Starting in October 2014 the Albu Nimr tribe has faced one setback after another now verging on tragedy. Based out of central Anbar province in western Iraq, the tribe had been fighting the Islamic State (IS) for months, but then lost two of its major strongholds. Afterward, the Islamists relentlessly hunted down its tribesmen kidnapping some and executing others. Almost five hundred have died so far. IS has a long history of carrying out such retaliatory attacks against its opponents, especially in Anbar dating back to its predecessor Al Qaeda in Iraq. The Albu Nimr knows this past all too well as it had been against the insurgency since 2004. As then the point now is to instill fear in the tribes in the Islamic State’s attempt to seize control of Anbar.
The Albu Nimr’s problems began when the Islamic State started a surge across central Anbar at the beginning of October. On October 3, the city of Hit was taken, which was one of the main homes for the tribe. It had been calling for help for some time, but received little. The displaced fighters continued their struggle outside of Hit, but then faced another setback when neighboring Zauiyat fell in the middle of the month. The town had been surrounded, and the elders of the tribe were begging for coalition air strikes to relieve the pressure, but all they got were fly overs and a humanitarian air drop. On October 23 the village was taken. Afterward tribesmen claimed there were sleeper cells within Zauiyat who provided lists of wanted people. That’s when the kidnappings and executions began. On October 27 55 tribesmen who were part of the local police and Sahwa surrendered to IS. They repented to the group, but then on October 29 they were taken to Hit and killed. Then IS kicked their family members out and took their homes. That same day another 200 tribesmen were executed in the area. The next day two sheikhs were kidnapped near Hit who were looking for their massacred tribesmen, one of which was executed himself on October 31. October 30 200 members of the Albu Nimr were seized in the Lake Thar Thar region, and 50 were later executed, followed by another 62 on November 1. The following day IS caught members of the Albu Nimr who were fleeing their towns, took 17 away, while shooting 67 others. Finally, on November 3 36 were killed, and 24 more on November 4. In total, the tribe has lost at least 495 people according to press reports. At first, the Islamic State was just going after tribe members who had fought against it. It later included women and children who it captured. The Albu Nimr had been targeted by IS’s earlier manifestation Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), but had never faced these types of losses. AQI didn’t have the strength or control of territory in Anbar like IS does today. What is similar is that the Islamists have a long history of taking vengeance upon tribes in the province that opposed it to make examples out of them and intimidate others.
The Albu Nimr have a legacy of their own in opposing the insurgency. In October 2003, the tribe offered to form a border patrol force in Anbar in cooperation with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The Anbar-Syrian border had been left open by the U.S. and foreign fighters had already begun flowing into the country as a result. This was pushed by CPA Governor Keith Mines as a form of local reconciliation, but the Coalition leadership was not interested in engaging with tribes believing that they did not have a place in the new Iraq the U.S. was trying to create. The next year Sheikh Talal al-Gaood began talks with the U.S. Marines and the Pentagon in Amman, Jordan to try to form an alliance between the Americans and elites in Anbar. While that deal never came to fruition, Albu Nimr’s Sheikh Faisal al-Gaood was appointed governor shortly afterward. He would later be assassinated by AQI. In the middle of 2004 Albu Nimr went back to the U.S. offering fighters for the local police and to form an anti-insurgent militia in return for money, weapons, and support. The Americans only sent in a Special Forces unit to assist the tribe. By the spring of 2005 the Albu Mahal tribe in Qaim along the Syrian border created the Hamza Battalion. This group was later expanded to include the Albu Nimr in Hit. The two tribes asked for U.S. support, but in a military operation they actually got attacked because there was no coordination between them. In the end, the Hamza Battalion was wiped out by AQI. In another sign of the lack of consistency in American policy at that time, in the fall a Special Forces unit arrived in Hit and began recruiting Albu Nimr members for the Desert Protectors. The tribe promised 200 fighters, but the program never got the support from local U.S. forces that it demanded. To top things off the day the recruits were to be picked up for training, the plane didn’t show up due to maintenance, and the majority of tribesmen went home. The Americans also asked the fighters to serve throughout Iraq when they were only interested in protecting their home region. They never became a major part of the program as a result. In 2006 it finally got several hundred of its men into the local police as the Awakening movement began. This was when the Americans finally came up with a successful tribal policy, and security began improving as a result. Several years later the tribe rose up with others in Anbar when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki shut down the Ramadi protest site and arrested Parliamentarian Ahmed Alwani at the very end of 2013. There were reports that the clan helped take over Fallujah, but were opposed to IS’s presence in the city. As the Islamists power increased throughout the governorate the tribe went back to its traditional role of fighting them. The Albu Nimr’s recent history showed that it was always willing to work with the U.S. and opposed the Islamic State. By 2013 it had gotten mad at Maliki and joined the Anbar protests and then the insurgency. It was willing to take part in the tribal revolt against Baghdad, but it was not willing to work with IS that it had such a bad history with. That led it to eventually switch sides and join other pro-government tribes, which led it to its current predicament. Although this flirtation with the insurgency was brief, it was also the reason why Baghdad was hesitant to aid it and others in Anbar.
Today, the Albu Nimr are on the run from the Islamic State. This all happened after its two traditional bases of Hit and Zauiyat were lost in the current round of fighting in Anbar. The government has promised a major offensive to relieve the tribe, but nothing substantial has happened yet. This has only made the tribal leaders even more bitter as they had been asking for help from Baghdad for months and received nothing. Until then more men, women, and children from the Albu Nimr will be executed as the IS seems intent on exacting its revenge upon it. This is part of the Islamic State’s larger strategy of trying to take the entire province. It is hoping to scare and intimidate those tribes and local security forces that are still fighting it. It also highlights the group’s long history of killing any that stand in its way showing its utter ruthlessness.
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