Journal Essay

Iraq's Tribal "Sahwa": Its Rise and Fall

Myriam Benraad

Spring 2011, Volume XVIII, Number 1

Dr. Benraad is a research fellow at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) and the Center for International Studies and Research (CERI). She is also a former policy adviser to the Iraqi government on economic reforms and the fight against corruption.*

From 2007 to 2008, Iraq's tribal "Sahwa" (Arabic for "Awakening") was a key component of the U.S. "surge" strategy and largely credited for its role in the dramatic reduction of violence across the country. In the last two years, though, members of the movement have increasingly become the target of a retaliation campaign led by al-Qaeda's "Islamic State of Iraq" and other insurgent groups still active on the battlefield, with almost daily assassinations and attacks in which hundreds have died. In the present context of resurgent violence, persistent political tensions triggered by the 2010 stalemate and the U.S. military's scheduled withdrawal of its remaining troops by the end of 2011, the Sahwa's future looms as one of the most crucial tests of Iraq's stabilization and successful "democratic" transition.2 Concerns over the fate of the movement also come amid the growing alienation of its members from a government that has overall failed to incorporate them into its new security apparatus. While U.S. officials might continue to downplay this scenario, reliable sources indicate that a number of Sahwa fighters have already flipped back into armed struggle, including within the ranks of their erstwhile nemesis, al-Qaeda.3

Building on my own extensive research, this article seeks to analyze a worrying trend and shed new light on the complex nature of the Sahwa since its appearance on the Iraqi scene. It first attempts to highlight the multiple reasons for the movement's gradual downfall, especially following the U.S. military drawdown in the summer of 2009, with specific focus on the motives likely to have incited some of its members to revert to al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups. The second part emphasizes aspects of continuity linking the Sahwa's recent evolution to the more historical transformations of Iraqi tribalism. It attempts to show, more particularly, how Iraq's tribal structures have undergone a continuing dynamic of "subversion" that actually preceded the establishment of Iraq's modern state. The last part underlines why U.S. policy makers should draw serious lessons from the movement's experiment, in particular why "tribal engagement" strategies in conflict configurations, even when bringing short-term security gains, should not be used at the expense of genuine state- and nation-building efforts.

FROM SUCCESS TO DOWNFALL

With hindsight, the Sahwa movement will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most intriguing developments of the Iraqi conflict. Its emergence and rapid spread were indeed all the more remarkable in that it first came out of nothing and was initially limited to the uprising of a few tribal figures against al-Qaeda in the al-Anbar governorate — by then, the impregnable garrison of the insurgency. Yet, it should be borne in mind that the Sahwa originated and expanded in a very specific context — foreign occupation — and therefore always remained contingent on extremely volatile circumstances that, from the onset, should have warned of the probability of its members changing sides at some point in the course of the conflict.

The tribal mobilization took shape in late 2005, but was only formalized in September 2006 with the creation by tribes from Ramadi of an alliance — the "al-Anbar Salvation Council" (Majlis inqadh al-Anbar) — led by Abd al-Sattar al-Rishawi (commonly known as Abu Risha), a minor sheikh from the Dulaymi confederation. Since 2003, several Sunni Arab tribes from the governorate had been in latent conflict with al-Qaeda over the jihadist organization's extreme combat methods and killing campaign that had targeted hundreds of their leaders. These tribes also opposed the group's Salafist-inspired ambition to establish an Islamic "emirate" in their regions. However, their contacts with foreign forces had mostly remained residual, if existent at all. A first shift occurred in early 2005, when several sheikhs from the Albu Mahal tribe around the city of Qaim began to cooperate with U.S. troops in order to drive al-Qaeda out of their territory.4 At the time, this shift also had much to do with the tribes' growing awareness of the benefits that such a rapprochement could mean for them in the longer run, especially in terms of political participation and power.

