Best Defense

Iraq, the unraveling (VII): tribes vs. Baghdad

If you haven’t yet reviewed the papers from the Midwest Political Science Conference, here’s a little gem that will tell you more about Iraqi politics than a dozen Pentagon PowerPoints. It goes by the deceptively sleepy title of “Preliminary Results From Voices Of The Mada’in: A Tribal History and Study of One of Baghdad’s Six ...

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A member of the Sons of Iraq (SoI) stands guard beside a column during a halt in movement during a patrol with U.S. Soldiers from Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. The Soldiers and SoI members conduct the dismounted patrol of marketplaces and neighborhoods outside Joint Security Station Bab al Sheikh in the al Rashid section of Baghdad, Iraq, May 28, 2008. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brian D. Lehnhardt/Released)

If you haven’t yet reviewed the papers from the Midwest Political Science Conference, here’s a little gem that will tell you more about Iraqi politics than a dozen Pentagon PowerPoints. It goes by the deceptively sleepy title of “Preliminary Results From Voices Of The Mada’in: A Tribal History and Study of One of Baghdad’s Six Rural Districts,” and is by Adam Silverman, who was an advisor to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Armored Division in Iraq last year, but who emphasizes that his views, opinions, and conclusions are his, not the brigade’s, the division’s, the Army’s, the Pentagon’s, Joe Torre’s, or anyone else’s.

His findings:

  • Shiite sheikhs, as well as Sunni ones, perceived the central government as a subsidiary of the Iranian government. “Even by Shia, … the members of it are viewed as either Iranian agents or Iranians.”
  • The central government isn’t providing services, and so is disconnected from the tribes. “The lack of tethering … of governmental structures to the most powerful socio-cultural dynamic in Iraq, the tribal system, is worrying.” This lack threatens to undo the political gains of the last couple of years. “The concern is that unless the population layer, which is tribally oriented, is fully activated and brought into the mix, the hard work, grounded in the COIN reality of empowering the lowest levels,…will fail.”
  • The two groups with “broad based indigenous support in Iraq are the Sawha/SOI who are tribally oriented and the Sadrists.” I am not quite sure what to make of this conclusion, except that certainly isn’t where the U.S. government has placed its bets.

jamesdale10/flickr

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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