Prime Minister Maliki has created tribal Support Councils in 4. Wasit, 5. Maysan, 6. Basra, 7. Dhi Qar, 10. Babil, 11. Karbala
The following commentary originall appeared in Musings On Iraq
As reported earlier, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been creating tribal Support Councils across most of Southern Iraq. Currently there are councils in Basra, Maysan, Babil, Dhi Qar, Wasit, and Karbala. They were originally formed to counter the Sadrists and the Mahdi Army militia, but as they spread to more secure areas in the summer of 2008, provincial councils, governors, and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) all began to complain about them. All the criticisms were similar. They asked why the central government was organizing tribes and their fighters outside of the boundaries of the local provincial councils. It was apparent that Maliki was both protecting against the return of the Sadrists, as well as building up a base for the upcoming provincial elections.
The criticism however has grown so loud that the Prime Minister has been forced to respond. October 9, Maliki announced that he would disband any tribal Support Council that was working with a political party. This was obviously meant to just mute the complaints, because he also said that the councils were non-partisan and worked for the good of the country. Since Maliki created the councils, and they work for him, he is not likely to end them any time soon. The SIIC, anticipating this, said that they welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement, but wanted to see some action instead of just words about the councils.
This on-going argument points to the inter-Shiite rivalries that have come to the fore recently. The Dawa and Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council are still part of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, and the SIIC is still one of the main supporters of Maliki’s ruling coalition. At the same time, the SIIC controls most of the southern provinces, has a large social and religious organization, plus its own militia, the Badr Brigade, that operates within the Interior Ministry, while Dawa is the smallest of the three major Shiite parties, and has no fighters of its own. Recently Maliki has been using the Iraqi security forces as a political tool, first against the Sadrists, then the insurgents, and most recently against the Kurds in the Khanaqin district of Diyala. It should be no surprise then that he is trying to build up his support while he can for the anticipated 2009 elections. The Support Councils provide him with both sheikhs and their tribesmen for the balloting, and armed men as well, if they are needed in another confrontation, as happened in Basra in March 2008. The SIIC’s response is also expected, as the councils are a direct challenge to the rule of the south. This dispute will probably continue until the day of the election.
Alsumaria, “Al Maliki defends tribal awakening councils,” 10/9/08
- “Rows growing between two major Iraqi parties,” 9/18/08
Cochrane, Marisa, “The Battle for Basra,” Institute for the Study of War, 5/31/08
Parker, Sam, “ISCI/Da’wa alliance showing strain,” Abu Muqawama Blog, 9/17/08
Voices of Iraq, “Government is the only authority and no negotiations with ‘the gangs’ – PM,” 3/28/08
- “Karbala governor says no-confidence vote proposal is political pressure tool,” 10/1/08
- “MP’s decision to cancel partisan support councils welcomed,” 10/9/08
- “PM announces formation of 17 tribal councils in Missan,” 6/23/08
- “Premier to cancel partisan support councils,” 10/9/08
- “Tribal chieftain announces opening 20 Supports Councils offices in Thi-Qar,” 10/1/08
- “Wassit province refuses to establish support councils,” 9/24/08