Once the Islamic State is driven from a part of Iraq that doesn’t mean everything is resolved. The current war has increased tensions between communities and created new ones within them. That’s show in the case of Albu Ajeel just outside of Tikrit. The tribe there was accused not only of collaborating with the insurgents, but taking part in the now infamous Camp Speicher massacre, which took place last summer. After the town was cleared in March it was destroyed by both Shiite Hashd units and local Sunni tribesmen. Afterward Albu Ajeel was a ghost town with no locals being allowed to return. That has recently changed after a political deal, but the situation there points to the deep divisions that will remain in the country after the Islamic State is eventually defeated.
At the end of September 2015, a political deal was made to allow locals to return to Albu Ajeel. The provincial council held a reconciliation conference, and as a result an agreement was made for families to go back to their home in the town. That did not include 300 people who were suspected of being IS sympathizers. The local Hashd commander agreed to the arrangement as well showing their continued influence over the area. Beforehand the Jabour tribe was said to have been stopping people from returning to that area.
The reason no one was allowed back into the town was the deep suspicion people have of the tribe. After Tikrit fell to to the Islamic State in June 2014, the Albu Ajeel were accused of helping the organization commit the Camp Speicher massacre where 1,500 recruits were executed. To make matters worse, a mass grave was found in the town after its liberation with 300-400 bodies in it. Some believed these were Speicher victims. Families of the victims of that mass murder were demanding blood money from the Albu Ajeel for their dead relatives, and members of the Jabour and Abed tribes were said to be seeking revenge.
The result of this mistrust and suspicion was that after Albu Ajeel was liberated on March 7, most of the town was destroyed. Satellite photo analysis done by Human Rights Watch showed most of the town had been flattened shortly after its capture. On March 9, a video was posted with a suspected Asaib Ahl Al-Haq (AAH) member yelling “Burn them!” as he droves through town. A local who joined the Hashd said that shortly after the town was liberated AAH started burning down homes. A lawmaker from the area also blamed the Jabour tribe for taking part in the acts as well. In the end, a reported 200 homes were destroyed and 300 burned. This was done in revenge for the Speicher massacre and occurred in several other towns in the area as well.
The example of Albu Ajeel shows how scarred Iraq is from the Islamic State. The Hashd have been blamed for most of the abuses by the government, but there are also a plethora of tribal disputes that have emerged from the war that have barely been reported on. Many families are demanding not only blood money for their lost relatives, but revenge as well. After the Islamic State is driven back these issues are likely to remain causing more lasting problems for the nation.
Al-Ali, Zaid, “Tikrit: Iraq’s Abandoned City,” New York Review of Books, 5/4/15
Barnard, Anne, “Iraqi Army Cements Hold on Tikrit, but Islamic State Sends a Message,” New York Times, 3/11/15
Cunningham, Erin, “Unusual alliance provides hope in fight against Islamic State in Iraq,” Washington Post, 3/10/15
Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Militia Abuses Mar Fight Against ISIS,” 9/20/15
Al-Jibouri, Ghazwan Hassan, “Family Feuds That Last, And Last: As Extremists Withdraw in Salahaddin, Iraq’s Tribes Demand Justice,” Niqash, 10/22/15
Al Mada, “Salahuddin clans agree to the return of the people of Albu-Ajeel, excluding only 300 people,” 9/28/15
Al-Salhy, Suadad, “What really happened in Tikrit after ISIL fled,” Al Jazeera, 4/7/15