Maliki’s Dawa party. Sheikh Nabil Sagban, the head of the Fatla tribe and a Tribal Support Council in Qadisiyah, said that the provincial elections are causing increasing tensions between Dawa and the SIIC. Each one is looking to gain followers before the balloting in early 2009. The tribes are in the middle as they can influence large numbers of Iraqis, especially in rural areas. The coming of a Support Council to the Fatla area of Qadisiyah seemed to work for Maliki as the sheikh declared he would vote for Dawa, and that he would tell his tribesmen to do the same. For his trouble, he had a dinner celebrating the end of Ramadan raided by an SIIC controlled police unit.
Maliki seems far from done as the government announced a new council was being formed in Wasit, and another in Najaf. The SIIC controlled provincial council in Wasit objected, as the party has done in other southern governorates. The SIIC has said that these tribal groups are unconstitutional, and even some local Dawa members have complained that they are not integrated with the provincial governments. This will not stop the Prime Minister, as he is intent on flexing his newfound power in the country, even if that means splitting with his allies like the SIIC.
For more on the Tribal Support Councils see:
Maliki Responds To His Critics On Tribal Support Councils
Disputes Over Tribal Support Councils
Alsumaria, “Al Maliki defends tribal awakening councils,” 10/9/08
- “Rows growing between two major Iraqi parties,” 9/18/08
Aswat al-Iraq, “Karbala governor says no-confidence vote proposal is political pressure tool,” 10/1/08
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Cochrane, Marisa, “The Battle for Basra,” Institute for the Study of War, 5/31/08
Garcia-Navarro, Lourdes, “Competition Between Iraqi Shiites Gains Strength,” All Things Considered, NPR, 10/22/08
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- “New Tribal Groups Buck Wishes of Wasit Council,” 10/23/08
Levinson, Charles and Nabhan, Ali, “Iraqi tribes caught between rival Shiite parties,” USA Today, 10/20/08
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