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Thread: It's the Tribes (merged thread)

  1. #81
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    Default Jcustis has it right

    Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting the Honorable Iraqi Ambassador Sumaidaei (Hope I got that right). He is a man of great distinction, and very worldy and well-educated.

    Put him together with the likes of Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, and the current (Dr. Ali Baban) and former Ministers of Planning, and you have enough US and British diplomas to float a new think tank in DC.

    So how do these distinguished and forward-looking Iraqis, who are all very much in important positions, fit into a view that tribes are anything more than relevant, but not central to Iraq's future?

    Saddam was a nobody by birth, and leapfrogged to prominence by expanding the power of a lesser tribe into something powerful...using bloodlines for security first, and tribal factors as coincidental. No?

    Sure he played up his link to Salah ad Din, but he was actually a Kurd from Erbil.

    Steve

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    Jcustis - our ability to prosecute the GWOT in general will be enhanced manyfold by our knowledge of tribes. One of our errors as westerners is to assume that there is such a thing as a tribe that is confined within national borders.

    We are all concerned with the war against terror here, and our enemy as substantial mastery of the tribal system, does use this material. Have a look at Al-Sahab.com, and you will find that members of the salafist community that sympathize (work with) AQ and other affilliated organizations trade this data, and I must assume that this is because the tribal networks are their logistical and recruitment networks. (Actually, that's not an assumption.)

    So, why should we care? Because detailed knowledge of the tribal networks are vital to our lines of effort in Iraq and the GWOT.

    Willful ignorance of this will teach us very painful lessons that result ultimately in the deaths of our soldiers. Sythesis of tribal network analysis has and will continue to play a very important role in our lines of effort. Not continuing to develop our capabilities in that is like saying we don't need a rifle that is better than the M16, or that we don't need to develop new weapons systems, or that we should ignore Iran. It's a bad mistake, considering that we'll likely be involved in the Middle East for the forseeable future, and that the small wars that we prosecute in other places throughout the world largely take place in tribal socities. If we develop solid and precise methodologies in Iraq, they will come in handy in the Horn of Africa, the Phillipines....

    In other words, tribal analysis has been a huge force multiplier or us in certain circles. Yes I am an advocate of expanding this capability so that we can have it at the ready for future conflicts. Precision in this area gives us great insight into the "why" of the intelligence process in terms of prosecuting a COIN. As others have noted in other forums, we have some serious S2 shortcoming in terms of syntesizing cultural data into the intelligence process. The rewards for successfully doing so are readily apparent as per the capture of Khalid ((Al-Mashhadani)) on 4Jul07 - a noble tribesman that Nibras Al-Kazimi identified as being Abu 'Umar Al-Baghdadi in his blog www.talismangate.blogspot.com. Khalid was a noble tribesman! Sheikh Hamid ((Al-Zawi)), the new Abu 'Umar Al-Baghdadi is, too! What does this tell you about AQ's tribal engagement strategy?

    Not care about the tribes? The enemy does. The Awakening is completely tribal. The tribal system can be our friend, or an enemy to be feared. Just ask the Brits who were massacred in the Middle Euphrates in 1920.

    I think it would be wise to analyze all phenomena that occur in Iraq in from a tribal perspective, in addition to others. My experience from doing so is that it is often more reliable than other, western oriented means of analysis. More importantly, history teaches us that ignoring the tribes leads to failure when it comes to the Middle East! We are prosecuting a COIN. Ignoring the organic political structures of the green population is unsound from a conceptual point of view, in my opinion. However, my views are the product of my experiences, education, and those who have had great influence on me throughout my life. The truth is bigger than that, of course.

    All of your comments are great - I'm interested in this ((Al-Samida'a)) character that one of our members had the pleasure of working with. It might please you to know that he is a noble tribesmen - and while some might wish to downplay this - the subject of noble tribes seems to keep rearing its head in terms of the insurgency on both the Shi'ite and Sunni sides of the fence. I find the fact that Mr. ((Al-Samida'a)) uses his tribal name to be very interesting, particularly if he downplays the importance of tribalism in Iraq to you. In fact, the concept of noble tribes is culturally central in terms of tribalism and Islam despite the fact that the noble tribes are small. Why is this?

    The Iraqi intelligentsia wants to move us away from analyzing their society in terms of tribes, and to the degree that such a thing would be insulting I can understand that position. Keeping in mind such sensitivities is important, this doesn't discourage me from diving into the issue. There is certainly a time and place for discussing tribalism- and talking tribalism in a meeting with a major representative of the Iraqi government might not be the most polite thing to do until you have an established and trusted relationship with that individual that has lasted for more than a few hours, and when the conversation is private.

    As the sheikh of the ((Al-'Akra'a)) ((Al-Shimmari)) tribe told me a couple of months ago "Yes, we have our doctors, our lawyers and our politicians, and they say that they aren't us (tribesmen). Actually, they always are, and always will be. We Iraqis are like schools of fish - we can only swim in certain waters. If we go to waters where there is the slightest change in salinity, it could kill us. We like to stay together."

    Outstanding comments all - fascinating. Again, the noble tribes.....

    V/r,

    sam
    Last edited by tribeguy; 05-29-2009 at 07:15 PM. Reason: additions

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    Tribe guy:

    You can ready His Excellency Ambassador Sumaida'ie's bio at www.iraqembassy.us/Ambassador.htm

    He is also a subject written about in Linda Robinson's Petreaus book.

    If you want to wrap him in your worldview of noble tribes, I can't change that, but I watched him sit across from Linda as she gave a speech in which she said the tribe thing was overplayed in Iraq, and he shook his head in agreement.

    Maybe there are other dimensions???

    Steve

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    From today's BBC Dramatic plane arrest of ex-Iraq minister

    Iraq's former trade minister has been arrested at Baghdad airport on corruption charges as he was trying to leave the country.

    Officials said Abdul Falah Sudani had been on a flight to the United Arab Emirates which was asked to turn back to Baghdad so he could be arrested.

