Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Leniency Plea From Sheikhs
Sheikh Amer al-Tikriti, 74, stood before a gathering of fellow tribal leaders to remind them of former president Saddam Hussein's generosity.
"Everyone owes the president for what he gave us in the past.… We must respect our tribal traditions and behave honourably towards the one who helped us and stood by us," he said.
On one side of the meeting hall sat tribal chiefs or sheikhs from Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home district, making the case for the former president.
Along the other side sat a group of tribal leaders from Mosul, home of the new interim president Ghazi al-Yawar.
The Mosul delegation was being asked to intervene with Ghazi al-Yawar – himself a tribal leader – to show clemency for Saddam, whose trial began the same day.
The Tikritis requested that the deposed president should not face the death penalty, and should not have to answer accusations of war crimes levelled by foreign countries like Kuwait and Iran.
They also asked for the trial to be postponed until Iraq was stronger and more resistant to foreign pressure.
Some of the Tikritis said that responsibility for some of the charges against Saddam – such as the 1988 chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja – should instead be made against high-ranking military officials.
The July 1 meeting, held on a rural estate close to Saddam Hussein's birthplace of Auja, did not lead to the hoped-for conclusion. But it did provide clear proof of the loyalty many tribal leaders feel toward the former president, who courted their support and showered them with gifts and honours.
The leaders filed into the hall past a portrait showing Saddam dressed in the traditional robes and headdress of a tribal chieftain. Photos of the former president showed him greeting Sheikh Amer and many other notables now attending the meeting.
After a lunch of lamb and rice followed by the traditional Arabic coffee, the Mosul sheikhs sat on rugs and listened as the Tikritis presented their case.
"There is no honour or pride for our tribes in leaving our president alone in this difficult situation," said Sheikh Ziad Zahran al-Naser, 44, one of the Tikriti chieftains.
He seemed particularly incensed by the possibility that Saddam could face charges in connection with Iraq's foreign wars. "We have to prevent these agents and traitors from accusing the president”, he said, adding that such accusations would “insult and shame our tribes forever".
Sheikh Kamal Ibrahim al-Dury said that for Saddam to have a fair trial, it must be postponed, "If the transitional government is patriotic, it will delay the trial. A postponement is in Iraq's interests, not just Saddam's – he will reveal those who conspire against Iraq."
The Mosul sheikhs kept up the diplomatic niceties required by the occasion, but did not make many promises.
"No one denies that the [former] government was at the disposal of tribes - and us sheikhs in particular - but times have now changed," said Sheikh Hamed al-Shimary, 67.
"We are here to answer your summons, and because we know you are in need of us over the case of the president,” he continued. “So tell us your needs - and we will meet them, with the help of God.”
Afterwards, Sheikh Hamed told IWPR that there was little he could do about a matter that has already reached the courts.
"For these [Tikritis], keeping their dignity is the most important thing, and the Kuwait case awakens their resentment," he explained. "They are trying to pressure our tribe because it is close to the current president, so to get rid of the charges relating to Kuwait."
He warned, "Mediation will be very difficult, despite the pressures placed on us at this meeting."
Dhiya Rasan is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.
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