The plan, part of a US campaign to reassert government control over the city in the heart of Iraq's mainly Sunni Anbar province, could reignite decades-old tribal tensions.

Currently 218 members of the Al-Bunemer tribe are undergoing training in Jordan and will return in six weeks to take up security control of the city.

However, members of the al-Quam al-Deen, Ani, al-Rawi, Dulaymi and Al Ubaydi tribes - who compose the majority of the population in Hiyt - fear the US plan will end in violence.

"We are afraid of a renewal of the violence in the city like what happened in 2004 when gunmen took over and attacked the US patrols," says Saleem Shakur, a taxi driver.

"It is very important to prevent the violence happening again," he said.

The city has been effectively outside the control of Iraq's government since 15 armed men stormed the police headquarters after midnight on December 21, 2004, ordered the police out and rescued a prisoner before setting of their explosives.

The next day, one of the several armed groups operating in the city distributed a flier claiming responsibility for the explosions and threatening to kill anyone who joined the police force.

Tribal rivalry

Map: Hiyt in iraq

Some fear that the arrival of a new police force will coincide with a US offensive against militants in the city - as well as create tensions between the tribes.

"Many members of the Al-Bunemer tribe are working with the Americans in the military bases," Jasem, an employee in the Al-Haditha refinery west of Hiyt, told Aljazeera.net.

"They help the US troops in arresting many of the resistance in Hiyt," he says, adding that others members of the tribe passively help the American army.

"This will be an opportunity for us to take revenge against this tribe," says Jasem, who says it is not safe for him to give his full name.

It is not clear whether such sentiments are widespread. However, many in Hiyt say that although they want police from the larger local tribes to take control of the city, they fear joining its ranks.

"To be in the police is not a crime or a sin," said Thamir, a teacher in the city. "We are tired of seeing nothing but blood for the last 26 years.

"Tribal traditions are very important for most people here; therefore most of us follow these traditions," says Jamal Mahmood, a teacher in the city.

"But we still need the law and the authority of the state," he added.   

Tribal traditions

Previous US efforts to restore order in the city met with failure. In May 2006 the US army asked members of the city municipality to nominate three people to command the city's police force.

A US soldier patrols a street in  Hiyt in June 2006

However, local tribesmen refused to put forward any nominees.                      

"We are very cautious because the gunmen here have forbidden anyone from joining the police," said one citizen who had been involved in the process and asked for his name not be used.

"Without doubt they will kill anyone who goes against their wishes," he said.

Other Hiyt residents feel that joining the police or helping the Americans goes contrary to Islamic teachings.

"It is forbidden to support the government of Baghdad ... it is really a sin," said one man.

Meanwhile the armed groups in Hiyt have issued new warnings, telling local people not to join the police.

Active anti-government groups in Hiyt include Jaysh Mohammad, Jund al-Haq, Katayb Thawrat al-Ashreen, and Al-Tawheed wa al-Jihad.

History of conflict

Whatever course the US military pursues in bringing order to this town north west of Ramadi, Anbar's capital, it will have to carefully weigh any conflict between rival tribes.

In 1995, members of the al-Bunemer tribe attacked central Hiyt and killed one person. But the violence was prevented from escalating when the former Iraqi government sent commandos to secure the city and arrested leading figures from the al-Bunemer.