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Thi Qar's security leadership threatened by tribal conflicts

Montazer al Kharsan

Mar. 28, 2024
Image of Thi Qar's security leadership threatened by tribal conflicts

In Thi Qar, tribal conflict threatens the state’s security apparatus, and the government’s efforts to defuse the conflict is believed by locals to be misplaced.

He stepped out of his military vehicle, endeavoring to engage in dialogue with armed individuals congregated in the vicinity of the "Nasrawa" area, situated west of the al-Eslyah district, in an effort to mediate a tribal conflict that had been ongoing for over a year. 

In the midst of the enveloping darkness, he was immediately met with a barrage of gunfire, with one bullet piercing his chest, abruptly ending his life. Another round struck one of his accompanying personnel, while additional shots damaged one of the vehicles.The armed assailants swiftly vanished, seeking refuge in the shroud of night.

This narrative, recounted by an official in Thi Qar, sheds light on the tragic demise of Brigadier Aziz Shalal al-Shammari, the intelligence director of Thi Qar, as he found himself amidst the battleground between the Rumeid and al-Omar tribes in the al-Eslyah district, located east of the province.

This conflict, ignited over a year ago amidst protests against the mayor due to inadequate services, saw a protester from the al-Omar tribe take the matter to Facebook.

In response, a faction of individuals affiliated with mayor Ahmed al-Rumeid targeted the homes of the protestors with a barrage of gunfire.

Tensions reached a boiling point the following day when members of the al-Omar tribe retaliated by opening fire on the Rumeid in their rural dwellings. Since then, the situation has failed to de-escalate, with the tribal discord emerging as a paramount security concern, claiming the lives of high-ranking officers within the security apparatus.

In April 2022, Brigadier Ali Jameel, the director of Sumer's intelligence operations, met his demise amid a tribal clash that erupted north of Nasiriyah. 

The conflict unfolded between the Malhan and al-Bu Shumkhi tribes in the Bani Zeid area, under the jurisdiction of the Shatrah district.

This incident prompted security forces to bolster their presence in an effort to quell the unrest. However, despite the heightened security measures and the brigadier's prominent role at the forefront of the security contingent during daylight hours, tragedy struck when he was fatally shot in the head.

This grim event prompted top security brass in Baghdad to escalate their military presence in the region and launch a sweeping campaign encompassing arrests, searches, and raids to apprehend the perpetrator and associated individuals.

Numerous weapons and equipment were confiscated, and the military operation expanded to encompass multiple districts and neighborhoods.

Roughly a month following the killing of Brigadier Ali Jameel, security forces successfully pinpointed one of the suspects implicated in his murder and cordoned off his residence.

Simultaneously, the suspect in Facebook Live showed himself fortifying his home with family members, including women and children, as well as the arsenal he relied upon, which included hand grenades.

After a tense standoff lasting several hours, one of the officers managed to persuade him to surrender peacefully. He was then transported to a facility for further questioning. However, during the transfer, he refused to part with the hand grenades.

Upon arrival at the designated location, he detonated one of the grenades, ending his own life instantly and injuring several officers and personnel in close proximity. They were promptly transported to the hospital for medical treatment.

The tragic killing of Ali Jameel marked not the end, but rather a continuation of violence that exposed the lack of robust security measures, according to experts.

There were no concrete plans in place to safeguard senior military officials during the handling of operations aimed at quelling tribal conflicts, especially given the indiscriminate nature of gunfire.

In the aftermath of this incident, Abdul Mehdi Jameel al-Omar, a Major, met a similar fate.

As he returned from duty at the National Security Agency and made his way home in the al-Eslyah district, he fell victim to the escalating tribal conflict that erupted in April 2023 between the Rumeid and al-Omar tribes.

Being the eldest son of the al-Omar sheikh, he was intercepted in his vehicle upon entering the al-Eslyah district and fatally shot multiple times, succumbing to his injuries on the spot. The situation deteriorated further in the wake of that incident.

In June 2023, a major officer sustained a gunshot wound to the neck while being part of a security force attempting to mediate a tribal conflict within factions of the al-Zuhairi tribe. He was swiftly evacuated to the hospital for treatment. Additionally, security vehicles came under fire, resulting in material damage.

The targeting of high-ranking security officials persisted amidst efforts to resolve tribal conflicts. Brigadier Aziz Shalal al-Shammari, the intelligence director of Thi Qar, fell victim while attempting to mediate the dispute between the Rumeid and al-Omar tribes, which was nearing resolution following interventions by religious and governmental authorities in Baghdad.

However, elements described by sources as seeking to stoke sectarian tensions attacked a village affiliated with the al-Omar tribe, prompting the deployment of security forces.

Upon al-Shammari's arrival at one of the sites where militants were present during the night, he alighted from his vehicle and engaged some of them in conversation in a conciliatory manner, urging them to withdraw.

Nevertheless, he was shot in the abdomen, alongside one of his companions, and one of the vehicles, before the assailants fled the scene.

