Understanding Iraq’s Sunni tribes

Sunni forces receive military training near Mosul.
Sunni troops receive military training near Mosul. The U.S. will need to add more fighters from Iraq’s Sunni tribes to this force if it is to retake the city from Daesh (source: dpa)
  • Iraq’s Sunni tribes wield significant influence in the country
  • They can prove an effective force in fighting terrorist organizations
  • Alienating them was a big mistake on the part of the United States
  • The U.S. will need to enlist more of them on its side in order to defeat Daesh in Iraq

Bloodline-based groupings have been a force to be reckoned with in Iraq since time immemorial. In the 19th century, when the Ottomans regained control over Iraq, they went to great lengths to weaken the large tribal federations and even the sheikhs of the smaller tribes. When the British established the Iraqi state in 1920, they based their rule mainly on a cooperative king and his Sunni court politicians, as well as on Sunni and Shia tribal sheikhs. Their calculation was that it would be easier to control the hinterland outside the large cities with the sheikhs’ help.

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