In the backdrop of the 2007 U.S. "surge," the Sahwa quickly took ground, with many tribal figures and imams rallying their ranks5 and setting up other councils (Majalis al-Sahwa) in al-Anbar localities and beyond. The movement, moreover, enjoyed the additional mobilization all across the country of thousands of Sunni Arab fighters, mostly former insurgents — also referred to by the coalition as "Concerned Local Citizens" or "Sons of Iraq" (Abna al-Iraq). In less than a year, the Sahwa had become a major armed force comprising over 80,000 members.6 Tribes were provided arms and significant financial resources to fight al-Qaeda and delegated important authority prerogatives in their areas to reestablish order. All in all, the impact of this tribal-engagement strategy proved quite spectacular, although largely unexpected. By mid-2007, insurgent hotbeds such as Ramadi and Fallujah had been cleansed and relatively pacified, to the surprise of the most skeptical.

A few years later, this picture has dramatically changed. The U.S. military drawdown from Iraqi cities in 2009, by providing al-Qaeda with new ground to operate — especially in al-Anbar, where security has kept deteriorating recently — has exposed the tribal movement to massive retaliatory attacks. These had started with the assassination in September 2007 of Abu Risha by the "Islamic State of Iraq," al-Qaeda's self-proclaimed government,7 and have multiplied ever since. An equally worrying trend is that, faced with the jihadist group's brutal intimidations and threats, many Sahwa members are reported today to have returned to its ranks, either as operatives or accomplices.8 Although no firm figures exist that precisely count how many have switched sides and rejoined al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups at this stage, recent official sources suggest that possibly thousands have done so since 2009, often while still on the government payroll and receiving ammunition.

Economic Grievances

Beyond the U.S. drawdown and its immediate consequences, this trend is also largely attributable to the growing economic grievances of the Sahwa. In this respect, one should not forget that the tribal movement originally emerged as a deeply "self-interested" phenomenon, a dimension that many U.S. decision makers and experts have long overlooked. Contrary to a somewhat naïve, yet often repeated, representation, the Sahwa never arose out of revived "tribal patriotism" against al-Qaeda. It began in 2005 over the al-Anbar tribes' loss of control over key resources, mainly reconstruction contracts and illicit revenues drawn from smuggling, robbery and black marketeering.9 Once hospitable to al-Qaeda and its affiliates, the tribes had increasingly grown resentful of their violent interference and hijacking of local business. This was notably the case of the Albu Mahal, notorious for their smuggling activities on the Syrian border,10 and Abu Risha himself, known for running a gang of bandits along the highway. Looking for immediate and effective ways to expel al-Qaeda from their territories and regain control of their illegal business and revenues, these tribes saw in their cooperation with U.S. forces a source of arms, training and alternative funding.

From the very beginning of its existence, the Sahwa was therefore intrinsically driven by the economic motives, not to say the overt opportunism, of its members. This dimension should have been a clear warning sign of the serious possibility of the movement's falling apart in time and the tribes' turning back to violence if their alliance of convenience with the United States ceased to bring sufficient benefits or to be satisfyingly rewarded.11 This risk seemed all the higher, as the U.S. coalition had pledged to devote funds in support of the movement and provide Sahwa fighters with long-term employment by their progressive incorporation into Iraq's new security forces.

This promise was short-lived. Following their transfer to Iraqi authorities in early November 2008 — seen by many tribes as a "betrayal" by the United States — material privileges and the new authority enjoyed by Sahwa leaders slowly began to evaporate. In the summer of 2010, two years after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had promised to integrate a quarter of the movement's forces, including former insurgents, into the state apparatus, less than half of them — approximately 42,000 of 94,000 — had been given security and public jobs, often temporary or seen as demeaning.12 Promised salaries had either been meager, irregular or suppressed, with only very few Sahwa members effectively placed on the long-term government payroll. More recently, thousands of the movement's weapons permits have also been suspended in Diyala, one of Iraq's most violent governorates, in a clear attempt to disarm it once and for all.13

These developments appear to have served al-Qaeda's objectives in the end. Reliable sources have reported that the organization currently exploits the Sahwa's grievances to approach and recruit many of its members, bribing them to carry out paid attacks or act as accomplices,14 thereby gaining new ground in al-Anbar and other areas of Iraq. A "generational" dimension also seems at play: this dynamic is reported to be especially true of younger, unemployed and disenfranchised members of the movement, who are sometimes former al-Qaeda affiliates, have lost confidence in the future and are attracted by al-Qaeda's anti-system rhetoric, whereas most elder tribal leaders have regularly rejected al-Qaeda's recruitment calls.15 Other Sahwa fighters also indicate that rejoining al-Qaeda or helping the group has been the best way to avoid becoming the victims of its assassinations, especially after they were banned by the government from carrying the weapons they considered necessary to protect themselves.

