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Analysis: Baghdad Events Promote Greater Tribal Participation In Elections

Two events were held in Baghdad on 16 January that addressed the importance of the Iraqi tribes and encouraged tribal leaders to support the election process, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day.

Sheikhs Muna'im al-Dulaymi and Talib al-Dulaymi of the Al-Dulaymi tribe, and Sheikh Khalil al-Jurba of the Al-Shammar tribe spoke at the first event, a conference focusing on the role of tribal leaders titled "Iraq Is A House For All." The event was sponsored by the Iraqi Peace Institute and attended by interim National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i.

Tribal leader Muna'im al-Dulaymi told RFI that the most important issue for the Iraqi tribes across Iraq is the scheduling of a withdrawal by multinational forces to leave Iraq and the establishment of an Iraqi military that would protect the borders and ensure internal security. Al-Dulaymi said the tribes also demanded that the election mechanism be changed from one constituency to multiple constituencies, saying that governorates should elect their own representatives to the transitional National Assembly. He added that a call by the tribes to postpone the 30 January elections is just one of several demands being made, and suggested that the interim government has focused only on this demand, thereby dragging the Arab Iraqi tribes into political games.

Al-Jurba said the tribes want to unite Iraq. "We want to be brothers participating in one country," RFI quoted him as telling conference participants. "Iraq has a lot of resources but we are now in a difficult situation and you, the Iraqi tribes, and the officials, and the sons of Iraq -- you are the shield of Iraq."

National Security Adviser al-Rubay'i said it will be necessary for tribal leaders to encourage their members -- particularly rural farmers -- to go to the polls. He added that they should be encouraged to cast their ballots for whomever they want and for whichever list represents their aspirations and interests. Al-Rubay'i also discussed the marginalization of the tribes under the Hussein regime, and said that their status has not improved after the war to liberate Iraq because they were not provided with material or moral support by the government. He said that discussions are under way to develop a mechanism whereby tribal leaders could be in contact with the government to discuss issues of importance to them and "restore respect for the tribal leaders."

The second event held in Baghdad on 16 January was a seminar sponsored by the Baghdad Tribal Council and the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party to address the importance of the elections and the role of tribal leaders in informing their members about the electoral process, RFI reported.

Al-Da'wah member and organizer Isma'il Hasan highlighted the historical importance of tribal leaders in their communities and stressed the beneficial role they can play by encouraging Iraqis to vote. He added that seminars of this type help provide crucial information about the elections not available to the community due to the current situation in Iraq. He said that most Iraqis do not have any knowledge of the election process in comparison to citizens from established democracies.

Hasan told RFI that a number of tribal leaders have vowed to protect polling centers in their communities from terrorist attacks. Sheikh Kathim Ghat'a al-Kabi, too, told RFI that his tribe would protect the polls. "We have committees to protect the [polling centers]," he said. "We have asked our uncles, our neighbors, our brothers to protect the ballot boxes. These committees are ready and armed by us" and others interested in securing safe elections. Al-Kabi added that he believes that Iraqis will rise to the occasion and vote as part of their duty to rebuild the country. Asked if he was optimistic about the success of the elections, al-Kabi said: "God willing, by our solidarity...we are very optimistic to succeed in these elections 100 percent." Asked if he believes the elections will be a success in areas outside the capital, he said: "Yes, in all of Baghdad and all the villages. We are participating everywhere because our tribe is not only in Baghdad but in all the other governorates."

[For news, background, and analysis on Iraq's historic 30 January elections, see RFE/RL's webpage "Iraq Votes 2005".]