Tribal Chiefs Weigh Voting Options

In a province south of Baghdad, the voices of Arab tribal leaders count, and they are making diverse and sometimes surprising choices.

Tribal Chiefs Weigh Voting Options

In a province south of Baghdad, the voices of Arab tribal leaders count, and they are making diverse and sometimes surprising choices.

In Babil, the province that lies on the Euphrates just south of Baghdad, Arab tribal chieftains enjoy considerable influence among their people, as they do in many other parts of southern Iraq.


If the sheikh decides to issue a call to support a particular candidate or party, many members of his tribe will follow him. In Babil, some influential tribal figures have come out in favour of the main Shia bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, while others are supporting a group representing tribes, and at least one has publicly backed the Communists.


Sheikh Adnan Rashid al-Hamd, who is tribal leader of the al-Maamara, is also vice president of Babil’s elected Council of Sheikhs, and sees the main aim of elections as being to create cohesion and social justice in Iraq.


Like some others, al-Hamd will probably lend his backing to the coalition of mainly Shia parties set up at the request of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. “So far I haven't made up my mind, but I’m leaning toward voting for list no. 169 [United Iraqi Alliance], because it is a holy list supported by the Shia clerical leadership,” he said.


Sheikh Qahtan Said Mansur al-Samawi, who heads the Khafaja tribe, is also supporting the United Iraqi Alliance. So is the Rubaei tribe's chief, Sheikh Kareem Hassun Mustaf – though he added the proviso that the whole tribe must gather to decide who they will collectively support.


But Sheikh Kadhm Ali al-Rubaei, who heads a sub-tribe of the Rubaei called the al-Halabija, said his grouping instead supports the Democratic Assembly of Iraqi Tribes, which is standing alone rather than as part of a bigger bloc. “We find that it has virtues, and it has fresh faces on its candidate list,” he explained.


Sheikh Safi Abas Kareem is leader of the Jubur al-Jamoos tribe in the mid-Euphrates region, and is another supporter of the Democratic Assembly of Iraqi Tribes.


Interim prime minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqi List bloc also gets some support in Babil. The Awadi tribe's chief, Sheikh Hussain al-Awadi, said he'd be backing the prime minister's Iraqi National Accord party, part of the Iraqi List.


Another sheikh, Abdul Amir Nassir, is making a different choice. The traditional leader of the Bani Jamil says he plans to vote for the Iraqi Communist Party because its candidate list includes "a large number of intellectuals who have a long track-record in Iraq, and an unsullied background”.


“We have recommended that all the people in our tribe vote for that list,” he added. “And other tribes are with us, too, such as the Hajam and the Albu Saltan.”


Sheikh Hatam Aldlemi, who heads the Albu Alwan tribe in Babil, said he is still undecided about who to vote for, but voiced concern that some Iraqis would not be able to take part in the election because of the continuing violence. And he added, “I will not support anyone who's come in on the back of American tanks.”


Yaseen Madhloom is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.


Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq
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