Government Repression

A second factor in the Sahwa's continued downfall is to be found in the profound hostility of Iraq's central government towards its members. From the start, Baghdad opposed the Sahwa, looking at its alliance with the United States with suspicion and resentment, concerned that its successes on the ground might translate into actual legitimacy and political power.16 Although themselves divided, Shii and Kurdish political forces have also been uneasy with the movement and its sociological composition, fearing a resurgence of Sunni Arab influence in particular and opposing the formation of tribal councils in their own regions.17 Sahwa leaders have nurtured a reciprocal mistrust and repeatedly accused al-Maliki's government of failing to restore public order and deliver basic services to the population, and of being a "puppet of Iran." However, the sectarian connotation of the Sahwa-government antagonism should not be overstated here. Indeed, the most virulent criticism of the movement has emanated from its own coreligionists: insurgent factions and, more particularly, Baghdad's Sunni Arab parliament bloc — the Iraq Accord Front (al-Tawafuq) — whose representatives have always feared that the movement would rise at their expense.18

Since 2008 and the official transfer of the Sahwa's control to Iraqi authorities, relations between the tribes and Baghdad have continued to deteriorate. This explains the government's constant reluctance to integrate its members into state institutions, or at least to tolerate the tribes' security role in their own neighborhoods. Instead, Baghdad has conducted a systematic marginalization and elimination policy, exacerbated by mounting criticism of al-Maliki for having failed to restore security and implement effective national reconciliation.

In trying to disrupt the Sahwa, the prime minister used three strategic maneuvers. The first was, as mentioned, to deprive the movement of the material and financial means crucial to its survival. The second was more overt, consisting in repressing its members and systematically trying to disband tribal councils, as illustrated by the events in the Diyala governorate through 2008.19 Sahwa members have been hunted, subjected to arrests and held on terrorism or illegal-weapons-possession charges. These crackdowns prompted vivid anger and a deep sense of humiliation among the movement's leaders, who repeatedly threatened to end their cooperation with the government, while al-Maliki justified this repression by pointing to the infiltration of the Sahwa by both al-Qaeda operatives and Baathists.20 This argument has been recurrent in al-Maliki's rhetoric as a tool to discredit the Sahwa in the public eye, but one cannot deny Baghdad's quite legitimate fear that the movement might end up becoming a sort of third security force, an army outside the state, de facto leaving any future central state without control over significant parts of its territory.21 Interestingly, as of 2007, the U.S. military had emphasized that such a danger would be avoided precisely through merging the Sahwa into the formal security apparatus.22 The third strategy used by al-Maliki, less visible but far more pervasive, was finally to "divide and conquer" the Sahwa by setting up tribal structures parallel to existing ones and co-opting Sahwa leaders. The prime minister, for example, created in 2008 a "Tribal Support Council" in the Diyala governorate in an attempt to split the local movement by turning the Sahwa away from its grassroots and placing its members under Baghdad's patronage.23

On the whole, this threefold strategy succeeded in depriving the Sahwa of resources that it critically needed in order to maintain itself and become a viable, long-term actor, especially within Iraq's political arena. Yet, al-Maliki's inflexible stance and unwillingness to fulfill the Sahwa's basic demands can also be considered a profound miscalculation. Combined with the political chaos brought about by the March 7, 2010, legislative elections, the government's anti-Sahwa attitude has obviously given space to the insurgency, more particularly al-Qaeda affiliates, to escalate their attacks on tribal mobilization and capitalize on the Sahwa's numerous socioeconomic and political frustrations to lure its members back into the armed struggle and radicalize their animosity towards the government. In several instances, Sahwa fighters have even expressed regret for having applied for public jobs.24

BETWEEN PAST AND PRESENT

Beyond present circumstances, understanding of the Sahwa's progressive decline also requires placing the movement within the broader history of Iraqi tribalism and its many transformations, synonymous with a continued process of "subversion"25 of tribal norms and structures.

