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Partisan Divide in Babil over "Support Councils
300 Shyakhs Reject Formation of Tribal Force, Threatening Protest Actions
09/17/2008 7:34 PM ET
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.

In what appears to be a continuing partisan struggle over the shape of the security arrangements in southern and central Iraq, tribal leaders in an Iraqi province south of Baghdad have expressed their strong opposition to the formation of tribal “support councils” that would incorporate tribal forces into an informal security organization that would operate outside the purview of Iraq’s uniformed security forces.

With threats of protests and demonstrations, tribal leaders gathered Wednesday in the city of Hilla, in Iraq’s Babil Province, to sign a document attesting to their “complete refusal” to form tribal support councils, counting them as formations that are in opposition to the construction of a state of law and institutions desired to be formed in Iraq.

Al-Malaf Press writes in Arabic that signatories to the document organized a conference in a Babil Province government building that brought together 300 tribal shaykhs from the governorate.

The document, signed by conference participants, affirms that “Tribal support councils are opposed to the construction of a state of law, and result from a ugly partisan conflict that is far from the interests of the Iraqis and Iraq,” also describing the locally organized irregular forces as a step in the direction of authoritarianism, and “a waste of money in a time when many Iraqis are face hunger.”

The conference was gathered under the slogan, “We need of a state of institutions, and do not need support councils,” the agency writes.

The shaykhs affirmed that “Babil Provinces is one of the secure and stable provinces and is governed by law, and therefore is not in need of support councils,” which, the document said would “tear the social fabric of Iraq,” according to the document, which emphasized that “linking the tribes to the government” would be an act of “contempt” for the tribal groupings . . . and go against their will.”

Signatories included representatives of the Shumar, Bani Hasan, Bani Lam, Khafaja, Sawa’id, Al-Bu Sultan, Jubour, Yasar, Al-Bu 'Isa, al-Akra', Al-Bu Ghayad, al-Janabiyin, and other tribes, al-Malaf Press writes.

The signatories demanded that Iraqi Prime Minster Nuri al-Maliki abolish the tribal councils in order to promote stability and securityin the province, and threatened to conduct “demonstrations and protests” if the councils are not dissolved. The Iraqi Prime Minister has worked to form the tribal organizations in various provinces including Babil province.

Locally and tribally organized irregular forces, under such names as Sahwa ("Awakening"), Sons of Iraq, Volunteers, and Support Councils have been formed across the country, especially in Iraq's predominantly Sunni areas, often with US military support. The expansion of that strategy to Iraq's mixed or predominantly Shi'a areas has proven more problematic, in part because the councils are seen as an alternative to the uniformed Iraqi security services and a latent challenge to their authority.

Seventeen tribal support councils including around 400 tribal shaykhs were formed in the beginning of this week in Babil Province at a conference organized by the Prime Minister’s faction of the Da'wa party, the news agency notes. This move has been viewed as controversial by many other political and religious parties in the province, including the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. The ISCI-affiliated governor and most members of the ISCI-led provincial council did not attend that founding conference. The Da'wa-organized conference was attended by Dr. Nu'ma Jasim, the deputy chairman of the Babil provincial council, considered a key leader in the Da'wa party.

The governor of Babil Province, Salim al-Mousawi, demanded the formation of an emergency brigade within the Iraqi Police, rather than the formation of tribal support councils. Al-Mousawi said that nine of Iraq’s 18 provinces, all located in the center and south of the country, had already refused the formation of tribal support councils. “Babil Province officially refuses the formation of these councils,” he stated.

Representatives of local governments in the central and southern provinces of Iraq gathered in a conference in early September in Babil to emphasize their refusal to form the support councils, which they called undue interference by the Da'wa party into the local affairs of the provinces, accusing the party of using the councils for electoral aims in the provincial polls anticipated this fall in Iraq.

Observors described the document that the tribesmen signed in Babil as “strongly worded” saying that the standoff between the Mailki government and the tribal leaders in central and southern Iraq could set off a “crisis” in this region that might lead to the undermining of security in these areas and set off a “partisan war” with “dire consequences,” according to al-Malaf Press’s observer.

The partisan tension over the future of the security arrangements in central Babil province may reach new levels in the coming weeks as the governorate, along with neighboring Wasit Province, is due to be handed over to formal Iraqi security control in the coming two weeks, according to Iraqi defense ministry statements.

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