    Mr Sudani resigned as minister earlier this month amid claims officials in his department had embezzled large sums.

    He denies wrongdoing. Investigators had already arrested one of his brothers.

    Sabah Mohammed Sudani was held on suspicion of corruption at a checkpoint in the south of the country on 9 May.
    Sapere Aude

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    Quote Originally Posted by tribeguy View Post
    ....One of our errors as westerners is to assume that there is such a thing as a tribe that is confined within national borders.....
    That is not just a general statement - with all the caveats going along with that - but stating that "westerners" assume such a thing is yet another assumption on your part. As someone who was not too long ago a young buck sergeant in uniform, you know exactly what assume means.

    Awareness of cross-border (often not just two, but multiple borders) has long been critical in strategic intelligence analysis and especially for SOF. It was known and exploited in many ways by both sides during the good ol' Cold War days.

    And tribal network analysis is simply another aspect of simple social network analysis. Hell, I've worked tribal influence linkages since the stubby pencil days of charting. Most other old HUMINT'ers with a focus in regions with substantial tribal populations could say the same thing in their unique context. As a relatively recent example, in the early '90s (during Provide Comfort) we did extensive tribal analysis integrating that with resettlement patterns and the influence of political parties among the Kurds. And during the period between Desert Storm and OIF, extensive study and research was done at the strategic level (and in academic circles) on how Saddam manipulated tribal relations to solidify his power base.

    I could go on and on with historic examples - both of success and failure in where tribal knowledge (or the lack thereof) played a role. With regard to what most consider the roles of intelligence and policy in "modern" warfare, there are extensive lessons dating back to WWI. But you could all the way back to Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico and see how he took tribal networks into consideration during the IPB process and how it ultimately affected operations. A lot of lessons have been forgotten, but new ones are being learned - and making general statements about how the importance of tribes is being ignored is simply insulting to all of those who effectively integrate such awareness into operations and policy.

    The "willful ignorance" comment with regard to al-Qa'ida's exploitation of tribal networks for logistics and recruitment is a also a bit over the top. (Whether or not it is self-serving is another question) Those focused with real responsibility on the issue are have long been well aware of such exploitation, as well as how important tribal networks are for JI and other such organizations. But there is an entire spectrum of influence factors, and to focus too tightly on tribes - as to focus too narrowly on any aspect - is a recipe for failure.

    Finally, as regards this continuing discussion, your arguments thus far tend to be devoid of substantial context, failing to flesh out your position clearly at the strategic, operational or tactical levels. You're crying out listen to me, I know the answers, yet your own assumptions and repeated generalizations in pushing your single-focus agenda do you little intellectual credit. I'll pass on the book.

  6. #86
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Well said, Ted!

    Quote Originally Posted by Jedburgh View Post
    That is not just a general statement - with all the caveats going along with that - but stating that "westerners" assume such a thing is yet another assumption on your part. As someone who was not too long ago a young buck sergeant in uniform, you know exactly what assume means.

    Awareness of cross-border (often not just two, but multiple borders) has long been critical in strategic intelligence analysis and especially for SOF. It was known and exploited in many ways by both sides during the good ol' Cold War days.

    And tribal network analysis is simply another aspect of simple social network analysis. Hell, I've worked tribal influence linkages since the stubby pencil days of charting. Most other old HUMINT'ers with a focus in regions with substantial tribal populations could say the same thing in their unique context. As a relatively recent example, in the early '90s (during Provide Comfort) we did extensive tribal analysis integrating that with resettlement patterns and the influence of political parties among the Kurds. And during the period between Desert Storm and OIF, extensive study and research was done at the strategic level (and in academic circles) on how Saddam manipulated tribal relations to solidify his power base.

    I could go on and on with historic examples - both of success and failure in where tribal knowledge (or the lack thereof) played a role. With regard to what most consider the roles of intelligence and policy in "modern" warfare, there are extensive lessons dating back to WWI. But you could all the way back to Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico and see how he took tribal networks into consideration during the IPB process and how it ultimately affected operations. A lot of lessons have been forgotten, but new ones are being learned - and making general statements about how the importance of tribes is being ignored is simply insulting to all of those who effectively integrate such awareness into operations and policy.

    The "willful ignorance" comment with regard to al-Qa'ida's exploitation of tribal networks for logistics and recruitment is a also a bit over the top. (Whether or not it is self-serving is another question) Those focused with real responsibility on the issue are have long been well aware of such exploitation, as well as how important tribal networks are for JI and other such organizations. But there is an entire spectrum of influence factors, and to focus too tightly on tribes - as to focus too narrowly on any aspect - is a recipe for failure.

    Finally, as regards this continuing discussion, your arguments thus far tend to be devoid of substantial context, failing to flesh out your position clearly at the strategic, operational or tactical levels. You're crying out listen to me, I know the answers, yet your own assumptions and repeated generalizations in pushing your single-focus agenda do you little intellectual credit. I'll pass on the book.
    Well said, Ted.

    Best

    Tom

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    Overplayed in some cases - yes. The Tribal Awakening is certainly overplayed at his point in time.

    Overplayed in accordance with our understanding of tribes yes. But there is something about the tribal system that we don't get -that something is where tribe and sect meet.

    The underlying story of the insurgency, and much of Iraqi history has to do with struggles of groups of people over who should rule the Caliphate. Tribe and sect meet at this juncture.

    Which are the tribes from which the ruler of the Caliphate should come? This is a body of knowledge that you don't find in western books, and further puts UBL and middle eastern political Islam in a light that is much more understandable, and gives more predictive power than trying to interpret events on the ground in terms of who we westerners think about the tribes.

    The Tribal Awakening, from a certain perspective, has been overplayed.

    The analysis of tribes with respect to actually figuring out "why" the insurgency happened, and why those conditions still exist today speaks to the center of COIN.

