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04 May 2007


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Thanks PL for the enlightenment. Are there any books you would recommend that provides a good perspective on tribal culture in Arabia?

In all may travels around the world what is striking is the difference in "news" between what we have here and elsewhere. Our insularity and understanding of "others" on a general basis is rather poor. But we have many like you who have a deep understanding. I hope we get to a political landscape where it is cool to get the most knowledgeable of our citizens actively involved in the determination of our policies. And the wedge politicization and ideologically driven policies of the past 6 years are just an aberration.


Colonel, as I understand it, the US forces in Anbar, as represented by COL Sean MacFarland, have reached a working agreement with some "Arab" tribes of the Sahawat al Anbar, as represented by Sheik Abdel Sittar Baziya, to provide them with funding and construction of new police stations in return a large recruiting drive to significantly increase the size of the police forces.

While I have read the tribes entered into this agreement out of a sense of self-defense against AQII one curiosity for me is the attitude of the Bedu regarding the propriety of taking money from outsiders (OK, from infidels) for a project like this.

In your experience is there an honor issue involved with taking payment? (I've read the US is supporting each police recruit to the cost of $200 per man per month.)

To be perfectly Western and cynical about it, will they stay "bought"? Do you perceive this as an opportunity for these Anbar tribes to actually coalesce into a bloc that could achieve more significance in a future national government, or will they revert to the old, traditional ways when the AQII danger passes?

W. Patrick Lang


You are thinking like a "gringo." Why would you expect them to become permanently attached to you? Who the hell are you to expect that?

They have their priorities and we have ours. If we "travel" together for a while, why is that not enough?

What does "revert to the old traditonal ways" mean? Does that mean that they should learn to say the "Pledge of Allegiance," salute "Old Glory, wear Mother Hubbards and have sex in the missionary position?

They are them, and we are us. Get it?

W. Patrick Lang


Oh, yes. I forgot the money. They are like birds of prey. They wil feed off any carcass. pl


"Will the tribesmen be as loyal as Labradors? No. They are not dogs. We, Americans, of all people should value that."

PL, I think you over-generalize there. Remember, a plurality if not a majority of us work in corporate cubicle-land (either public or private). Advancement is primarily a function of being a "team player", or in other words, as loyal as a labrador.

robt willmann

It is my uneducated guess that there is a big, fat assumption built into this new cooperation with the desert tribes, which is that if and when the al-Qaeda fighters are more or less suppressed, we will get the hell out of Dodge City.

From the perspective of the tribes, is "Dodge City" just their tribal areas or is it all of Iraq?

If the tribes expect only that foreigners get out of their spaces, then this might be pretty good, especially if there is no oil in the tribal areas.

If they expect the U.S., Britain, and Israel to get out of Iraq, then this new-found cordiality will probably come to a screeching halt Until there is a president who will order the U.S. out, or a Congress with a veto-proof margin cuts off the money, the
non-AQ foreigners, including the U.S.A., ain't leaving, I'm sorry to say.


I liked this remark, from the Dauphin-Apparent of one of the tribes:

"We have frozen the true resistance, and I told my followers to stop attacking the Americans. We consider the Americans to be our friends at the moment so that we can get rid of the extremists,"

Real Politic desert style, with a little Renaissance Italian city-state thrown in?


Back in the C14th Ibn Khaldun, generally recognized as the world's first sociologist, had this to say about Arabs - by which he, as a civilized man, meant the Bedu:

Nomadic tribes conquer sedentary societies because of their greater cohesiveness. The combination of tribal solidarity and a religious drive is overwelming.

Conquest tends to be followed by luxury and softening, which leads to the decay and annhilation of the ruling dynasty.

When the Arabs conquer a country ruin quickly descend upon it. This is because the Arabs are a fierce people, their character having been thus moulded by the rough life they lead, until roughness has become a second nature to them. In fact they positively enjoy a rough life, because it enables them to shake off the yoke of authority and to escape political domination.

