IRAQ: Mutterings of tribal revolt

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By Iraqi standards, Sheik Ali Hatem Sulaiman is royalty. He’s the emir, or prince, of the Dulaim, Iraq’s biggest tribe and the one that dominates in the former insurgent stronghold of Anbar province.

So when he threatens a tribal revolt, it’s worth taking note.

For the past few weeks, Sulaiman, 38, has been trying to rally the support of tribes across Iraq for a tribal conference whose goal, he says, will be to replace the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki unless certain, as yet unspecified, demands are met.

If the U.S. military attempts to defend the Iraqi government by claiming that it was democratically elected, the Americans also will find themselves on the receiving end of the tribes’ wrath.


‘I warn anyone who says this is a democracy that we will pour a gallon of gasoline into his mouth and set him on fire,’ Sulaiman saidin one of the more colorful threats made during an interview at his Baghdad office, lined with pictures of his tribal ancestors.

‘The tribes are moving, and you cannot stand in the way of the tribes,’ he warned, twirling his prayer beads and jabbing a finger in the air. ‘Maybe tomorrow the tribes of Iraq will make an uprising, and it will not be possible to stop it, either by force or negotiations.’

It’s highly unlikely any of this will actually come off. Iraqi tribal leaders are as renowned for their inability to agree on anything as they are for making wild threats whenever they are crossed.

And Sulaiman has reasons to be disgruntled. The ascendancy of Sheik Ahmed Buzaigh abu Risha, the leader of the Awakening movement that teamed up with U.S. forces to fight Al Qaeda, has greatly diminished Sulaiman’sinfluence among the tribes of Anbar.

What makes his threats interesting, though, is that until recently he was an ardent supporter of the U.S. military and a staunch ally of Maliki.

He appears to be trying to tap into the growing anger of many in the Sunni community in the wake of recent government arrests of some Awakening leaders, as well as the longstanding resentment of tribesmen who feel they haven’t been given enough power in the new Iraq.

And although his says he does not want to challenge his ‘friends,’ the Americans, as one recent meeting of tribesmen demonstrated, tribal allegiances can quickly switch.

‘We concluded that there is no permanent friend and there is no permanent foe,’ he said. ‘It’s according to the interest of the country.’

-- Liz Sly in Baghdad