    The noble tribes are most certainly a part of this answer. I certainly don't mean to downplay the efforts of those with "real responsibility" in that area, however, I am also certain that nobody is talking about the noble tribes and their dispositions with respect to the current GOI. The divergence of interest between Sunni Noble tribes and their Shi'ite counterparts explains an awful lot about why the insurgency wasn't a united front against US forces, and why they were fighting each other.

    True, I am withholding some information - but I am doing so so that you all can be the ones who discover this on your own. The subject falls squarely in the field of our anthropologist friends. They are the ones that should be able to answer the questions regarding the noble tribes with great specificity with respect to Iraq. Their theories and analytical models, if applied most directly to events on the ground in Iraq, will show what I am talking about with respect to the noble tribes.

    Do a cursory review of all of the AUAB's except for the ((Al-Mujama'i)) that is in custody right now (he's an imposter - a tool in an information operation against AQ). Find out whether or not they are from noble tribes.

    Then, do a cursory review of the tribal affiliations of Iraqi Shi'ite Imams (not ((Al-Sistani)), he's Irani).

    So what? I think you will find that all of the AUAB's are from Sunni noble tribes, and the majority of the major Iraqi Shi'ite Imams are from noble tribes as well.

    The previous speaker of the house was Mahmud ((Al-Mashhadani)), the future one will be a ((Al-Samara'i)). Both are Sunni noble tribes. Both speakers, in sucesssion. All the AUAB's - in succession, and most if not all of the Shi'ite Iraqi Imams, in succession are from noble tribes.

    Both sides claim to be the direct descendants of Muhammad, the prophet. Both sides tacitly believe that they have a right to at least candidacy for Caliph.

    The argument over the Caliphate is ongoing, even while the current Iraqi governmnet is in power. The noble tribes are at the center of that, and thus at the center of the insurgency (on both sides of the sectarian fence).

    And yes, the noble tribes have been ignored. It's a sensitive subject for our Iraqi friends. However, 'Ali Al-Wardi discusses these issues with great frankness from a historical perspective in his book "Lamahat Ijtima'iya," which alas has not been translated into English. The names of the noble tribes have shown up over and over again throughout Iraqi history - but without knowing the context of why they are noble and why this has been and is still an important driver from a cultural perspective has and does inhibit us from understanding why certain phenomena such as insurgencies and sectarian violence occur. There is a depth to this that isn't applied by our huminters and our analysts across the board.

    As Galula states in his books - it is best to listen to all members of your units, even measly former buck sergeants like me. I appreciate Jedburgh's rebuke - but just because I was a buck sergeant doesn't mean that I wasn't in a position of real responsibilty, and nor does it define anything about me except to those who can't think outside of the box.

    -Tribeguy
    Last edited by Jedburgh; 06-01-2009 at 11:40 AM.

  8. #88
    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tribeguy View Post
    Overplayed in some cases - yes. The Tribal Awakening is certainly overplayed at his point in time.

    Overplayed in accordance with our understanding of tribes yes. But there is something about the tribal system that we don't get -that something is where tribe and sect meet.

    The underlying story of the insurgency, and much of Iraqi history has to do with struggles of groups of people over who should rule the Caliphate. Tribe and sect meet at this juncture.

    Which are the tribes from which the ruler of the Caliphate should come? This is a body of knowledge that you don't find in western books, and further puts UBL and middle eastern political Islam in a light that is much more understandable, and gives more predictive power than trying to interpret events on the ground in terms of who we westerners think about the tribes.

    -Tribeguy
    This sounds like the thesis to your book, which is what folks like me wanted to hear from your first post on the subject, rather than just the broad-brush claim that we don't pay enough attention to tribes. Now that wan't hard was it?

    And please, please do not bristle at criticism. It doesn't get anybody anywhere around these parts. YOU brought up the topic of being a buck sergeant, as if Ted was attacking you over that fact. Maybe I am incorrect in this perception, but if you feel that passionately about what you have to say, you also need to remember that you will always have many detractors, both real and imagined.

    Best of luck, but keep pushing the premise of your thesis to us. That will help me understand better why you think you have methodoligies that exceed the standard, or are going to allow us to understand aspects of tribes in ways that can benefit our warfighting efforts.

    One particular question I have that I do not believe I asked well the first time is this: If we are attempting to end even our supporting role to the Iraqi govt and military, what does a deep understanding of the tribes gain us? As we apply fewer tactical and operational resources to the issues Iraq faces, and delve further in the political and strategic, aren't we talking more along the lines of diplomacy, and not lines of operation that a RCT or BCT commander would be concerned with (assuming the counterpart Iraqi Bde Cmdr even permits the US commander to send his troops off the FOB)?

    In a post-SOFA Iraqi state, what does this tribal expertise gain us, when we are not in the lead over there?

    How does this insight stack up against our commitment to the central government? I'm not certain I understand whether you are advocating a closer relationship with the noble tribes, or simply pointing out realities that you believe we do not see, to our peril when it comes to analysis of the situation with the tibes, who they might be supporting, who is getting courted by AQI/ISI, and who we need to interview/interrogate next.
    Last edited by jcustis; 05-31-2009 at 09:06 PM.

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    Yeah - it was hard - my intention was to vet council members' tribal understanding - I believe I have done that, as I still haven't gotten the answer to the question: which are the noble tribes in Iraq?

    I don't bristle at criticism. Note that I am not criticizing anybody except our collective selves - and I'm in that group. If that makes anybody bristle, well, that's the sound of a mind slamming shut. Hubris is a trap for everyone, from the lowly buck sergeant to the lofty general. I understand my cognitive limits. I wonder if the rest of us do?

    Further, what we see as terrorism is a cultural manifestation that is deeply rooted in Middle Eastern society. It just happens to be a negative one, amongst many that are positive, I think. Identifying tribes that are sympathetic to the extremist version of the insurgency may well (actually does) point us in the direction sub tribes that are present throughout the rest of the middle east, and even Africa - many of which are logistical sources for ACF recruitment, lethal aid, yada yada. Many Iraqi tribes do indeed have a sub tribal presence in those other AOs, and vice versa.

