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01 May 2007


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John Hammer

I wonder if the irony is lost on AQ, now that they are fighting Arabs who live now as the Prophet lived then.


I did not comment on your post below entitled "You want to leave who behind" because of the statement "In contrast to some of the wishful-thinkers I do not believe that the commencement or completion of American withdrawal will bring about the end of hostilities among the various parties to these wars." As I am of that ilk, but had no evidence but my own Arab instincts, I was in no position to argue the point.

However does this latest report not call into question that very line of thinking?

My feeling is that the secterian murders taking place in Iraq were by and large sparked and encouraged by AQ. Even if the "real" insurgency, or at least the Sunni part of it, wanted to be rid of them, it cannot do so while the coalition is there. It would be silly to taken on your enemys enemy if your enemy is far more powerful than you and you want him to have all the distractions possible. Without the coalition troops there, yes anything can happen. But we know that Iraqis are not Wahabis and will not put up with them once the coalition is gone. We also know that the most powerful and most popular Shia leader is on speaking terms with the Sunnis of Iraq. I would therefore argue that it is quite possible that should the coalition withdraw, the resultant power struggle may end up being fought in a far more civilised way than you imagine; It wont be easy and probably wont be pretty but I predict it will be closer to the Lebanese power struggle going on right now or at worst the Palestinian one of a few months ago rather than the fully fledged civil war you maybe expect.

In regards to the Arab view on bedouins, to my knowledge and experience, in the Arab world there are more than one type of bedouins. But for brevitys sake they can, broadly speaking, be broken up into two types. While both lead a nomadic existence, one type lives in and from the desert, has a highly developed social system and is held in very high regard in the Arab world.

The other type lives more like the modern gypsys of Europe in that although nomadic, their livelihoods stem from the urban centers they camp around and those livelihoods, as often than not, involve illicit activities. They do not have so much respect.

Given your captain friend was a Jordanian Palestinian I would suspect his experience was more with the latter as they are mostly found in the triangle between Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon.

W. Patrick Lang


Have you ever lived with Bedu? The captain was speaking of the real bedu in his unit. He could do an interesting rendition of their speech was was, of course, quite different from his normal voicing.

I think you have to distinguish between the IDEA of Beduins and the reality. The idea is wrapped up in the mythos of the Arab golden age, the poetry of Antar and the like, the nobility of Arabness, etc. Arab nationalists embrace that image.

The reality is that the great majority of town Arabs do not like real Beduin. pl

Tim G


"I wonder if the irony is lost on AQ, now that they are fighting Arabs who live now as the Prophet lived then."

Not really. Mohammed was a city dweller/merchant.

Urban vs Rural Tribal conflict is as old as civilization.

Duncan Kinder

If it is true that Masri was killed in fighting against Bedouin tribesman fighting as part of a tribal force, and if it is true that similar things are happening in the far west of Iraq, then the the situation in Iraq may become a desperate one for the international jihadis of AQ in Iraq.

If this is correct then Al Qaeda's experience in Iraq would parallel Che Guevara's in Bolivia.

Che basically proceeded on the theory that, if one provoked the government sufficiently, it would respond with a violent crackdown, which Che believed would thereupon fuel peasant unrest.

The problem with Che's theory is that the peasants were not stupid. They realized that the actual source of the crackdown was not the government but rather Che's conduct. Therefore, the way to get rid of the crackdown would not be to get rid of the government but rather to get rid of Che.

John Robb has detailed how the global guerrillas in Iraq ( and elsewhere ) apparently are proceeding to destroy Iraq's infrastructure. This parallels Lawrence of Arabia's disruption of Turkish railroads.

What has always puzzled me about this is that those railroads then were something of a Jarvick 7 implantation on MidEast society. The Arabs who with Lawrence attacked the railroads relied instead upon camels and such.

Such an attack today upon Iraq's infrastructure could only make sense if it likewise was something of a Jarvick 7 implantation. Otherwise, the insurgents would be attacking themselves.

That this has so far succeeded is puzzling - and Col. Lang's post suggests there may be a limit to how much Iraqi society is willing to tolerate such disruption.



Perhaps you are right as my experience is very much limited to the insight of fellow levantians and one night in the sands of Saudi. It is very possible that fellow Levantians, who usually refer to the Bedu of the Gulf and North Africa when talking of respect and therefore are, like you say, refering more to the myth than the reality. They do not, like you say, like the Bedu they come into contact with which they do not associate with what they would deem the "real" bedouins. I will try and let them down gently when I tell them!


Every picture of destruction I've seen from Iraq has buildings in them. US troops are fighting an urban insurrection like Algiers, Beirut or Warsaw. Jihadists are equivalent to the Anarchists/Communists of last Century. They thrive in chaos created by the invasion of a foreign Christian army.

In every culture there is an antagonism between rural and urban. More likely the Jihadists have chosen the wrong sandy sea to go swimming rather than the increased efficiency of the Surge. If there was a Political Settlement, the suicide bombings would eventually stop but not while US troops are still stomping and smashing through their homes.

