Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Rise in Targeting of Iraqi Sunni Tribal Leaders in Southern Iraq: Iraq Update #40

On November 25, the bodies of Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders Adnan al-Ghanim and Kadhim al-Juburi were discovered in al-Tannumah, Basra. According to reports, the two tribal leaders were shot in the head and chest and their bodies were disfigured. Furthermore, al-Ghanim was beheaded while one of al-Juburi’s legs was cut off. The discovery of their bodies follows their kidnapping on October 26, when al-Ghanim and al-Juburi were picked up in central Basra city by individuals in military uniforms. The family of al-Ghanim immediately described the operation as a “kidnapping” and al-Ghanim’s brother, Mohyi, added that it is intended to “displace the sons of the tribe.” Local authorities denied any involvement of security forces in the operation, and Basra’s police formed a special unit to search for and find al-Ghanim and al-Juburi.

Adnan al-Ghanim was a significant personality in Basra. He was the leader of the al-Ghanim tribe in that area and was considered a prominent social and tribal leader in the south. His family resides in the Abu al-Khasib area in southern Basra. Abu al-Khasib has a sizable Iraqi Sunni population. In 2010, al-Ghanim was arrested by security forces on charges of supporting “terrorism.” He was subsequently released in 2012 after he was cleared of the charges. More recently, his house was targeted by a hand grenade attack on July 23. This history suggests that al-Ghanim has been a consistent target of attacks either due to his sectarian background or his social prominence.        

These events represent a renewal of sectarian targeting of Iraqi Sunnis in southern Iraq that culminated in September with the closure announcement of Sunni mosques in Basra by the Sunni endowment. The closure of the mosques coincided with the displacement of 150 families of the predominately Iraqi Sunni al-Sadun tribe in Dhi Qar.

Basra is not the only location in southern Iraq that is witnessing attacks against tribal leaders. In Dhi Qar, the leader of the Rfei tribe, Jamal Mohsen al-Faris, was killed by unidentified gunmen in al-Fajr sub-district on November 25. Al-Faris is also an Iraqi Sunni tribal leader and former Iraqi parliamentarian, and his assassination demonstrates that the targeting of Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq’s southern provinces is not an isolated phenomenon.      


Al-Ghanim and al-Juburi were likely kidnapped and killed by Iraqi Shi’a militias as part of a continued and renewed campaign of sectarian reprisal attacks. However, the allegations that they were kidnapped by individuals in military uniforms and with apparent impunity will make the local security forces appear complicit in the attacks. This perception will foster an image that the Iraqi Security Forces in Basra are targeting Iraqi Sunnis. Consequently, it is likely that members of the al-Ghanim tribe and other Iraqi Sunni tribes will be more concerned about their personal safety now and will consider leaving Basra and southern Iraq to safer places in Iraq. The killing of al-Ghanim and al-Juburi could also elicit sectarian reactions in the form of tribal retribution attacks by members of the al-Ghanim tribe and a push by al-Qaeda in Iraq to paint the killing as further evidence of targeting of the Iraqi Sunnis. For Basra, these high-profile killings also represent a possible turning point. The area where the bodies were found is known to have a militia presence. Therefore, the discovery of the bodies is a new signal that militias are able to operate with increased impunity in Basra. Given the high potential for the fallout scenarios described above, Iraqi Security Forces in southern Iraq have to pursue a strategy aimed at curtailing the activities of Iraqi Shi’a militias and providing visible, concrete steps for the protection of the Iraqi Sunnis.         

Ahmed Ali is a senior Iraq Research Analyst and the Iraq Team Lead at the Institute for the Study of War.