    Also - I was there when the tribes first approached us in 2004 - many saw where things were going, and wanted to provide security for themselves. If we knew so much about tribes then, as some of those who post here claim, then why didn't we help those tribe leaders that were, at that time, most clearly expressing that their true interests were in alignment with our own.

    It's because we couldn't perceive what their interests were in the first place because we were clueless about the intertribal and intratribal alliances and disputes, and we had no idea what the concept of nobility is Islam, and apparently we still don't. The best answer I've gotten to the question of which noble tribes are in Iraq was from an anthropologist with a PhD, who could only provide a general definition of what a noble tribe is, and copped out with his statement that actually knowing ARE in Iraq is "granular knowledge." Oh, well, granular knowledge saves lives. Of course, I suppose I should sit back and just accept that - but if that is the best that anthropology can do for us in support of the GWOT, then I'm going to be looking elsewhere for answers. Middle Eastern scholarship is where it's at - with all of its warts, its still more reliable than somebody that worships at the altar of anthropological theories - or those that claim to be masters thereof but can't produce anything better than a cop-out answer. I've had the duty of applying what I learned on the job in Iraq.

    I asked another social scientists "Which are the noble tribes in Ninewah province." I got a laughable answer - she said it was the Yazidis.

    Our founding father, George Washington said "there should even be a place in our intelligence gathering for minutiae." Well, this is no small issue. It's the 800 lb gorilla sitting in the GWOT room.


    So what? Get and stay curious, that's what. Noble tribes...

    So, best we dive into this stuff while we are there, for the sake of the future GWOT. Might as well use our time wisely since we allegedly aren't in the lead, at least on the conventional side things. Iraqi tribes don't exist in a vacuum. Those stupid lines in the sand mean exactly @#$@ to a tribesmen with family members on both sides.

    You said: One particular question I have that I do not believe I asked well the first time is this: If we are attempting to end even our supporting role to the Iraqi govt and military, what does a deep understanding of the tribes gain us? As we apply fewer tactical and operational resources to the issues Iraq faces, and delve further in the political and strategic, aren't we talking more along the lines of diplomacy, and not lines of operation that a RCT or BCT commander would be concerned with (assuming the counterpart Iraqi Bde Cmdr even permits the US commander to send his troops off the FOB)?

    The answer to this question is easy if we stop looking at Iraq as a box, and start considering it as a vital organ in Middle Eastern Culture that is connected in a myriad of ways with all of its neighbors. What we learn there has a direct connection to how we work WITH tribal societies to fight extremists that hallucinate about the establishment of a caliphate and justify murder on that basis. An RCT or BCT commander has a very uenviable job of taking on the responsibilities of maintaining operations while deployed in Iraq, but has to be cognizant that this is just one phase of GWOT, and once we learn how to use the cultural tools that are at our disposal in Iraq and Afghanistan, we will have a much easier time getting ahead of the power curve in areas such as the FATA, HOA, et al. Hopefully, commanders with real experience in Iraq doing these things will find themselves in other areas, but this time thrice armed with a knowledge of the tribal system and the organic structures' importance in the fight against our enemy, and in the enemy's fight against us.

    Yes, now we have an Iraqi government complete with diplomats so we can interface our governments in a way that seems best to us. As soon as all Iraqi insurgents quit, I suppose I'll stop studying the tribes and their connections to things that threaten to destabilize the state. I have at least 10 more years of this, as far as I can tell.

    I don't bring any methodologies that are "mine" to the table. I do bring what other Iraqis call "their way of doing things" to your attention. It differs greatly from what we think we know - it's "their" methodologies, not mine. And yes, they are better than ours.

    And, I'm NOT going to give away the answers to this and open myself up the "well, we already knew that" counter. If we all knew this, then I'd have my answer to which are the noble tribes in Iraq now, and happily move on to another area of study knowing that this field is in good hands. It's a good question. No good answers from the peanut gallery yet, though. Just personal attacks - but the issue remains, and I won't get distracted from driving the point home, unless of course somebody can make the point for me, which is preferable.

    It's not that "I know something that you don't," its that they, the Iraqis know something that they aren't talking about, mainly because we have a tendency to ask the wrong questions about the tribes.

    Case in point:

    Is the tribal thing overplayed in Iraq? (obviously leading question to his excellency the noble tribesman).

    Oh yes, Mrs. American writing a book about General Petraeus, the tribes are overplayed. Don't go in depth there! Nothing to see there!

    I am sure that some are satisfied by such answers, especially those who were looking for that answer in the first place. As if our excellent Iraqi friend hadn't evaluated the question and decided to chose his words in such a manner that made you satisfied and served his interests in the first place. These people are far more sophisticated and savvy than you could ever imagine. Asking a question like the above is an invitation for him to warp his answer in such a way to make sure that you have no idea what is going on. Sound familiar? Well, it should! That's what Iraqis have been doing to us since 2003! What else would you expect.

    Your example regarding Mr. ((Al-Samida'i)) is weak, proves nothing other than that the question was leading, and his agenda reflects that of the Da'awa party's own Nuri ((Al-Maliki)) who about 4 months ago told the American press that "the tribes are passe." The next week he was at a tribal council meeting, and shortly after that established the tribal support councils. Everything that you ever hear from any Iraqi politician is an information operation, particularly if people are taking notes.


    -Tribeguy
    Last edited by tribeguy; 06-01-2009 at 01:27 AM.

  10. #90
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Don't think you're likely to do so...