The Bedouin after dealing the Mongols, Turks and British would know better than getting too cozy with the current colonists. Right?

Gene in Chicago

The US military is now casting doubt on reports of Masri's death:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. military on Friday cast doubt on a report from the Iraqi government that al Qaeda in Iraq chief Abu Ayyub al-Masri was wounded in clashes with police.

A senior U.S. official, who requested anonymity, told CNN that the U.S. military believes reports about the alleged incident Thursday are false.

Despite the doubts, Iraq's Interior Ministry stood by its initial report that police wounded al-Masri -- who is the successor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf.


Interesting related post from IraqSlogger about a USAT story :

USAT’s Jim Michaels travels to Germany to meet with Army Col. Sean MacFarland, who, Michaels reports, was instrumental in making the connections with Anbar tribal leaders that has pacified much, although not all, of the province. Michaels presents MacFarland as belonging to a new generation of US officers “who can think creatively and are as comfortable dealing with tribal sheiks as they are with tank formations on a conventional battlefield.” But the most interesting bits come towards the end where Michaels presents MacFarland’s accout of how the current US-tribal alliance was formed. In 2006, “The sheiks' outlook had been shaped by watching an earlier clash between Iraqi nationalists -- primarily former members of Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath Party -- and hard-core al-Qaeda operatives who were a mix of foreign fighters and Iraqis. Al-Qaeda beat the nationalists. That rattled the sheiks. ‘Al-Qaeda just mopped up the floor with those guys’,” MacFarland says. In communication with US forces, “The sheiks said their main concern was protecting their own tribes and families.” With that knowledge, “the brigade made an offer,” Michaels writes: “If the tribal leaders encouraged their members to join the police, the Army would build police stations in the tribal areas and let the recruits protect their own tribes and families. They wouldn't have to leave their neighborhoods.” On that basis the deal was struck, which then set off an implicit conflict between the emerging tribal force and the governor of Ramadi, who enjoyed the backing of the US. One other US relationship was threatened by the new alliance: “top-tier” tribal leaders had migrated to the safety of Jordan after the US invasion but were still in contact with US commanders. The US chose to back the leaders who remained in Anbar and who were more expedient to the goals on the battlefield. Backing the “second-tier” tribal leaders who were organizing in Anbar still might set off a power struggle in the future. Noting the extensive smuggling operations in Anbar, Michaels also includes this remark by MacFarland: “I've read the reports" on al-Rishawi (considered the leader of the alliance), MacFarland says. "You don't get to be a sheik by being a nice guy. These guys are ruthless characters. ... That doesn't mean they can't be reliable partners." However, the contradictions of the US-tribal alliance are not developed in Michaels’ article, and the interests in Anbar that currently converge against a common enemy could very well diverge in the future.


W. Patrick Lang


No. You are making assumptions about the motivations of tribesmen that are unjustified by their much more parochial interpretation of their own interest.

The AQ people can not survive in Iraq's Sunni areas if they are isolated in the larger towns.

Tribesmen have a ong history of siding with the "colonists" as you put it against people from outside their lineage system. It all depends on how they are approached. pl

W. Patrick Lang


"Michaels presents MacFarland as belonging to a new generation of US officers “who can think creatively and are as comfortable dealing with tribal sheiks as they are with tank formations on a conventional battlefield"

The Army has always had people like MacFarland. He is lucky that the Army needs him just now. pl

James Pratt

I have known enough Arabs to realize Arab politics are never simple. Being anti-AQ does not necessarily mean being pro-Coalition, even if it is expedient for them to momentarily say so. Just as the Sadrists can run anti-Sunni pogroms and fight the British at the same time,I would make an educated guess that some of these Bedouins are more closely allied with other, probably Ba'athist resistance groups as well.I wouldn't be surprised if the Wahabi AQ found out about some Bedouin smuggling of luxury items from across the border and were stupid enough to retaliate with force. Your enemy's enemy is not always your friend in Iraq. They just may be another enemy.

W. Patrick Lang

James Pratt

This is not about "friendship" although I have seen that emerge in similar circumstance.

It is about perceived self interest and a need for support against an enemy.

The Israelis are alwys looking to be loved, and they are always disappointed pl


Seems to me the big question is really the potential for AQ to achieve anything like dominance in an area in Iraq.

That has always struck me as unlikely - AQ is sort of a latter-day Comintern without much sanctuary. Think socialist revolutionaries before the Bolshevik revolution.

Partners of convenience, I'd expect.

John Hammer


Agreed, but Mohammed often retreated to the desert. Hence, the first revelation and all.

Jim Henley

OR, al-Masri is fine and this was trumped up by the US to provide something else to talk about on "Mission Accomplished Day."

Cloned Poster

This news is good from an Iraqi POV, screw those millionaires in Saud who bet more in Casinos in one night than they do Iraq. Must now stop British citizens making bomb plots.

Cloned Poster

PS: I should note, ironies of ironies, that the insurgency are doing the job on the War on Terror.


