Last Tuesday’s serial truck bombings in Yazidi villages near Mosul, northern Iraq, are apparently the result of a deadly mix of parochial enmity, terrorism, and flawed US policy. In the worst attacks in more than four years of war in Iraq, over three hundred members of the Yazidi sect were killed and hundreds more injured by suicide bombers who blew up an explosives-laden fuel tanker and three cars in three villages near the Syrian border. The carnage is terrible even for war-torn Iraq, where the highest death toll so far had been the killing of some 200 people in car bombings and mortar fire in the Shia stronghold of Sadr City, in Baghdad last November. From all accounts, the latest atrocity reflects local rivalries amongst the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi and their Muslim neighbours who consider them as heretics.
Terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda probably exploited the situation to set off politically motivated attacks of the kind that visited the Yazidi communities. To that extent, the US military is right in blaming Al-Qaeda for the carnage, saying the terrorist group was expected to carry out such ‘spectacular’ strikes in response to the US’s ‘surge’ operations. That said, however, it is not unlikely that the increasing bloodshed also has a lot to do with Washington’s dubious decision to strike deals with tribes, religious leaders, and local insurgent groups in Iraq to build reconciliation from the bottom up. Of late, US commanders have been turning to Sunni clans to battle Al-Qaeda, in a bid to get around the government stalemate in Baghdad. The Bush administration is obviously frustrated with the Maliki government for failing to push through legislative reforms in Parliament. Washington believes the reforms are important to win over the disaffected Sunni minority that has been increasingly marginalised since Saddam Hussein’s ouster and are now driving the insurgency.
But the problem with arming tribes to fight the Al-Qaeda is that while it is no doubt a good tactic, it could backfire — as the latest bombings show. And if too much authority devolves to the tribes, it is possible that Iraq could begin to look uncomfortably like Afghanistan or northwest Pakistan.