    Quote Originally Posted by tribeguy View Post
    Yeah - it was hard - my intention was to vet council members' tribal understanding - I believe I have done that, as I still haven't gotten the answer to the question: which are the noble tribes in Iraq?
    Not because no one here knows, probability is that someone or several someones may but aren't inclined to play games. The obvious answer to that is that you aren't playing games. If so, then you may be making the ol' bad impression. Like this:
    "...If that makes anybody bristle, well, that's the sound of a mind slamming shut. Hubris is a trap for everyone, from the lowly buck sergeant to the lofty general. I understand my cognitive limits. I wonder if the rest of us do?
    We probably do understand ours and we collectively tend to avoid slamming minds shut and raise an eyebrow at anyone callow enough to suggest such things. To follow that with this:
    ... No good answers from the peanut gallery yet, though. Just personal attacks - but the issue remains, and I won't get distracted from driving the point home, unless of course somebody can make the point for me, which is preferable.
    Seems sort of a pot-kettle thing and as though you're looking for rejection and think you've found it.

    But I believe you've only found skepticism. Nobody on this board rejects Privates who post here -- or high school or college students. A Sergeant with four years down range has beaucoup cred unless he shreds it by trying to be too slick and tap dance on the head of a pin and impress the locals with his smarts and savoir faire. That approach will get you some sharply worded questions and if the answer is "I have the holy grail" the intensity of scrutiny will increase because most of us hard headed old b@$!^&ds have heard that before and found out there was no pot of gold there. All that was there was another hill to climb and no water or resupply...

    Don't think anyone here disputes that the Tribes are important, that you may have some fresh insights or that those tribes will strongly influence events in Iraq and nearby nations. I think the issue may not be closed minds here but a misperception on your part -- and that got started when you barged in and flooded the zone with excessively glib sales pitches and teasers. Most here don't do or play the academic mind game thing. FWIW, challenges to this crowd will generally get a reaction and if one isn't careful, it may not be the reaction one wants. Seems to me you can either modify your approach or chalk this crowd off as whatever you wish to call them / us and save everyone some time and effort.

    That said, I do strongly agree with you on this: "Everything that you ever hear from any Iraqi politician is an information operation, particularly if people are taking notes. I'll add that if you check the Arabic notes and the English notes, there'll be a difference -- and those remarks apply throughout the Middle East and South Asia. Nothing there is as it seems, it's the area of the old Persian Empires; those who taught the area most of what they know. I'll also add that you may want to look at the impact of the Parthian and Sassanid Empires on the tribes if you haven't already done so.

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    Default Ditto

    Ken's on the right track.

    Last month I took a GIS analytical course with an ESRI master, and he pointed out that nobody knows everything about it. The software guys know what it could do, but the users know what it needs to do. But even there, the military GIS folks don't know a lot about the civilian/socio-economic/engineering side, anymore than vice versa.

    The issues in Iraq have always been that way--- a multi-dimensional thing that sometimes looks very different depending on where you are playing it and when. Even if one of us thought we had the whole picture (including at the top), reality has proven a very tough task master.

    Like with GIS, I know, perhaps five levels of a 25 level game, and have found, through this board, other folks who know a heck of a lot about their five levels. But nobody sees the whole picture, and we all still have to wait until the historians can gradually piece it all together (along with, as Tom Ricks reminds us, some of the big parts that haven't even happened yet) in 2029.

    There are not a whole lot of people involved in matters in the Middle East that think there is a magic bullet, or that the pronouncements of a politician, even the Prime Minister, may be as quixotic as to be different for each audience he meets with in a given day. Nothing new in that...

    But the Iraq puzzle is still in progress, and I doubt that the final answer lies in any of the one or two layers you have discussed than in the layers I know about. Comparing notes helps, but all of us are gifted with only partial knowledge.

    Maybe the real answers to the next roll of the history dice are in events in Egypt, a whole new set of issues that will arise over the Kuwaiti positions in the UN negotiations over the sanctions extension, the upcoming Iraqi SOFA vote (the requirements for which came from Grand Ayatollah Sistani's sphere), or a domestic revolution against widespread corruption and governmental ineffectiveness. I won't hold my breathe for the noble tribes to re-establish the Caliphate any time soon.

    Steve

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    Default This thread started badly ....

    with its title "It's the Tribes, Stupid" (paraphrasing James Carville is not a good idea to create any sort of civilized discourse) - and hasn't improved since.

    Too bad, because the subject matter area could be of interest to me. I.e., Iraqi national law was and is Euro-Code based with some modifications. The tribal setup might suggest a parallel system or sytems of tribal law of equal or greater importance.

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    Also - I was there when the tribes first approached us in 2004 - many saw where things were going, and wanted to provide security for themselves. If we knew so much about tribes then, as some of those who post here claim, then why didn't we help those tribe leaders that were, at that time, most clearly expressing that their true interests were in alignment with our own.

    It's because we couldn't perceive what their interests were in the first place because we were clueless about the intertribal and intratribal alliances and disputes, and we had no idea what the concept of nobility is Islam, and apparently we still don't.
    I'm trying to understand this statement, as I was there in 2004 too, and probably reviewing intelligence developed through means you probably supported. Do you have any references that address this issue?

    Who was approaching us, and what were there issues, concerns, or requests? What sort of branch did they extend?

    There was a lot going on in 2004, predominantly a lot of heavy fighting that carried on into 2005, and since I was there too, I ask from an academic and historical perspective.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    Not because no one here knows, probability is that someone or several someones may but aren't inclined to play games. The obvious answer to that is that you aren't playing games. If so, then you may be making the ol' bad impression. Like this:We probably do understand ours and we collectively tend to avoid slamming minds shut and raise an eyebrow at anyone callow enough to suggest such things. To follow that with this:Seems sort of a pot-kettle thing and as though you're looking for rejection and think you've found it.

    But I believe you've only found skepticism. Nobody on this board rejects Privates who post here -- or high school or college students. A Sergeant with four years down range has beaucoup cred unless he shreds it by trying to be too slick and tap dance on the head of a pin and impress the locals with his smarts and savoir faire. That approach will get you some sharply worded questions and if the answer is "I have the holy grail" the intensity of scrutiny will increase because most of us hard headed old b@$!^&ds have heard that before and found out there was no pot of gold there. All that was there was another hill to climb and no water or resupply...