According to ABC News, reports that al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri has been killed are “unconfirmed and part of a misinformation campaign.” ABC has not posted its full story yet, and details are unclear, but it’s worth reviewing the last time the media reported major news about al-Masri.

W. Patrick Lang


Hey, folks, you missed my point. I don't care if they "offed" this guy. AQII will just spawn another leader. This is not about individuals.

The point was about tribal resistance.

Stand by for a piece on the other blog about "tribes." pl

Ben P

If he's dead, it apparently happened near Bajji (sp) Salahadin province, so not in Anbar.

I don't know what this has to say about the tribal theory. Its also speculated that some other insurgency group might have killed him too.


What the now known circumstances surrounding Masiri’s reported death at the hands of the tribes should show us here is that the ongoing fight is a complex multi-faction affair almost immune to our Western conceptualizations. While AK fire may sound similar regardless who pulls the trigger, the struggle as a whole is an intricate patchwork of social, economic and religious scraps that certainly defies a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Much of it is an ancient dance as old as time with moves only ever known to those born there that were raised in its choreography with their mother’s milk.
It may be marginally pertinent to this thread, but I spent a year plus with an ethnic minority in another war setting long ago. I was an (in today’s terms) embedded advisor to the Hre Montagnard people in southern I Corps RVN. The dozen or so NCOs and officers assigned to the battalion were ARVN, but the troops-the 300 or so superb troops-were the wiry Hre. Like the Bedu (who I spent six months with in the Sinai as an UN unarmed military observer), the Hre were roundly marginalized and disdained by the majority. Their officers daily derided them to us co van. Most Hre were aligned with the GVN, but there were subtribes or families that simultaneously worked with the VC. However, the overarching unifying principle for the Hre was their universal suspicion and resentment of the majority Vietnamese. I suspect it is the same for the Bedouin peoples who suffer general Arab discrimination. As a likely universal generalization, oppressed minorities ain’t to fond of their majority tormentors….of whatever stripe.

It’s more likely that Masiri’s death was an inside job orchestrated by an AQ rival than a hit by a non-AQ affiliated Sunni unit or some outside ‘lucky’ force. Masiri’s OPSEC was very good. I doubt those on the outside looking for him would have had today’s good fortune without inside assistance. So there is likely even intrigue and friction amongst the AQI; it is not a homogenous, highly integrated force.


The tribalism vs globalism conflict is unending and has been going on for centuries -- but may be a sham if globalism turns out to be a goodies grab by one particular tribe (or "neo-tribe" -- the super-rich, say).

Years ago I was told in Papua New Guinea that what "we" saw as corruption, "they" saw as cargo and any politician who did not deliver as much as possible to his tribe would be swiftly and democratically removed -- or worse.

Since then, I have seen tribal behaviour everywhere -- even among the globalism boosters.

We all have our tribes:



There's lots more but this sounds familiar:

"A tribe is a congregation of many clans. The clans that make up a tribe are related to each other through common ancestors and because they feel that their roots are located in a certain region. A tribe branches off into sub-tribes and sub-sub-tribes all the way down to the level of a clan. It is possible for an individual to draw a genealogical map which clearly shows his position in the tribal structure. Throughout history knowledge of the genealogies has been compulsory for an individual. At present time many Kirgizians, especially young people in the cities, do not know this. They tend to know their most important clan members and the name of their tribe. However, the knowledge of the genealogies is still important in a rural setting. Throughout history, and still today, the land of the Kirgizians has been divided between many big tribes. When I ask Kirgizians about how many tribes there are in Kirgizia, I normally get many different answers. Some scholars, however, claim that it is up to 80 different tribes in the country. In the northern part of the country there are only a few big tribes. The most important: "Solto", "Sajak", "Sarybagysj" and "Bygy". In southern Kirgizia there are many small tribes. Each of the tribes are classified according to a specific terminology. The inhabitants of the region I know best, are mostly members of the "Bugu"-tribe. ("Bugu" is the Kirgizian term for reindeer)... The region of the "Bugu"- people is more or less the same as the present "Izzyk Kulskaja Oblast'" (Oblast'= region). In this region there also live members from many other tribes, but they usually feel that their roots are in another region.

"The most important organizational unit among Kirgizians is the extended family and the clan. The head of the extended family/clan is normally one of the elders (aqsaqal = white beard). In villages were many extended families/clans reside together, one of the aqsaqals normally is the head of the village. When difficult questions have to be solved, several aqsaqals discuss the questions in a village council. During Communist rule many questions were decided from above. Despite this fact, very many local questions had to be solved in the old manner. The village council was important also during Soviet rule. The president of Kirgizia, Askar Akajev, wants to encourage the old power structure on village level. He has lately proposed to give the aqsaqals in the villages salary as servants of the state."


Saddam was a tribal leader first.


We've seen lots of reports of AQ high-level leaders killed, only some of which were true. We've seen lots of predictions that killing high-level leaders (baathist, shiite or AQ) will magically end the war, none of which have been true.

It'd be great if the Sunni tribes fought AQ, but hope is not a plan.

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