10 November 2003

In the sheiks' hands

'This is what the British did in the 1920s - they supported Sheik Abdul Razak Ali Sulieman. He was the Sheik of Sheiks of the Dulame tribe and they gave him the authority of a governor over the western region of Iraq.'

Important question: could today's sheiks stop the attacks on the US?

Says Al Rawi: 'Of course - if there was a deal between the US and the sheiks to serve Iraq. The sheiks have the power to declare that there will be no more attacks on the Americans.'

Can he control local democratic votes?

'But of course! If the US is serious in wanting good relations with the Iraqi people, then it must have good relations with the sheiks. It is my considered view that loyalty to the tribes is bigger than ethnic or religious loyalty in Iraq.

'And since the fall of Baghdad the tribes and tribal law have become even stronger because of the political vacuum - there is no direction or security for the people and they have no one to follow except the tribe and their sheik.'

Iraq is a complex place. A government that thought Iraq would be a fine place to invade because of the absence of holy cities and which does not speak the language is unlikely to even know it needs to engage traditional leaders.

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