    Don't think anyone here disputes that the Tribes are important, that you may have some fresh insights or that those tribes will strongly influence events in Iraq and nearby nations. I think the issue may not be closed minds here but a misperception on your part -- and that got started when you barged in and flooded the zone with excessively glib sales pitches and teasers. Most here don't do or play the academic mind game thing. FWIW, challenges to this crowd will generally get a reaction and if one isn't careful, it may not be the reaction one wants. Seems to me you can either modify your approach or chalk this crowd off as whatever you wish to call them / us and save everyone some time and effort.

    That said, I do strongly agree with you on this: "Everything that you ever hear from any Iraqi politician is an information operation, particularly if people are taking notes. I'll add that if you check the Arabic notes and the English notes, there'll be a difference -- and those remarks apply throughout the Middle East and South Asia. Nothing there is as it seems, it's the area of the old Persian Empires; those who taught the area most of what they know. I'll also add that you may want to look at the impact of the Parthian and Sassanid Empires on the tribes if you haven't already done so.
    Most excellent response.
    Tom

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    Hi tribeguy,

    Quote Originally Posted by tribeguy View Post
    The best answer I've gotten to the question of which noble tribes are in Iraq was from an anthropologist with a PhD, who could only provide a general definition of what a noble tribe is, and copped out with his statement that actually knowing ARE in Iraq is "granular knowledge." Oh, well, granular knowledge saves lives.
    And have you ever seen me claiming that I am an "expert" on the tribes in Iraq? "Granular knowledge", at least in Anthropology, is gained both by reading about something and, most importantly, by being there. You want that, maybe I should claim to be an expert on something I'm not? You're the one claiming to be an expert at the granular level, not me.

    Quote Originally Posted by tribeguy View Post
    Of course, I suppose I should sit back and just accept that - but if that is the best that anthropology can do for us in support of the GWOT, then I'm going to be looking elsewhere for answers. Middle Eastern scholarship is where it's at - with all of its warts, its still more reliable than somebody that worships at the altar of anthropological theories - or those that claim to be masters thereof but can't produce anything better than a cop-out answer. I've had the duty of applying what I learned on the job in Iraq.
    Well, good for you. Since you denegrate theory, I will also note that you are making a logical category error extrapolating from my own lack of granular knowledge of the tribes in Iraq to the entire Anthropological community. I hope that you didn't apply the same logic when you were in the field!

    Quote Originally Posted by tribeguy View Post
    And, I'm NOT going to give away the answers to this and open myself up the "well, we already knew that" counter. If we all knew this, then I'd have my answer to which are the noble tribes in Iraq now, and happily move on to another area of study knowing that this field is in good hands.
    (from Ken)I think the issue may not be closed minds here but a misperception on your part -- and that got started when you barged in and flooded the zone with excessively glib sales pitches and teasers. Most here don't do or play the academic mind game thing. FWIW, challenges to this crowd will generally get a reaction and if one isn't careful, it may not be the reaction one wants. Seems to me you can either modify your approach or chalk this crowd off as whatever you wish to call them / us and save everyone some time and effort.
    Totally agree, Ken. Tribeguy, let me point out something to you - online communities operate on a reciprocity system (if you don't know what that is, then you should read some of the theory you denigrate). These communities are "voluntary" and trans-national, so several of your rhetorical assumptions are flawed. First off, this isn't an Iraq 101 course where you get to play teacher and administer tests; your status and how people react to you, is based on what you give away (try reading Marcel Mauss, The Gift or chapter 5 of Sahlins Stone Age Economics). Second, your posts point towards an assumption that the people here are all American, something you should have realized was NOT the case by the location marker under many posters names. This shows up in your assumption that we are all "duty bound" to be involved in Iraq. Really? My government and military isn't there and never has been.

    Once again, you are commiting the same category error you did earlier. You assume that because Iraqi tribes are the centre of your universe, they must be the centre of everyone's universe. Could I find out who the noble tribes in Iraq are? Sure, but why should I - I am neither your student nor you employee, and the subject, while of interest to me, is not germain to most of my research. Furthermore, you claim to already know who they are, and why they are important, so why should I bother? That knowledge is what you bring to this community.
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    There seems to be some movement on this on the ground in Iraq. As I mentioned previously - shaykhs want to form a house of lords-like counterpart to parliament. I like the idea of molding the government closer to Iraqi cultural realities. As for actually incorporating tribal law, that gets into two questions.

    The first question that our academic friends like to ask is 'what is and was the effect of Islam on the tribes?' And from there we can extrapolate that there was an effect, and that it influenced tribal law in some way. This extrapolation might be correct in some cases, and in others it might not.

    The next question, which is taboo in most circles and quite un-PC is "What effect did tribalism have on Islam?" The answers to this question require a translation of tribal laws - which vary by tribe and even sub-tribe. It's a vast subject area, and I'm not sure how to approach that one. It's too big of a job for me - I've got my hands full with other things. And, the inference, which I think rings true, is that tribal law is represented to some extent and perhaps standardized in the shari'a. Now, that is conjecture on my part, but there's a lot of laws in the shari'a that sound rather tribal to me. Eye for an eye, God permits the marriage of cousins, and others.

    However, a house-of-lords for the shaykhs might allow a process of further tribal law standardization to occur within the context of contributing to or modifiying legislation. This might ensure that tribesmen, who vote in accordance with the way their shaykhs tell them to, have some representation that is meaningful to them. That being said, I suspect such a house would collapse at times, and perhaps often into squabblings that are the result of both old and new grudges, so that might be a down side.

    A house of lords also might also produce a situation that moves shaykhs away from implementing tribal law, and referring much of their reconciliations, disputes, and criminal issues to the federal government. They themselves may come to the realization that it is time for them to move away from the laws that aren't solving their problems, while keeping those that do. That's a long shot that will require a great deal of time, but is nevertheless a possibility that might make the investment in a parliamentary branch for landed shaykhs a worthwhile endeavor. However, these are decisions that lay in the hands of Iraqis, and most notably the Iraqi intelligentsia that is in charge right now. I believe that they have a disdain for tribalism overall, as many are educated abroad and have seen how their own tribal societies are limited.

