Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

One of these tribes is not like the other: Differences between Iraq and Af’stan

A friend comments on some of the differences between Afghan tribes and those in Iraq: Iraq Tribes: Obviously Hierarchical Easily Mappable Ordered Objective Hierarchy Pashtun Tribes: Not Obviously Hierarchical Not Easily Mappable Not Necessarily Ordered Subjective Hierarchy Tom again: His interpretation of what this means is that Petraeus got it wrong when he tried to ...

Wikimedia
Wikimedia
Wikimedia

A friend comments on some of the differences between Afghan tribes and those in Iraq:

Iraq Tribes:

Obviously Hierarchical Easily Mappable Ordered Objective Hierarchy

A friend comments on some of the differences between Afghan tribes and those in Iraq:

Iraq Tribes:

  • Obviously Hierarchical
  • Easily Mappable
  • Ordered
  • Objective Hierarchy

Pashtun Tribes:

  • Not Obviously Hierarchical
  • Not Easily Mappable
  • Not Necessarily Ordered
  • Subjective Hierarchy

Tom again: His interpretation of what this means is that Petraeus got it wrong when he tried to apply Iraq to Afghanistan — and that al Qaeda got it wrong when it tried to apply Afghanistan to Iraq:

One of the reasons that bin Laden and the other Arab Afghans were able to work their way into the local Pashtu networks is because there the hierarchical power is not transmitted by descent type of kinship arrangements. When these guys tried to export the model to Iraq, specifically in Anbar, but also in Sunni enclaves that were more tribal in other places, all they did was piss off the actual guys with authority — the sheikhs. And because so much of tribal/familial and religious leadership is combined in Iraq, they managed to piss off two institutions at once: the tribal and the religious leadership at the same time. And there are almost no purely Sunni or Shi’a tribes in Iraq. So the anti-Shi’a message, combined with not understanding the societal dynamics, cost them. It wasn’t the only reason that the tribal guys wanted to come in from the cold, but it was a contributing factor.

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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