Monday, November 15, 2004


American military hopes to end the insurgency by turning to Iraqi tribal traditions.   By Abdel Karem al-Hashemy in Baghdad

Taxi driver Satar Majeed Suleiman walked out of Abu Ghraib prison this June, after spending nearly a year behind bars. Like many of his fellow prisoners, Suleiman says he had no involvement in the anti-Coalition insurgency for which he was detained. "I was shooting in the air to frighten thieves, when an American patrol passed by," he said.
As a result, he spent months in a harsh place where, though he was not beaten, he had little protection against the cold of the desert winter and the heat of summer.   US forces do not "arrest anyone without a reason", said Lieutenant Colonel Tim Ryan, US military commander responsible for the area west of Baghdad , which includes Suleiman's home of Bab al-Sheikh.   Ryan agreed to release Suleiman after the taxi driver's local tribal leader, Sheikh Abdul Rida al-Aweili, agreed to vouch for the detainee's good behaviour.
Similar assurances are being sought across the region, one of the centres of Iraq 's insurgency.   They have led to the release of elderly men in poor health, tribal elders, and at least two women, whose detention, Aweili said, had been a cause of tension.   "We are sure that some were arrested because of false accusations," the sheikh said.   He also said the assurances were being made to enable tribal leaders to reassert their authority, and to restrain their followers, angry at intrusive raids and what they consider to be unjustifiable detentions.   While not conceding the innocence of those detained, the US military acknowledged that it erred in ignoring the role of the sheikh as mediator between the population and the central authority.   "It was a mistake for us to ignore the tribal customs of the Iraqi culture," said Captain Joseph James, public affairs officer for Ryan's 2-12 Cavalry, in an email to IWPR.
Now, the unit has begun to release prisoners if their sheikh will guarantee that they will not participate in attacks.   "Sheiks should submit a list of names for prisoners that they guarantee not to conduct future attacks against Coalition forces," James said.   "If the agreement is breached, Sheiks will be notified and that they should either bring the person to the Coalition or show us his whereabouts.   "In return, the US troops are committed not to arrest any person without notifying the tribal council, not arresting women, not raiding houses and mosques, and to respect Iraqi tradition and customs."   If the attacks cease, James continued, the US military can "move forward" in developing the region, saying that, altogether, some 336 detainees have been released through the policy in the Abu Ghraib region.   "We hold to the agreement [with the American troops] and we must respect it. Any one who breaches it will be held accountable by his tribe leader," said Sheik Hashem Najem al-Hasen al-Mohammadi, head of the region's Iraqi tribes association.
Still, many of the released detainees remain angry over their detentions.   "They treat dogs better than us," said Abd al-Wadood Katab, 40, a professor of psychology at the University of Tikrit .   Katab said he was held 14 months in the southern detention centre of Bucca for possessing weapons and inciting violence.   "They used to leave us with no cold water, they shouted and struck us. I haven't done anything to be arrested - all Iraqis possess weapons," he said.   Abdel Karem al-Hashemy is an IWPR trainee.

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