    But I think think the question remains as to how to "move" Iraqis from tribalism. And the answer to that is to create a situation where it can work itself out, shed the negative, and keep the positive contributions. Allowing a society to evolve on its own, I think, is best.

    However, Iraq doesn't exist in a vacuum, we are there, and so are many other competing interests. The tribal system has adapted to many very difficult things in the past, including some aspects of what we consider to be modern life. Our presence, as well as others, are influencing that system by simply being present.

    The answer might lie in government - and with that I hope that the government will get and remain quite close to its tribal leaders, incorporating their voices in the legislative and judical processes on a permanent basis. This is being done to some extent with the Tribal Support Councils, and such, but I think there are other ways in which the goverment can adapt itself to the tribal system, and thus encourage the tribal system to evolve.

    Here's to good intentions.

    As for the noble tribes being a silver bullet - that they are not. However, they are an indicator towards the fact that there is more than one war going on in Iraq, which everybody knows, but the question is what that war is really about, and why should we care?

    That war is indeed about the Caliphate, which is certainly interrupted. However, the fight for such isn't over by a long shot. Those with the biggest interest in establishing a Caliphate are the noble tribes - which are a minority and by definition impeded from taking power due to the fact that the "democratic" system currently in place empowers large tribes, which in essence might be able to vote themselves or a coalition in which they participate into power on a recurring basis. Iraqis are keenly aware of this reality, and the big losers in this are inded the noble tribes.

    According to my research, noble tribes at most consist of about 8.4% of the total population. There are around 40 or so different noble tribes, some larger, and some smaller. These noble tribes are divided by sect - no crossovers that I know of like the "non-nobles" such as the ((Al-Shimmari)) confederation, or the ((Al-Dulaym)) which have shi'ite and sunni sub tribes. Social marxists should ping on the noble tribes as being a potentially oppressed minority. Cultural experts should ping on that number as the noble tribes are a very, very important part of Islam. The noble tribes are the descendants of Muhammad the prophet - and many of them seek power and believe they are justified to wield it due to their lineage. The thing that we label "sectarian violence" has a lot to do with these noble tribes struggling against each other while using their followers, from many other tribes noble or otherwise, as proxies.

    Further, after having counted all the sub tribes of every known tribe shown in Iraqi tribal research sources that I translated, the ((Al-Maliki)) ((Al-Muntafaq)) comprise about 5.1% of the tribal system in its entirety - and that number will be subject to revision as my research progresses, and once a decent and tribally oriented census gets done.

    According to 'Abbas Al-'Azzawi's research, the ((Al-Maliki)) ((Al-Muntafaq)) consisted of almost 18% of the total tribal system in 1956, when he published that research. I think that is the result of the fact that he might not have had as much visibility as those who followed in his path of research in the 1970's and the 1980's.

    According to data in Al-Rudhan - if we compare 'Azzawi with Rudhan and assume (bad idea) that both are entirely 100% accurate and not warped politically, it seems to me that between 1956 and the 1980's, the tribal system tripled in size (which sort of coincides with population estimates of those time periods in comparison).

    Further, it seems to show that Al-Anbar and the north grew faster than the south, or that Saddam's death squads were particularly active in the south, allowing for more of a balance, and reducing the size of the ((Al-Maliki)) ((Al-Muntafaq)) in comparison with the rest of the tribal system.

    Nevertheless, if we'd really considered the data in this light before, I think we might have identified who the real major tribal entities are in Iraq long before now. In 2003, I heard many, many senior officers repeating the mantra that the ((Al-Dulaym)) were the largest tribe in Iraq, or that the ((Al-Shimmar)), or the ((Al-Jubur)).

    We had a tendency at the time to believe our trusted Iraqi friend who seemed to know all, not realizing that every tribe is the biggest tribe in Iraq if they are talking to us at the time.

    If 'Azzawi's work is correct, then the ((Al-Maliki)) ((Al-Muntafaq)) can definitely maintain their tribal hegemony in the south as long as other tribal coalitions (masked by politcal parties) are divided hopelessly. If Al-Rudhan is right, then the ((Al-Maliki)) ((Al-Muntafaq)) have to create a broad coalition in the south, as they are widespread and dominant in many provinces, but they only constitute at best a plurality. Nevertheless, as long as Nuri doesn't completely dork things up, and can cut across and build consensus with the main tribal entities of other provinces, he has a good shot at staying in power.

    Everybody is right that the tribes are not the only issue in Iraq. I wish it were that easy. I also wish that getting real answers by analyzing the tribal system was easy. It's not - and using western sources doesn't really lay these things out in a way that is understandable and incorporated intimately with the many other important factors.

    Anyway, those are some of the things I am seeing right now. Both 'Azzawi and Al-Rudhan's work seem to reflect some very important aspects that British and other Iraqi Tribal research doesn't really show or make clear. It's all fine and good to have the tribal data - but without understanding and classifying the tribes by sect, nobility, location, etc, then we are prevented from really understanding those other important factors cohesively and as a whole. There is no separation between the tribes and politics, tribes and the insurgency, etc.

    It's not that the tribes are MY world view, either. It's just a prism that seems to filter out a lot of chaff if used properly.

    V/r,

    Tribeguy

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    Noble tribes is something new to me as well and at 8.4% there are a ton of outside vairables, aside from extreme minority status, that can impact the fragile power structure of a tribe with its extreme, paternal rigidity. It is not a viable mechanism of control that can extend beyond its own confines, no matter how you cut it.

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    Default An answer on laws

    from tribalguy (my emphasis added)
    As for actually incorporating tribal law, that gets into two questions.

    The first question that our academic friends like to ask is 'what is and was the effect of Islam on the tribes?' And from there we can extrapolate that there was an effect, and that it influenced tribal law in some way. This extrapolation might be correct in some cases, and in others it might not.