Diversity and Factionalism

In many regards, the case of the Sahwa has reignited the debate over the place of tribalism within Iraqi society, if not within Arab and Muslim societies at large. In that respect, while tribal identity might still play an important role in Iraq, even in the case of urbanized populations, analysis continues to be distorted by an "essentialist" bias and representations that have long plagued research on Arab tribes. As French anthropologist Pierre Bonte rightly put it, "the tribalization of Arab societies, by eliminating any consideration of other aspects of their culture, undoubtedly contributed to the marginalization, until recently, of the anthropological research they have inspired."26 Consequently, studies of Iraqi tribalism have often been limited by simplistic assumptions, in particular, that it is a homogenous and static phenomenon.

It is important to recall here that tribalism in Iraq has never been a unified reality but, on the contrary, extremely porous and variable. It has been marked by complex geographic disparities, social structures and relations among its members. Schematically, Iraqi tribes and tribal confederations have divided themselves into clans, lineages, houses and families sharing a common ancestry — real or imagined — as well as kinship ties.27 Iraqi tribes can vary greatly around interactions and distinctions between individuals that can often appear confusing to the outside observer. A tribe from al-Anbar has, for instance, little to do with a tribe from the south or even with a tribe from another locality in its own governorate. Iraqi tribalism has, moreover, always been characterized by intense endogenous rivalries and factionalism, which have only tended to increase as traditional solidarities, supposed to bind the members of a tribe, have endured profound changes over time. Today, one might even wonder whether Iraq can still be described as a "tribal" society in the classical sense of the word.

The breakdown of traditional kinship ties began during the Ottoman Empire with the introduction, in 1858, of the first land code, which sedentarized Iraqi tribes. While the sheikhs remained influential under the British Mandate, this dynamic continued with the country's modernization and the attendant rural exodus and urbanization.28 Agrarian reforms passed in the 1950s further transformed Iraq's tribalism. In particular, the expropriation and redistribution of land put an end to the privileges that landlords had long enjoyed and removed ties of subordination of the peasants — usually smaller tribes — to their patrons. The Baathist regime exacerbated this process by adopting a series of policies that further contributed to deconstructing Iraq's tribal fabric.29

In many ways, such deconstruction has been reflected in the Sahwa's own organization and evolution. While the movement may have begun as a common mobilization against al-Qaeda, thus demonstrating apparent solidarity among its leaders, it has never been a unified reality. The social structures and the functioning of the tribal councils established in governorates like Salahaddin, Diyala, Babil and Tamim, or in al-Anbar itself, have significantly differed from each other, as has the identity of their members. At first kept under wraps, the rivalries among Sahwa leaders became more and more overt as the movement became increasingly politicized. For some time, the greatest enemy of the movement was even thought likely to come from within, especially after the assassination of Abu Risha and the leadership battles that it prompted. His brother Ahmad, first considered the legitimate successor, was indeed opposed by figures such as Ali Hatim al-Sulayman, a prominent sheikh from the al-Dulaymi confederation, or Hamid Farhan al-Hayis, both regarding themselves as the Sahwa's genuine heirs, but whose feuds only led to multiple political factions without any true popularity.30

This explains why the Sahwa, since it first emerged, has been structurally unable to define a long-term political project for Iraq. Several Sahwa figures participated in the provincial elections of January 2009 and garnered relatively good results, especially in al-Anbar. However, this did not last. Their mobilization split along a wide range of parties that eventually had to ally themselves with broader electoral coalitions to run for office. Other forces, such as the Iraqi Islamic party in al-Anbar,31 also largely exploited intertribal divides as part of their political calculations. The March 2010 elections, dominated by al-Maliki's "State of Law" and Iyad Allawi's "Iraqiy-yah" lists, have confirmed the movement's need to merge into strong nationally based alliances to ensure a degree of survival.