Such a character is opposed to and contrary to the spread of civilization.

Lastly, every Arab considers himself as worthy to rule.

Generally speaking, the Arabs are incapable of founding an empire except on a religious basis such as the Revelation of a Prophet or a Saint. Religion drives out roughness and haughtiness and restrains jealousy and competition.


"Therefore I say that it is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that is to be marked out as the eternal ally or the perpetual enemy of England. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow."

-Lord Palmerston

My only question about American forces allying with the tribes is whether or not their interests will be compatible with Americas for long enough to make it worthwhile. And I don't know nearly enough about the tribes to know whether that's the case or not.

Nancy Kimberlin

When you mention tribes, I think of the original Americans, of which I am not one, the native Americans. My husband was in the Israeli army in 1967 and has great stories about the Bedouins. He felt they were amazing. As societies become modern, we should remember that the people that may be viewed as primative , may quite possibly know more than we do.

Chris Marlowe

Slightly off topic, but I thought this background for the documentary "Iraq in Fragments" may interest some readers.


Duncan Kinder
I have seen a lot of comments now which question the long term allegiance of the Anbar tribes to the Iraqi government, to the Americans or to anything else, except themselves. This is a valid worry, but one based on a particular point of view. A lot of people, especially in government, are "in love with" the idea of "modernity and the "nation-state." They seek for it with a zeal akin to religion.

The nation-state is generally in trouble, as for example the recent vote in Scotland indicates.


A very interesting article!
1. My "guess" is that these tribes, in their day-to-day affairs have laws, rules, etc. which USA would find repugnant? If so, then we must "look the other way" in order to continue with their help. I'm a-ok with this. But I'm not so convinced the WH would be. Mr. Bush still seems sold on the idea of a nation-state and so forth.
2. Many of us see the folly in the current approach to Iraq. Perhaps we need to re-orient. Abandon nation-building, and just focus on AQ. These tribes are getting that job done, but we need to let them "be themselves" in order to continue. Again, my biggest worry is with WH interference.
3. How are we making these tribes our friends? Someone above mentioned paying police salaries. Is that it? I ask because I wonder if, in time, AQ will adopt our methods and try their own style of "ally building". Perhaps the AQ weak spot is that AQ tries to force its brand of religion upon the tribes. The tribes resist. If true, hopefully we learn from this.

FB Ali

There is one perspective which is missing in all the commentary on the al-Anbar tribes turning on the jihadis : they recognize that this is the end-game for the US occupation.

The media in the US (and hence the American public) don't seem to know this yet, but all the factions in Iraq appear to understand this reality. They are all positioning themselves for the "time after".

Expect to see more sudden and surprising shifts in position and alliances in the coming months.


the term nation state defines a political entity comprised of citizens who share a cultural or ethnic identity...common language, culture and values

historically, nation states are not the only form of state

nationalism and the concepts of self-determination and autonomy are part of the concept of nation states

switzerland was not formed as a nation-state

the israeli-palestinian conflict can be seen as a nation-state issue

the irish battled the uk for many years for the right to a nation-state, and the issue is still not entirely resolved

belgium is a disputed nation-state,

turkey can be said to be a disputed nation-state

modern china descends from a multi-ethinic empire

serbia, hungary, austria, bosnia, macedonia, slovakia, etc were once part of a large multi-ethnic empire

one of the consequenes of occupying iraq is having to deal with it's nation-state dilemma

for many years it was part of the multi-ethnic ottoman empire and then part of the multi-ethnic british empire

in the development of our country as a nation-state we endured a savage civil war and we are still trying to satisfactorily
resolve the status of racial and ethnic minorities in our nation

for "our" benefit our government invaded the state of iraq, destroyed it's political and economic structure and has been occupying it by force and we have not been able to restore public safety

the ethnic minorities of iraq are behaviing in a predictable manner

no matter what our government claims, control over oil was a major motive behind our actions

until the administration gives up on the oil our governemnt is stuck trying to make a nation-state where it cannot be made to happen


