QARAGHOUL, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi authorities arrested on Saturday the father and brother of a man suspected of killing at least 23 people in a suicide bombing at a pre-election tribal gathering south of Baghdad.
The incident, the deadliest attack in Iraq for weeks, highlighted the increasing role tribes and clans are playing in Iraqi politics ahead of provincial polls later this month.
The bomber struck a feast held to unite members of the Qaraghouli tribe, many of whom live in the Qaraghoul village south of Baghdad. Tribe members were invited from other parts of Iraq, and political candidates attended.
Video footage of the aftermath of the bombing obtained by Reuters showed scenes of chaos in a garden at the home of tribe leader Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah Saleh. Corpses and body parts were strewn amid scores of plastic chairs set up for a feast.
On Saturday, tribesmen carried coffins of the victims to the graveyard for burial, chanting “There is no God but Allah.”
“The gathering was held to gather our tribal leaders in the north, and the south as well, to unify them. But a criminal act has taken place, causing the death of a number of our brothers,” village mayor Jassim Mohammed told Reuters.
Major-General Qassim Moussawi, a security spokesman in Baghdad, said the father and son of the suspected bomber had been detained and confessed to helping stage the attack.
Tribal structures are gaining in clout in Iraq and are expected to advance in the January 31 provincial elections at the expense of the sectarian-based political parties that have divided power in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
In Sunni Arab areas, tribes played a decisive role in reducing Iraq’s violence by turning on al Qaeda Sunni militants in 2006-2007. In other areas, the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has set up tribal councils, sometimes angering his allies in traditional Shi’ite and Kurdish parties.
A greater political role for Iraqi clans and tribes could help soften the stark ethnic and sectarian divisions that have defined Iraqi politics and fueled bloodshed, tribal chiefs say.
The Qaraghouli tribesmen targeted in Friday’s attack were mainly Sunni Muslims but members from the south include Shi’ites. They speak Arabic and consider themselves Arabs, but the tribe’s name is of Turkmen origin and parties representing the Turkmen minority expressed solidarity after the attack.
Moussawi said tribe member Ahmed Eidan al-Qaraghouli and one of his sons confessed to driving another of his sons, bomber Amin al-Qaraghouli, to the sheikh’s home and coaching him on staging the attack. He did not explain their motive.
Friday’s attack took place in a rural area along the Euphrates River south of Baghdad, dubbed the “triangle of death” after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The area’s palm groves were a hotbed of the Sunni Arab insurgency against U.S. forces, while its bigger towns also saw violence from Shi’ite militias.
But like most of Iraq it has grown much quieter over the past year and violence is now comparatively rare.
Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Dominic Evans