Opportunism, Shifting Loyalties

Another aspect of the subversion of Iraqi tribalism has been the growing opportunism and shifting loyalties of the tribes over time, largely echoed today by the Sahwa and profoundly emblematic of the country's early history.

As of the 1920s, King Faysal, concerned not to alienate the tribes, provided them with key administrative prerogatives (land-tax collection, recruitment of military and police personnel) that made them intermediaries between Baghdad and the rural periphery. This patron-client pattern continued into the republican era and then became systemic under Saddam Hussein, who, after trying to eradicate tribalism from society, launched a "retribalization"32 (or "state tribalism"33) strategy in the late 1980s as a regime-perpetuation tool. Baghdad widened the circle of submissive tribes, which benefited from the material and financial largess of the regime (arms, lands, food rations) and important local security and administrative powers, as well as state tolerance for their illegal activities (smuggling). In 1991, when the Shii south was engulfed in a rebellion that the regular army failed to put down, it was to the tribes that Saddam turned.34 This privileged position, however, remained primarily instrumental, though it has been wrongly interpreted as a reaffirmation of tribal authority. In fact, tribes were mostly obedient, tied to the regime by a formal oath of allegiance that tolerated no form of opposition.35 As emphasized by Amatzia Baram, "Rather than eliminating the tribal shaykh as a sociopolitical power, as dictated by party doctrine, [Saddam Hussein] endeavored to manipulate the shaykhs and, through a process of socialization (or 'Baathization'), turn them into docile tools in the service of the regime."36

Similarly, the Sahwa since 2006 has often been depicted by its detractors as a force both "bought" and manipulated by the United States, a new "symptom" of the opportunism and changing allegiances of Iraqi tribes, which now would not hesitate to revert to al-Qaeda in spite of bribes and other payments. It is worth noting, in this respect, that concerns about this dual feature arose early on. Fears on the Iraqi side were all the more serious, as many of the Sahwa fighters had been former insurgents who had often fought foreign troops among the ranks of al-Qaeda. Ever since, the popular perception of the Sahwa as a group of mere opportunists whose loyalty can be bought by the highest bidder has been one of the key factors discrediting the group. Many Iraqis have, from the beginning, expressed distrust for the real motives behind the tribes' decision to help U.S. forces, often calling them "thugs," "bandits" and "mercenaries," or "tribes of the 2000s" — in reference to the label that was used during the Saddam Hussein years, "tribes of the 1990s."

STATE BUILDING AND RECONCILIATION

The Sahwa is thus far from embodying the resurrection of noble tribal values in Iraq, as the movement was sometimes described. On the contrary, the tribe's mobilization has been, and remains, a deeply unpredictable actor, hardly compatible with state- and nation-building efforts.

Back in 2003, many Iraqi tribes saw in the fall of Saddam Hussein the historical opportunity to rebuild their once lost authority. As it happened, the Sahwa's ascension and success were interpreted as an actual reorganization of tribal power after decades of marginalization by the central state. Some even argued that the tribes would become the cornerstone of the Iraqi state's rebuilding and a catalyst of the county's democratization.37 To date, the movement, which seemed so promising, has yet to become institutionalized. Baghdad steadily refuses to transition its members into the new state.

Internal conflicts within the Sahwa and the highly unstable allegiances of its leaders are certainly not factors that favor such a role. Besides, the tribes have a long history of conflict with central authorities and still consider that the Iraqi state was built and expanded at their expense. With few exceptions so far, and although Saddam Hussein's regime was itself profoundly clannish in nature, the tribes never really managed to acquire a political role on Iraq's national scene. Marked by its own rules and structures, tribalism is in fact hard to meld into a modern, centralized state based on the rule of law. Tribal hierarchies and shifting loyalties, by dangerously overlapping with the formal governance apparatus, can constitute a threat to both central and federal levels of power and to long-term state consolidation.

