TIKRIT, Iraq (AFP) – Iraqi tribes held demonstrations across the country on Saturday to protest a Kurdish leader’s criticism of new alliances emerging between the clans and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Hundreds of people turned out for demonstrations in the the northern Sunni town of Tikrit — the hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein — and the mostly Shiite southern cities of Karbala, Nasiriyah, Samawah, and Hilla, AFP correspondents said.
They came out to protest remarks made earlier this week by Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani, who accused Maliki of illegally allying with tribes in areas with large Kurdish populations to expand the power of the state.
In his remarks Barzani had compared the tribal alliances — which Maliki refers to as “Support Councils” — to the so-called Jackass Brigades of Kurds who fought for Saddam against Kurdish rebels from the 1980s up until 2003.
The dispute has exposed yet another potentially explosive faultline in a country still scarred by sectarian tensions that until a few months ago had transformed large parts of Iraq into grisly battlefields.
In Tikrit hundreds of Sunni tribesmen demonstrated in support of the Shiite prime minister, waving signs saying, “We want a unified Iraq” and “Kirkuk and Mosul and Diyala are Iraqi,” referring to the three most disputed areas.
“The Iraqi tribes are with the national positions of Maliki in preserving the unity of Iraq, establishing the rule of law, and rewriting the constitution,” said Farhan al-Aud, an MP and Maliki advisor from the province. “There are no disputed areas. This is one country,” he added.
Maliki has credited the Support Councils with helping his security forces defeat insurgents and militias, while the Kurds have viewed them as a power grab that could endanger their aspirations for a greater autonomous region.
“Those who oppose the plan of Maliki, they want Iraq to remain weak and to continue the project of dividing it up,” said Ahmed al-Dulaimi, a member of the Support Council in the Salaheddin province, of which Tikrit is the capital.
At a similar demonstration in the Shiite holy city of Karbala south of Baghdad hundreds of tribesmen, including several prominent sheikhs, demonstrated in front of the governorate.
Provincial governor Aqil al-Khazali rejected Kurdish accusations that the Support Councils are unconstitutional.
“Where is the violation when the government embraces the Iraqi tribes for the future of a new Iraq,” he told the crowd.
“Do they want to talk about the list of (their) violations? Is allocating 17 percent of the budget (to them) constitutional? Are the Peshmerga constitutional?” he said referring to the powerful Kurdish militia.
Most of Iraq’s roughly five million Kurds live in the three northernmost provinces, which are governed by Barzani and are largely autonomous. The Kurds have long wanted to expand the zone, however, to include other Kurdish areas.