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Gunfire on university grounds signals a surge of tribal power

There was a time that I remember vividly in which videos of fierce gunfire exchanges within the grounds of Iraq's neutral and protected spaces would elicit shock. In the years since the 2003 invasion, however, schools and hospitals have been controlled by various armed non-state actors, whose growth has reshaped global perspectives on Iraq.

As a result, scenes of reckless shootings no longer appal or offend. Regardless of the context of war in which schooling and education takes place, the militarisation of academic institutions still invites more ridicule than serious media attention.

Out of the black-hole torn open by America's "100" neo-colonial "orders" came wielders of weapons whose penchant for violence has been made easier by the stockpiles that littered the streets of the crumbling republic. Militias were raised in this way, but ordinary folks and tribes also took the opportunity to arm themselves in anticipation of the worst. Sadly, the basic human survival instinct is but one explanation of the growing trend.

From blood money demands to futile quarrels, firearms and the escalation of violence have become the easy answer to the absence of effective law and order, and weaknesses in the enforcement mechanisms that do exist. The settling of scores continues to transform educational settings into unsafe battlegrounds, and the use of firepower, occasional or frequent, has become an important hallmark of the new Iraq.

Black and white: Iraq's 'new' enemy is nothing new

A lethal gunfire incident occurred during the last week of January at the Institute of Technology at Zaafaranya University, south-east of Baghdad. It was the latest relatively unnoticed episode of gun-use on school grounds. Two tribes warring over the tender to build a cafeteria for the institute were filmed firing live rounds at each other; the video was leaked in the days following the incident.

The voice of an unidentified male student can be heard saying, "Live fire on university grounds; good God." An unnamed security officer quoted by Sumaria News confirmed that "random shots fired using light weaponry resulted in the injury of two students from the institute." Details of their age, their injuries or subsequent progress were not given. Their transfer to a nearby hospital was all that the source disclosed.


He did confirm, though, that "security forces stepped in and broke-up the dispute" and that an inquiry into the "fierce quarrel" had since been launched. It is clear that security forces and state employees have mastered political rhetoric, and know how to say the "right" things. Their words, however, do not necessarily tell us much.

Lest the blood of the Iraqis be shed in vain

Inaction has with time become the default setting: protect yourself, because the state cannot. The adoption of such an attitude and its salience in today's Iraq has elevated the status of local tribes which tread a careful line between state support and contention.

Their role in politics prior to America's invasion was defined by the state, but the shrinkage of state institutions in the past decade has reversed that situation. As a result, we have witnessed tribes amassing greater power.

Criticism of state paralysis often centres on the government's weakness to command its militia formations. This should now be amended to include the surge of tribal politics.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

ArticleAsia & AmericasIraqMiddle EastOpinionUS
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