Feud In Iraqi Province Could Renew Sectarian Unrest

Apr 18, 2011
Originally published on April 18, 2011 10:04 am
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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.


It's true that since the brutal war between Shiites and Sunnis in 2006 and '07, the top militant leaders on either side have either been captured or killed or put down their weapons. Still, friction between the groups remains and has turned deadly, as NPR's Kelly McEvers discovered on a trip south of Baghdad.

KELLY MCEVERS: So we're standing on this berm. We're staring down a man-made drainage canal. On either side of the canal are fields - fields of cucumbers and tomatoes.

LOUISE KELLY: (Through Translator) So this canal actually divides the two tribes. On your right there is the Bani Zaid family and on your left is the Khafaja tribe.

MCEVERS: Mr. ABDULLAH AHMED SALMAN (Through Translator) We started to reconnect and reconcile with the other - the Sunni families. And everything was going well. We sat together, we talked, and, you know, we tried to reconcile and forget about the past.

MCEVERS: But then the attacks started up again. Salman says in the past six months, dozens of members of his tribe have been killed. Last week, a homemade bomb exploded under a pickup truck carrying some of the Khafaja family farm hands out into the fields. This man heard the explosion, then saw the truck burst into flames.

LOUISE KELLY: (Through Translator) And he said I couldn't do anything. I just run with my shovel. But the whole car was on fire, so I couldn't do anything.

MCEVERS: Unidentified Woman #1: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Unidentified Woman #1: (Through Translator) This is the mother. And this is her son. And this is the two ladies here - Hanna Khabbaz and Hansa Khabbaz. She was pregnant and, you know, her - she was six months pregnant.

MCEVERS: Unidentified Woman #2: He fainted.

MCEVERS: Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Salman, the head of the Khafaja tribe, says what it comes down to now is local, Iraqi leadership. A commander can either rise above his own sectarian identity and treat Sunnis and Shiites as equals, as the previous commander did here. Or he can make decisions based on which side he's on, as Salman says the current commander is doing. Salman's message for the Iraqi government was this.

SALMAN: (Through Translator) They should find us a solution. Either to come and find us solution, or otherwise we will act unilaterally. And then we have to have weapons. And then we will do something about it.

MCEVERS: Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.