Moreover, tribes' own justice forums and reconciliation procedures make tribalism difficult to harmonize with the formal national reconciliation dynamic, although Sahwa leaders have regularly declared that they stood for "national unity." In light of the movement's current decay and the way it has contributed to even greater fragmentation of Iraq's sociopolitical landscape, it is hard to foresee how the Sahwa could turn into a pillar of national reconciliation, whether now or later. Instead of favoring a national dialogue, the movement has rather appeared as a socially and politically atomizing force that has reinforced lines of division, when not creating new ones.

These dividing lines go well beyond the sectarian split that is often put forward by Western media, opposing the "Sunni" Sahwa to a "Shii" government. They are also profoundly socioeconomic, structured around the revival, for instance, of the old historical opposition between Baghdad and outside areas, encompassing both a geographic and a social cleavage between urbanized elites and a peripheral rural world populated by tribes and commonly perceived as poor and backward.38 Interestingly, this "class" divide has also been present within the localities themselves where the Sahwa has spread, opposing local notables to the sheikhs.

Socioeconomic divides have also manifested themselves through the opposition between two groups: the tribal elders who fled Iraq in 2003 due to their dealings with the former regime but still consider themselves the true heads of their clans and tribes, and younger sheikhs who have mainly used the Sahwa and their alliance with the United States as a means to bypass the old hierarchies, enrich themselves, constitute new patronage networks, bolster their authority and gain political power.

CONCLUSION

As the United States prepares to pull out of Iraq, the Sahwa's future promises to be one of the most difficult challenges facing the new Iraqi government, formed after months of political vacuum through a recent controversial power-sharing agreement. While it is undeniable that in 2006 the movement substantially contributed to reducing violence after Iraq's worst bloodshed, it has remained a circumstantial and fragile phenomenon, as highlighted in this article. Once praised as a cornerstone of Iraq's stabilization process, the Sahwa now threatens to backfire and become a major source of instability because of its opposition to the government — and the fact that many of its fighters are said to have returned to al-Qaeda and related groups.

Attempts to demobilize the movement, even smoothly, have proven troublesome, and the will of al-Maliki to disarm and disband it could lead to even greater levels of violence and possibly a return to large-scale conflict. Indeed, casting off Sahwa fighters when they still play a security role in their regions and neighborhoods and have not yet completely cut ties with the government can only make them easier recruits for the insurgency. Of course, it is also true that absorbing them into the security and state apparatus when the situation is still so uncertain and no national reconciliation has taken place can be a recipe for disaster.

Ultimately, a compromise will have to be found and could well replicate Saddam's old patronage strategy: "clientelizing" the Sahwa by bestowing on its members enough prerogatives, even informal ones, to meet their major demands, frame their loyalty and prevent their reversion to violence. The counterpart of such a strategy would mean greater autonomy for the tribes in their areas and therefore a relative, although implicitly approved, loss of control by Baghdad over parts of the national territory.

As for the United States, although it now has limited influence on internal Iraqi politics, except primarily through diplomacy, it should draw the appropriate lessons from the Sahwa experiment, especially as they relate to tribal engagement on other conflict fronts, Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular. Local warlords previously allied with foreign forces have, as in Iraq, shown a propensity to shift back to the armed struggle. This, once again, should highlight the fact that a long-term counterinsurgency strategy cannot be reduced to short-term security gains, but also requires sustained efforts toward state- and nation-building.

* Most of the following developments are drawn from research and observations on the Sahwa previously published by the author in the French anthropology journal Études rurales: "Une lecture critique de la Sahwa ou les mille et un visages du tribalisme irakien," No. 184, July-December 2009, pp. 95-106.

2 See, for example, Shashank Bengali, "With U.S. Presence Fading in Iraq, Ex-militia Faces Uncertain Future," McClatchy Newspapers, December 6, 2010.