    The next question, which is taboo in most circles and quite un-PC is "What effect did tribalism have on Islam?" The answers to this question require a translation of tribal laws - which vary by tribe and even sub-tribe. It's a vast subject area, and I'm not sure how to approach that one. It's too big of a job for me - I've got my hands full with other things. And, the inference, which I think rings true, is that tribal law is represented to some extent and perhaps standardized in the shari'a. Now, that is conjecture on my part, but there's a lot of laws in the shari'a that sound rather tribal to me. Eye for an eye, God permits the marriage of cousins, and others.
    The bottom line is that you don't know and I don't know. Knowing would require knowledge of the tribal laws pre-Islam and those same laws as they developed after the Islamic Conquest. What tribal laws are or are not today is many centuries removed from the probative evidence.

    "Eye for eye, etc." laws (that is, in codified form) go back well before Islam; e.g., as in rough chrono order: Hammurabi's Code of Laws; The Code of the Nesilim; The Code of the Assura; Some Neo-Babylonian Legal Decisions. Then come the Persians (in several imperial iterations).

    What effect did prior formal laws (and informal tribal laws) have on the Persian legal system - and it on the Islamic legal system that developed in the hinterland of the former Persian empire ? Many possible feedback loops, proof of which would require evidence contemporary to the loops.

    --------------------------
    Leaving aside issues of historical comparative law (which are not about to be resolved here), I do have a current events question: What is your opinion about the link between the Iraqi Al-Sadrs, from a tribal standpoint (if any), to Hez in Lebanon ?

    PS: I punched your blog link in this post - it didn't work for me just now.
    Last edited by jmm99; 06-01-2009 at 07:20 PM. Reason: correct link

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    JMM99:

    I've been studying Ottoman and Post-Ottoman governmental structures to better understand sub-national governance. Typically, there was a court house and governmental center for each of the provinces (Mosul, Baghdad, Basrah), with districts and sub-districts below. The lower units seemed to be focused on organization/governance stuff rather than central gov/law.

    Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan all have similar structures at the villayet/provincial levels (same as in N. Africa and the Crescent), which I assumed drew from Ottoman influence. What role if any did Persia play in these structures?

    One of the big populations that intrigues me are the Kurds. Transnational, Sunni/Shia, etc... We hear a lot about the fighters in Turkey, but some of their strongest relationships are actually to Iran, along Iran's western border, and particularly around Kermanshah.

    The heavy sunni populations in IraN east of Basrah seem to be a perrenial issue that re-appears every now and then. Many sunnis refer to the Shia leadership of IraQ as "Persians" but I find it interesting that there are so many Sunnis along "Persia's" borders (IraQ and Afghanistan) and that their issues are not as settled as some believe.

    What's the big picture on Persia that you are referring to for the legal structure.

    Steve

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    Now this is a GOOD QUESTION: Leaving aside issues of historical comparative law (which are not about to be resolved here), I do have a current events question: What is your opinion about the link between the Iraqi Al-Sadrs, from a tribal standpoint (if any), to Hez in Lebanon ?

    I'll expand on it with another question:

    What do Muqtada Al-Sadr, Baqir Al-Hakim, and Bahar Al-'Alum have in common?

    They are all from the ((Al-Musawi)) Tribe - a noble tribe that descends from Imam 'Ali, through Musa Al-Kadhim! I believe, but am not 100% sure, that Nasarallah is ((Musawi)) as well, if that is what you were referring to.

    Also, Muqtada Al-Sadr is pulling a page from Nasarallah's book, using former JAM elements as a charity arm to get political cred with the population. It is, of course, his only option now that he is exiled to "study" in Iran. Ayatallah Muqtada - now, that will be the day!

    And Steve, my database includes the Kurdish tribes that share presence in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Haven't study that section of it yet in any detail, but I'll get around to it.

    Right now I am comparing the overall tribal population of Ninewah province with that in Mosul. I already did the Kirkuk/Al-Ta'amim data compilation, and will sit back and think about the results after I do Mosul. Since Kirkuk is a serious bone of contention vis a vis Arabs and Kurds, I'd like to find the major tribal influences from both sides of the fence to see if I can make any solid assessments on how events in the large cities that surround Kirkuk affect it. Not sure what I am going to find yet, but that's the plan for today.

    After that, I am going to finish the rest of the provincial studies - keeping the noble tribe picture as part of it, just to keep tabs on the issue.



    I agree that it is not a viable mechanism of control - it's too fragmented. The fragmentation cuts both ways, though. It's to both our advantage as the counterinsurgent that doesn't know what they are, and since they are divided and prone to infighting, the potential threat seems small. Problem is there are pockets of extremism distributed throughout the sub tribes. I only have partial visibility on this - and I think it is in all of our interests to get some resolution on it, and keep it. There are more out there, and they have a tendency to be at or near the top of insurgent leadership hierarchy. they have political islamic cred just because of who they descend from in some circles.

    Also, its worth noting that the ((Al-Tikriti)) tribal hegemony lasted for more than 30 years underneath a Ba'athist banner - and according to Al-Rudhan's work, they are no more than 1.03% of the total tribal population (147 subtribes/14193 total subtribes in universe) according to Al-Rudhan's two volume set. I think that if one were to ask if the ((Al-Takarita)) were able to take power and rule in 1956, then the standard answer might have been that it "wasn't a viable means of control." However, they were organized and able to organize others fairly effectively.

    So, as for noble tribes, they aren't really organized, but they keep showing up in insurgent organizations at high levels. Regardless of whether or not we as westerners see their way as being a viable means of control, its not going to keep them from fighting, killing and dying for it along with whoever else they can get to do so. Just because we are there doesn't mean that the Iraq enterprise is going to succeed. And, just because we are going to leave doesn't guarantee that their grievances are going to be extinguished. We're just one of a long list of their gripes.

    V/r,

    Tribeguy
    Last edited by Jedburgh; 06-02-2009 at 01:54 AM.

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