In Iraq, Strife Follows US Military Wherever It Goes

With Salam Talib

Few in Iraq have experienced sectarian violence more than residents of Samarra, an ancient, mid-sized city on the Tigris River northwest of Baghdad. For centuries, the areas Sunni majority had lived at peace with its Shi’ite minority – but in February, someone blew up a major Shi’ite shrine in the city, sparking sectarian killing across the country that continues to this day.

Now, Samarra is being hit with a second round of violence – two tribes, both of them Sunni, are battling each other over who will control an important area just west of city.

“It started when a car bomb went off in one the al-Bubaz family’s homes,” explains Sheik Ahmed Yahir al-Samarrai. “They accused the al-Bubadri tribe of doing it. Then people started killing each other.”

Observers say the trouble actually started before that – when the al-Bubaz tribe began to cooperate with the U.S. military a year ago. After the head of the tribe was killed, tribal leaders started to fight the movement of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and began taking money to guard a power plant.

“The Americans asked the al-Bubaz family to cooperate with them by providing security,” says lawyer Nezar al-Samarrai. “The other tribes felt offended with the fact that this tribe was cooperating with the Americans.”

Like many Iraqis, Nezar al-Samarrai believes the U.S. military upset tribal relations on purpose to make the situation unstable.

“They can stay in the city as long as there’s instability here, and they want to stay here forever,” he says.

According to the United States’ Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity has paid tens of millions of dollars to tribes to protect the country’s electric grid.

The GAO’s Joseph Christof tells me while he hasn’t heard of tribal warfare in Samarra, he has heard about a host of other problems. He summarizes the findings of a report released in April this year:

“The Iraqi Ministry of Electricity was providing the subcontracts with the tribes to protect the transmission lines and oftentimes they wouldn’t necessarily protect the transmission lines. They would allow insurgents or other groups to come in and destroy the transmission lines, and they would in turn try to enact fees or tariffs to the reconstruction lines that they were supposed to be protecting.”

Meanwhile, the body count continued to rise in Iraq. In Baquba, northeast of the capital, a U.S. raid and air strike killed eight people, including seven members of one family, Wednesday. Inside Baghdad itself, a car bomb exploded near a busy market in the mostly Shi’ite district of Bayaa, killing five people and wounding eight others. Gunmen in Baghdad also shot and killed the sister of a Shi’ite member of parliament. In Kirkuk in northern Iraq, at least 10 people were wounded when a car bomb exploded near the headquarters of the Turkmen Front Party.

For Sheik Ahmed Yahir al-Samarrai, three years of U.S. occupation have left him and his neighbors feeling trapped in their homes.

“There’s nothing good in this country,” he says. “Every day is worse than the day before. The only place that I can go to is the area around my house. I can only shop in my own area. The killings are based on the address of your identification card and your name.”

Read more by Aaron Glantz