On the night of 24 April, various sources reported an armed tribal clash between members of the Hamadina and Battut tribes in the Garmat Ali area north of Basra City. The violence was reportedly sparked by the previously discussed arrest of a cleric for drug-related charges in Basra earlier this month. Tit-for-tat threats have since been exchanged between the cleric’s tribe and that of the security officer responsible for the arrest. These threats subsequently flared into violence on 24 April, though local residents also noted that the tribes involved have been involved in long-term rivalries for a myriad of reasons.
The latest clashes reportedly included the use of light and medium weapons, with some claims of mortar shells and heavy weapons also employed. In response, a joint security force moved to the affected area in order to control the situation and arrest the shooters, but these forces later retreated to the Guzaiza area as a precautionary measure until additional forces arrived. Reinforcements from the Basra Operations Command’s Commandos and 9th Iraqi Army Division units were ultimately deployed, and a number of suspects involved in the clash were subsequently arrested during a large scale raid and search campaign throughout the area. Casualty figures varied, though at least one individual who was unaffiliated with the tribes was reportedly killed due to a stray bullet, and two other tribesmen were also wounded during the clashes.
Significant tribal violence is not historically uncommon throughout the south, and the majority of minor incidents continue to be underreported and dealt with on a tribal level rather than referred to the judicial system. On a historic basis, such disputes could last for weeks and lead to significant numbers killed and wounded. Limited recourse was available for local security forces who are bound by tribal ties to the local community. Security personnel were often armed with comparatively limited weaponry, and tribal elements could often outgun responding forces.
Such notable clashes which gain media attention continue to be periodically seen, though measures have been put in place over recent months and years which have served to more effectively diffuse long-lasting tribal violence, particularly in Basra Province. The use of military and more effective designated response elements are now capable of reacting to tribal violence far more effectively. This has substantially improved response capability and speed in coordinating follow-on responses. Efforts in Basra have also focused on tribal cooperation and tribal leaders are increasingly allowing offenders to be arrested and prosecuted within the judicial system.