3 In January 2011, a Sahwa leader said to be involved in three car bombings in Karbala against Shii pilgrims was arrested by Iraqi police forces. He was said to be working for the Islamic Army and having "one foot in terrorism, and one foot in the state." See Qassim Abdul-Zahra, "Iraq Militia Chief was behind Pilgrim Blasts," Associated Press, January 22, 2011; and "Iraq Nabs Sunni Militiamen over Karbala Attack," Agence France Presse, January 21, 2011.

4 See Ellen Nickmeyer and Jonathan Finer, "Insurgents Assert Control over Town near Syrian Border," The Washington Post, September 6, 2005.

5 See Sam Dagher, "Sunni Muslim Sheikhs Join U.S. in Fighting Al-Qaeda," Christian Science Monitor, May 3, 2007.

6 See Maggie O'Kane and Ian Black, "Sunni Militia Strike Could Derail U.S. Strategy against al-Qaida," The Guardian, March 21, 2008.

7 For details on the Islamic State of Iraq's current ideological narrative, see Myriam Benraad, "Down But Not Out," ForeignPolicy.com, December 2, 2009.

8 See Hamza Hendawi, "Al-Qaida in Iraq Offers Cash to Lure Former Allies," Associated Press, August 6, 2010.

9 On this aspect, see Alissa J. Rubin and Damien Cave, "In a Force for Iraqi Calm, Seeds of Conflict," The New York Times, December 23, 2007.

10 See Alexandra Zavis, "Iraq Militants Seen As Taking Kickbacks," The Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2007.

11 Among the first sources critical of the tribal engagement strategy in Iraq were Leila Fadel, "Iraqi Tribal, U.S. Relations Could Spell Success or Disaster," McClatchy Newspapers, June 13, 2007; U.S. Buys 'Concerned Citizens' in Iraq, But at What Price? Agence France Presse, October 16, 2007; Yochi Dreazen and Gina Chon, "Will the Security Improvements in Iraq Endure?" The Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2007; and Katharina Goetze, Daud Salman and Zaineb Naji, "Could Awakening Fighters Rejoin Insurgency?" ICR, No. 274, October 31, 2008. See also the excellent analysis of counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen, "Anatomy of a Tribal Revolt," Small Wars Journal, August 29, 2007.

12 See Leila Fadel, "Former Iraqi Insurgent Contemplates Returning to War," McClatchy Newspapers, May 24, 2009.

13 See "Iraq Disarms Sunni Tribal Militias, Defence Ministry Refuses to Renew Weapons Permits for Members of Awakening Councils," Agence France Presse, June 6, 2010.

14 Several Sahwa members have reported that al-Qaeda usually offers to increase by $100 or more the salary of a fighter — usually ranging between $250 and $300 — if they accept to join the jihadist organization. See Hamza Hendawi, op. cit.

15 See Timothy Williams and Duraid Adnan, "Sunnis in Iraq Allied with U.S. Rejoin Rebels," The New York Times, October 16, 2010; and Mohammed al-Qaisi, "Al-Sahwa Forces in Iraq Reject al-Qaeda's Recruitment Call," Al-Shorfa.com, August 10, 2010.

16 See Trudy Rubin, "Powerful Awakening Shakes Iraqi Politics," Philadelphia Inquirer, December 12, 2007.

17 The Sahwa mostly failed to filter into southern Shii provinces due to Baghdad's animosity towards the movement, while the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) opposed the formation of tribal councils in areas subject to Article 140 of the present Constitution, which calls for a reversal of the Baathist "Arabization" in Kirkuk and parts of the Ninawa governorate.

18 See Brian Katulis, Peter Juul and Ian Moss, "Awakening to New Dangers in Iraq: Sunni 'Allies' Pose an Emerging Threat," Center for American Progress, February 2008, pp. 7-8.

19 See Ahmed Ali and Dahr Jamail, "Tensions Rise between 'Awakening' and Iraqi Govt Forces," Inter Press Service, March 1, 2008.

20 See "PM Says Saddam Loyalists Infiltrated Iraq's Sahwa Militia," Agence France Presse, April 3, 2009; "Al-Qaeda Infiltrating Sahwa Fighters in Iraq," Time, April 2, 2009; and "Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq," Report to Congress, March 7, 2008.

