Sat, Jun 12, 2004 - Page 6 News List

US balances Iraq's tribal factions in choosing leaders

POWER BROKERS Some analysts praise the occupiers' choice of clan leaders, but others say some important factions and provinces were neglected by Washington


Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawar, a member of Iraq's Shammar tribe, pauses Thursday near the casket of former US President Ronald Reagan in Washington.


For centuries, tribal chiefs have held together Iraq's social fabric through diplomacy and mediation -- skills Iraqi leaders will need as they try to unite the country's ethnic and sectarian groups and stop the bloodshed of the past year.

``We in our tribe mean what we say,'' said Sheik Mohsen Nayef Faisal, a leader of one of Iraq's largest clans and an uncle of Iraq's interim president. ``Ours is a household of rulers.''

Devout, armed and nationalis-tic, Iraq's tribes have played a crucial part in controlling the country under the Ottomans, the British, the monarchy and Saddam Hussein. No government can function without co-opting or subjugating them.

An estimated three-quarters of Iraq's 25 million people identify themselves with one of the country's estimated 150 tribes. Tribal ties are strongest in rural areas and in the smaller towns and cities.

Central governments have courted them for support or tried to crush them. Saddam showered tribes with cash, cars, arms, schools and other gifts to gain their loyalty. Those who did not bow to him were killed or driven into exile.

Some tribal leaders had complained they were being sidelined as Iraqi politicians and the US-led coalition put together a new government.

Now their role is being revived. The interim government announced last week is made up of ministers from some of Iraq's most powerful tribes, including the Rubaei, to which Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a Shiite Muslim, belongs.

``Widespread anarchy and an absence of security are driving people to turn to their tribes and clans for protection,'' said Haroun Mohammed, an Iraqi analyst based in London.

However, tribes from the three predominantly Sunni Muslim provinces where the anti-US insurgency is strongest are absent from the interim government that will rule Iraq until elections are held by Jan. 31.

Partly because of this, analysts say the interim government will fail to end the violence that continues more than a year after Saddam's ouster by US-led forces.

Interim President Ghazi al-Yawar, 46, a Sunni, is a nephew of the overall chief of the Shammar tribe, which has at least 3 million members in Iraq and others in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. The tribe includes both Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Al-Yawer's mediation skills were tested in April, when he negotiated an end to fighting in the Sunni city of Fallujah between Iraqi guerrillas and US Marines.

Al-Yawer's criticism of the US during the fighting won him support in Iraq -- perhaps also from insurgents. The initial US backing for former Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi, who later bowed out, also won points for al-Yawer as a man not beholden to the Americans.

Al-Yawer, a US-educated civil engineer and father of five, is at home in both Arab and Western cultures, according to his uncle, al-Faisal, who wore a gold-trimmed robe and traditional headdress.

``Ghazi speaks the language of the West and has an Arab depth,'' he said.

Abdul-Razaq al-Naash, a professor at Baghdad University, also said al-Yawer represents Iraq's Bedouin and Arab heritage and lends credibility to the new government.

``Symbolically, al-Yawer will be able to unite the religious and ethnic divisions of the country,'' al-Naash said.

Not quite, says Mohammed, the London-based analyst.

He believes it was wrong to exclude from the government several Sunni tribes from provinces in the so-called Sunni Triangle, including the Delaimi tribe from Anbar Province, where Fallujah is located.

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