Monday, October 31, 2005


A report published in the New York Times is the incentive for this post. I read, last week, an Arabic version of it. It is about the lethal enemy which the marines face in Ramady city, about 100 Km west to Baghdad. A translated quotation says:
"In Ramady, the Sunni militants are fighting their fiercest war against the American soldiers. These militants launch their attacks from distances which are not so far from the positions controlled by the marines, and move back without serious causalities. Everyday, the American soldiers fight to hold on their positions, in a war against an enemy which seems to be existing everywhere, but not obvious most of the time."

For the people in the northwest parts of Iraq, Ramady part of it, in their everyday channel of communication, it is very normal to use guns between even the members of one family. There is lot of stories well known by the Iraqis about people of that side of the country. One story which I can recall is a quarrel over crossing a small bridge of one truck way. Two trucks met on the opposite sides of the bridge; each driver insisted that he is the first to go over the bridge. The quarrel evolved into a big fight; more relatives involved. Guns were used and the fight ended with a dead person & three injured. Keep in mind that the whole individuals are kinsmen. I tried to choose a believable story, since there are much sillier ones. For example someone tries to split a bomb with a cousin by cutting it into two pieces, using a hammer & a chisel; the result is clear after the bomb detonation. They quarreled over the bomb which they were intending to use it in catching fish. Even when Saddam was in power people of the western sides of Iraq were a pain in the neck for Saddam. It was well known their continuous raids on the government & military warehouses.

Another story of 85 years old is about what happened between Sheikh Dharee, head of Zo'baa tribe, and Colonel Girard A. Liegeman (not sure of the spelling), a British officer. It was the early days of the British occupation of Iraq. The British were trying to set order & laying the foundations for a new state called Iraq. Sheik Dharee had a very good relation with Colonel Liegeman. The colonel made use of him to guard the main desert road along Euphrates, leading to Syria. The sheik was benefiting from that task by illegally taxing people who travel on that way. As the new state institutions started to function, Colonel Liegeman told Sheik Dharee to stop guarding & taxing, since the new government was to take the role. Sheik Dharee raged against the decision which led to a serious conflict between the two men ended by the killing of Colonel Liegeman on 14 August 1920. The later Iraqi generations, I'm one of them, have read about Sheik Dharee as a patriot.

Bedouinism & tribalism, till nowadays, have great role in the Iraqi society. A pioneer in the modern Iraqi sociology, Dr. Ali Wardi (1913-96), said answering his critics "
I'm not criticizing or condemning the bedouin & tribal way of life. All what I'm saying is that bedouin way of life is suitable for desert not for urban or rural communities." His assertion is to examine the distorted way of life the Iraqi society follows.

Anyhow, taming a bedouin community seems not to be easy. Saddam tried to calm down the people in western sides of Iraq by money & recruiting them in his secret services. Such policy made people of these parts of country abandon schools, with very low level of learning, to join Saddam's institutions which present to them money & authority. Nevertheless, they continued to represent real annoyance to Saddam till his last days in power.

Now, how the Americans are going to deal with this matter; I have no answer.


Anonymous G Money said...

You have a very good blog and thanks for the insights to various parts of Iraq and related histories.

Very soon, the Iraqi Forces will have to deal witth these more difficult areas.. What would they do differently than the U.S.??

10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Healing Iraq was active, the author wrote at length about tribalism in Iraq.

I recently tried to estimate the distribution of the 5 million or so Sunni Arab population of Iraq. I started with Baghdad (say, 2-3 million Sunni Arabs) and Mosul (say, 1 million Sunni Arabs). Then places like Fallujah and Ramadi are not towns or villages, but small cities, with populations of several hundred thousand. Adding it up, it appears that the Sunni Arab population is more than 50% urbanized. Yet, tribalism is very strong within that community. (And also within the Shia Arab and Kurdish communities.)

It is almost inconceivable to me that such a primitive social system as tribalism should be so strong within a heavily urbanized population like that of the Sunni Arabs.

In Western Europe, the last strong tribal institutions were those of the Highlands of Scotland. They were declining in the 1700s and were vigorously and successfully attacked by the British government after 1745.

I think that tribalism includes an alternative system of law and order. Governance in the Ottoman Empire deteriorated badly after about 1550 throughout the empire. The government eventually provided very little in return for taxes and banditry spread through most provinces. Remote provinces such as Kuwait, Egypt, and North Africa began to set up their own rulers. In the 19th Century, Ottoman reformers changed the land tenure system to follow European models ill suited to many local traditions. Many a tribal sheikh in Iraq wound up as the legal owner of lands that legitimately belonged in common to his tribe. This strengthened further the power of tribal leaders.

The Monarchy in England strengthened itself starting in the 1100s by competing successfully with courts run by the nobility. The Royal courts were set up with top quality judges and procedures were designed to be simple and just, in order to attract people to bring their disputes to the royal courts. If Iraq can set up an exemplary system of civil and criminal courts, that would go a long way to replace judicial procedings within tribes and negotiations between different tribes.

11:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooops. I forgot to end the previous comment with
Michael in Framingham

11:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tribal rules are called Segmentary Oppositions. It is the core upon which small communities build their socioeconomic foundations. Segmentary Oppositions shine with the absent of central governments. However, their draw backs are numerous, one of which disfavoring of a certain tribe - the British harped on this notion for many years (divide to rule). Invaders have always sought Segmentary Oppositions as a key opener to cities.

I have great respect to Dr. Ali Al Wardi. I read almost all his writings. But Dr. Al Wardi lived in a time (same neighborhood in Baghdad when I was a boy) when the world geopolitical map was sized up into fragmented little nations so they can fit different serial numbers as per global economies, at the height of the corporate war (cold War)
So intellectuals at that time had no other options but to catch the train of transformation and to follow suit of Ataturk of Turkey.

Sheik Al Dahree at that time was responsible to ‘feed’ and look after his tribe and all those other tribes in descending order in the Segmentary oppositions. The Ottoman Empire maintained this equilibrium for years, and they knew that time would eventually come for natural change – in history I am an adversary of the Ottoman rule.
British ‘invaders’ - as old habits are hard to break., invaded Iraq and wanted to establish the correct rout of the India – England trade and of course to force local tribes to their own regulations. Hilariously enough, today we can find the British soldiers in Basra (reminiscing of the 1917 invasion)

Define Heroes? History will show you some strange examples of Heroes – Churchill is one weird example.
When a local leader stops and even kills invaders so he would feed his own people and those close to him is a hero.

Through out years the eccentricity of the Brits has become a phenomenon, and I would not like to dwell about it. But the natural wind is like Mother Nature, it blows for years until earth takes shape. If we force its direction then it is only a proof of our idiocy, because it will blow back at us laughingly

Ahmed Mohsin

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very informative.

Lawk Salih

4:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The U.S. plan to deal with these bad people is simple: Get Iraqis to deal with them!

Hopefully with a democratically elected government, you will have more respect for your government and more faith that they will do the right thing. Thus, when the government takes action against lawless individuals, you will support it as necessary to keep the peace in society.

8:13 AM  

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