Friday, October 14, 2005

Iraq tribes play key role in treaty vote

"HADITHA, Iraq - U.S. Marines hurriedly finished last-minute fortifications to protect voters in Iraq's referendum, but one tribal sheik in this Sunni Arab city wondered why they bothered: His tribesmen will vote as he tells them anyway. In fact, he offered to just vote on behalf of all 500 of them.

Tribes throughout this area are the critical, unknown factor in Saturday's landmark vote on a new constitution. They could tilt the electorate toward or against the draft charter that many in this Sunni Arab area oppose. Few know the exact strength of tribes here in western Iraq or how they will urge their tribesmen to vote.

Some in the military believe the tribes have filled the void left after the fall of Saddam Hussein and are capable of going to the polls in a synchronized vote.

"The decision to vote will be a tribally sanctioned decision," said Col. Stephen W. Davis, who commands Marine operations in western Anbar province. "The sheiks will decide what's good for their people."

Others contend that tribal influence had been waning throughout the country for years, noting that senior members of the Dulaimi tribe, the largest tribe in the province, and other tribes have fled to London or neighboring Jordan.

Some sheiks are nonetheless confident in their clout.

"All my tribe is going to vote," said Sheik Mohammed Abd al-Jaleel, who says he oversees 500 tribesmen in Haditha. "If you bring me a place for them, I will have all of them there."

Better yet, he suggested, "I can vote for all of them.""
The Mercury News


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