21 Thereby replicating a configuration that had prevailed under the embargo with, on the one hand, a weak and sanctuarized central state — named in the 1990s the "Republic of the Greater Baghdad" — and, on the other hand, tribes maintaining order at the country's peripheries. See Françoise Rigaud, "Irak: le temps suspendu de l'embargo," Critique internationale, No. 11, April 2001, pp. 18-20.

22 See the declaration of U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker: "We always felt that [Sahwa members] have to link up to the government of Iraq (…) That has got to happen or nothing good is coming down the line," in Hoda Jasim and Rahma al Salem, "The Awakening Council: Iraq's Anti-al-Qaeda Sunni Militias," al-Sharq al-Awsat, December 29, 2007.

23 See Alissa J. Rubin, "Clash over Tribal Councils Intensifies in Iraq," The New York Times, November 4, 2008.

24 See Jonathan Steele, "Iraq: Arrests of Sunni Tribal Leaders Risk Giving al-Qaida a Way Back, Says Iraqi Vice-President," The Guardian, September 16, 2008; and Salah Hemeid, "What Future for the Sahwas?" al-Ahram Weekly, No. 1002, June 10-16, 2010.

25 "Subversion" derives from the Latin word subvertere, which literally means "to overturn." The term generally connotes the idea of disrupting, corrupting or causing the downfall of a given social and political order. It also refers to the action of undermining or destroying an individual or a group's loyalty and moral integrity.

26 See Pierre Bonte, Al-Ansâb. La quête des origines. Anthropologie historique de la société tribale arabe (Paris: Éditions de la MSH, 1991), p. 14 [translation by the author].

27 For an anthropological description of Iraqi tribal structures, see Hosham Dawod and Faleh Jabar, eds., Tribes and Power: Nationalism and Ethnicity in the Middle East (London: Saqi Books, 2003). For French and Arabic sources, see Hosham Dawod, "Société et pouvoirs en Irak : une approche anthropologique," in Hosham Dawod and Hamit Bozarslan, eds., La société irakienne. Communautés, pouvoir et violence (Paris : Karthala/IISMM, 2003), pp. 5-30; and Abbas al-Azzawi, 'Ashâ'ir al-'Irâq (Baghdad Press, 1937).

28 Prominent Iraq historian Hanna Batatu described this dynamic using a "social class" conflict approach, and opposed impoverished "peasants" — minor tribes — to wealthy "landlords" — elder sheikhs from greater tribes. See "The Shaikh and the Peasant in Iraq, 1919-1958," doctoral thesis (Harvard University, 1960); and The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq (Princeton University Press, 1978).

29 For an exhaustive account of these tribal policies, see Amatzia Baram, "Neo-Tribalism in Iraq: Saddam Hussein's Tribal Policies 1991-96," International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1, February 1997, p. 3.

30 See Fadhil Ali, "Sunni Rivalries in al-Anbar Province Threaten Iraq's Security," Terrorism Focus, Jamestown Foundation, November 3, 2008.

31 See Nirmeen Hamid, "Anbar's Islamic Party and Tribes Vie for Power," Niqash, December 12, 2008.

32 See Amatzia Baram, op. cit., pp. 10-18.

33 See Hosham Dawod, "The Stateization of the Tribe and the Tribalization of the State: The Case of Iraq,"  in Faleh Jabar and Hosham Dawod, eds., op. cit.

34 Amatzia Baram, op. cit., pp. 7-10.

35 Several tribal uprisings were therefore repressed during that period, such as these fomented by Dulaymi clans from Ramadi. See Helga Graham, "Saddam's Circles of Hatred," The Independent, August 20, 1995.

36 Amatzia Baram, op. cit., p. 1.

37 The idea has been suggested by David Kilcullen, op. cit.: "In the Iraqi polity, tribes' rights may end up playing a similar role to states' rights in some other democracies."

38 See Jack Fairweather, "Political Ambitions of Sunni Tribal Leader Worry Baghdad Elite," Financial Times, April 19, 2008.