Nuclear Weapons completely changed warfare. Industrial agriculture changed society. Sixty two years later, the culture and the state have not developed the language and skills in a world flipped upside down. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) guarantees that States with nuclear weapons no longer have to fear conquest. If a member of a nuclear super state, tribes can divorce from each other since the state is no longer necessary for defense, Czechs from Slovaks, Scots from English. The opposite corollary is that a “rouge” State has to obtain nuclear weapons to assure self preservation. Rouge tribes are developing defense in depth and offensive chaos that can only be defeated by genocide.

The devolution of the State has had a profound impact in the USA. Multi-National Corporations control politicians through campaign contributions and ownership of the media. Good paying jobs are outsourced. Borders are essentially unguarded. A destroyed city remains in ruins. The poor, left to fend for themselves, turn to cult religions. Three Republican Presidential Candidates do not believe in evolution. Overpopulation is straining resources. Water and air will shortly be privatized.

The Iraq Invasion was the last grasp of a crumbling super state trying to create the last Western Colony. But, the State was unable to raise the manpower or taxes needed to conquer Iraq and assure control of the second largest reserve of petroleum. Since the basic strategic goal is unobtainable, American leadership is ad hoc and incompetent from ignoring the Bedouin tribes to the Bagdad Surge.

Sylvia Gozzard


Good article that you might like to read http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/1101>Is the Nation State Obsolete?

As far as the vote in Scotland, I would say they voted for a change in governance rather than for independence. The one seat majority was not for independence, but as a slap to the head of the Labour party.


I repeat my comment elsewhere that a window on CPA/tribal relations can be found in the remarkable "The Prince of the Marshes", Rory Stewart's account of his one year as a governor in Anbar. I cannot imagine commentators interested enough to surf and comment here finding a better primer directly on point. A great human adventure story in itself, full of context, history and pathos.

frimble; You miss the mark when you refer to "the majority of us" who work in artificial tribes in fealty to an economic construct aspiring to a corner cubicle. We are not talking about "us", whoever that is.

"We" must have most of the bonds and allegiances to our tribes of origin atomized, subsumed not in loyalty to, but submission to, the atomizing process that is economic "growth" and civil society in liberal democracies.

In contrast, your Labrador is loyal to you, his pack, by nature, whatever behaviours we can teach them. It is hard to teach or force them to go against their pack, which they will defend to the death. Or just chase the damn car til their heart explodes.

I imagine you are loyal to your artificial pack of cubicleists by economic imperative, and perhaps some vocational or intellectual payoff. Advancement, whatever that means. If it stops feeding you, you will abandon it, as you would if you won the lottery. If you stop feeding your dog, it will likely starve in fealty to you. I challenge you to drive a team of cubicleists the way a team of sled dogs can be driven, or to matter of factly literally consume your fellows if exigencies require and nature dictates.

We are talking about our utter ignorance of "them", real, coherent products of nature whose dividend is more tribesmen, that modernity, powerful weapons and a tv in every hut aside, have barely scratched. Tribes have economic imperatives, their leaders human venality, which may require tactical submission and engender boneheaded moves, but never engender loyalty to, and never fealty above that not "owed" to the tribe by virtue of economic function, but by virtue of "loyalty" as an innate function of the tribe itself.

And while you can leave the tribe behind for the city, its bloody near impossible to join another one the way a CEO can flit from Coke to Pepsi, or an autoworker go from Ford to Chrysler.

Family>Clan>Tribe> all the rest of Creation(including the cubicles of advancement).

Now read The Prince of the Marshes to see what is at play where the tribes bump up against the created state, or all the rest of Creation.

Chris Marlowe

I believe the whole nation-state idea to be so much BS.

It should be as easy for the individual to divorce themselves from their "own" state as it is to divorce from an abusive spouse. As an American citizen, I feel that the Bush administration has abused its rights, and I feel violated and abused, which is part of the reason I moved to Shanghai, where I find that nation-state's policies more in line with my own interests.