This series of events has rendered Nasiriyah a volatile security environment, prompting the Prime Minister's office, Ministry of Interior, and Ministry of Defense to bolster the province with military and police forces stationed in the al-Eslyah district. 

Dozens have been apprehended, with the tally of detainees reaching 123, and significant caches of light and medium weapons, mortar shells, anti-tank rockets, and armor-piercing shells being confiscated. This has effectively turned the city into a military stronghold.

Residents in the al-Eslyah district discovered that the arrest operation aimed at them was both personalized and systematic, specifically targeting the al-Omar tribe rather than the Rumeid tribe, as per their accounts. Ali Hussein, aged 37, conveyed to The New Region over the phone that the arrests predominantly focused on individuals from the al-Omar tribe, with many not implicated in the tribal conflict, including academics and university students.

In another conversation with a citizen named Mohammed*, a 32-year-old who preferred to use a pseudonym, he revealed that the raids led to the arrest of numerous individuals.

He himself escaped by leaving the house early and fleeing to an undisclosed location. Similarly, his father took the same course of action, as they both remained absent from their home for several days.

Relatives of the detainees staged a protest outside the police station in the al-Eslyah district several days after the security operation, demanding the release of those detained.

They issued a statement asserting that the security operation had "targeted segments of the community innocent of the ongoing events, including professionals, intellectuals, teachers, and educators, while those fomenting violence and threatening civil peace in the city roam free without consequence. Furthermore, the accompanying arrest operations have involved violations such as the infringement of family sanctity and mistreatment without cause or due process.”

“There is ample evidence available for the relevant authorities to investigate and pursue with the appointed force,” the statement added, also appealing to the Prime Minister, emphasizing the necessity of "a fair investigation into the matter and ensuring impartiality in the investigative process to uphold justice and equality in the city."

Muqtada al-Yasiri, the Ministry of Interior spokesperson, addressed the media on March 8 in a press briefing held at the Thi Qar Police Headquarters regarding the ongoing security operation.

The New Region was present at the conference, where Yasiri announced that the Ministry of Interior had apprehended 123 suspects and handed them over to the judiciary under Article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, initiating legal proceedings against them. He also noted that investigations into the assassination of Brigadier Aziz al-Shammari had progressed significantly.

In response to a query regarding whether the targeting operation was a deliberate attempt to intimidate security forces, Yasiri clarified that the security forces cannot be intimidated.

He emphasized that "the tribes are a fundamental and essential part of maintaining security."

The following day, Interior Minister Abdul Amir al-Shammari visited the province to extend condolences to the family of Brigadier Aziz al-Shammari, whom the ministry hailed as the "martyr of civil peace.”

He also convened with police leadership to review security strategies. In a press briefing, he underscored the expansion of security operations in the province aimed at maintaining control, enforcing security measures, and apprehending wanted individuals.

Addressing the weapon registration process, he noted the ministry's efforts to register firearms through the electronic platform recently unveiled, along with direct procurement of medium-sized weapons from civilians. Moreover, each police command was allocated one billion dinars, with potential for further increase.

Thi Qar Police Chief, Major General Maki al-Khikani, informed The New Region that the targeting incident was unintentional and not deliberate.

He added that those detained encompassed individuals from all factions involved in the district's conflict, regardless of their involvement or possession of unlicensed firearms. The investigations involving them were relocated to Baghdad to ensure impartiality in the inquiry process.

The military crackdown on tribal conflicts and illicit weapons intensified following the assassination of Brigadier Aziz al-Shammari. Operations extended to the western and northern regions of Nasiriyah, leading to the apprehension of numerous individuals and the confiscation of substantial weapon caches. al-Khikani asserted that these operations would persist until their intended goals are accomplished.

Sheikh Nafeh Faiq, the head of the Bani Shamah tribe, condemned the assassination of Brigadier Aziz al-Shammari as a blatant challenge to state authority, citing previous similar attacks on senior officers. He criticized the security measures implemented only after the officer's death, suggesting that if they had been in place earlier, such brazen acts, including firing a single bullet between factions and targeting officers, could have been prevented.

He underscored the significance of seizing heavy and medium-grade weapons from tribal factions, advocating for individuals to possess only one firearm each. He emphasized that the tribes' power is synonymous with the state's strength and they serve as its strongest allies. The tribal leaders endorse security operations targeting troublemakers and instigators of conflict.

Salah al-Mousawi, Director of the Southern Studies Center, viewed the assaults perpetrated by warring tribes as indicative of a security crisis.

He asserted that the targeting of security officials demonstrates a disregard for the rule of law and highlights the superior firepower possessed by tribal factions compared to that of the state. Mousawi characterizes tribal conflicts as nothing less than acts of terror against citizens and assaults on individuals.

 

Profile picture of Montazer al Kharsan
Author Montazer al Kharsan

Montazer al Kharsan is an Iraqi Journalist.

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