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
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
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."