The only way to hold governments in check from abusing their power is for any human citizen, anywhere on earth, to have the right to choose which nation-state they want to become a citizen of on their 21st birthday. At the same time, they could switch citizenships anytime for any reason. Then they would be automatically accepted, and pay taxes and have all the rights of a citizen of that nation without exception.

This is the only way for individual citizens to turn the table on the nation-state. The end-result would be that abusive governments, such as that led by the current US administration, will find that they have very few tax-paying citizens, and would go bankrupt.

This would be one of the better uses of globalization. Our current problem is not too much globalization; there is not enough good globalization.

Duncan Kinder
As far as the vote in Scotland, I would say they voted for a change in governance rather than for independence. The one seat majority was not for independence, but as a slap to the head of the Labour party.

Bummer (grin).

And I was just talking about this with one of my cousins during the Derby Day party.

We agreed that the next step, now that Scotland is breaking away, would be to revive the ancient Kingdom of the Isles.


Let's remember what Henry Kissinger said about using the Kurds as a tool of American Foreign Policy: "Promise them anything, drop them when it's convenient, and f*** them if they can't take a joke."


that said, I have little doubt that the Kurds see it that way, too. They have their ambition, and pursue it with whichever ally they find.

Clifford Kiracofe

For those delving into Iraq's complexities, these may be useful:
David McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds (London: IB Tauris,2005) and
Itzhak Nakash, The Shi'is of Iraq (Princeton: Princeton University Press,1994).

"We", meaning US citizens for this post, have been in the region for two centuries. Prior to this, some merchants in the British North American colonies had experience with the region via the old London trading companies. There is today, and there has been, ample expertise on the region in professional US government circles and in many US academic circles.

In my view, our current policy problems in the region come out of our domestic political situation in which the Zionist Lobby is dominant and not because of an institutional lack of knowledge or expertise about the region.

The US corporate newsmedia, print and electronic, has become essentially an instrument of the Zionist Lobby. The the politics of American foreign policy is thereby perversely impacted as the treatment of Iraq by media prior to the war demonstrated. The recent Moyer's PBS special illustrates this issue.

Babak Makkinejad

Chris Marlowe:

I think when it comes to the notion of the demise of the nation-state you are living in a dream world. I do not think that nation-state is going to disappear; EU not withstanding. In EU, we basically have a reversion to the situation that obtained prior to 1914.

You can argue, correctly, that the European nation-state model is not a good fit for certain polities such as Iraq, Turkey, Israel, Iran, Russia, India, China and others.

But the misfit cases do not eliminate the good fits such as the states of Western Europe, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and others.

I think that you can divorce, as you say, your nation-state but it is difficult to remarry and you may like your next spouse even less than the first one.

I have heard Americans glibly talking of relocating to some other country; I think they are just unaware as to the extent of discrimination against them as foreigners in other parts of the world (not because they are from US, but because they are not natives.)

In Italy, for example, a foreigner will not find a job as a Professor, likewise in France. In Spain, you won't find a job in the provincial university if you do not have the local connections in that province.

In India, China, Korea, Iran, Japan, you have absolutely no chance of being anybody.

I think that you are taking the American commitment to anti-discrimination for granted.

As Hamilton observed, there is no cure to possibility of government abuse except a population that is willing to challenge its abuses – legally or illegally.

What we really need is another America, call it America II – probably somewhere else in this galaxy there is a suitable planet with a moon that is suitable for human habitation.

Babak Makkinejad

Clifford Kiracofe:

I think you are over-estimating the so-called Zionist Lobby's influence and underestimating the influence of the Christian Churches in the United States.

They are, in my opinion, a much more powerful influence on support for Israel. Especially the nutty ones for whom Israel has to exist so that it could be destroyed so that Jesus could/would come back to Earth.

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