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In Iraq, the bloody tribal custom now classed as ‘terrorism’

A bloody, age-old custom used by Iraq’s powerful tribes to mete out justice has come under fire, with authorities classifying it as a “terrorist act” punishable by death.

For centuries, Iraqi clans have used their own system to resolve disputes, with tribal dignitaries bringing together opposing sides to mediate in de facto “hearings”.

If one side failed to attend such a meeting, the rival clan would fire on the absentee’s home or that of fellow tribesmen, a practice is known as the “degga ashairiya” or “tribal warning”.

But in an age when Iraq’s vast rural areas and built-up cities alike are flooded with weapons outside state control, the “degga” may be deadlier than ever.

A recent dispute between two young men in a teashop in the capital’s eastern district of Sadr City escalated to near-fatal proportions, leaving a 40-year-old policeman with a broken hip and severely damaged abdomen.

The country has been ravaged by years of conflict since the US-led invasion in 2003 that removed strongman Saddam Hussein and led to the rise of militias.

A decade later, the Islamic State jihadist group overran much of Iraq and was only ousted from its urban strongholds across the country late last year.

Years of instability have left many of Iraq’s communities flush with weapons and largely out of the state’s reach, contributing to a preference for tribal mediation methods.

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