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Al-Qaida, the Tribes, and the Government: Lessons and Prospects for Iraq’s Unstable Triangle

Dealing with tribal systems has posed a continuing challenge to al-Qaida as it operates in the Middle East and Africa, where a tribal environment is still an integral part of society in many of the countries. How al-Qaida views and manages the tribal system within its individual areas of operation in many cases can mean the difference between success and failure, and the jihadist movement cannot ignore this issue, which has been a major factor affecting its prospects, especially in Iraq.

This study examines al-Qaida’s experience dealing with the tribes in Iraq in terms of a triangular relationship involving the Sunni tribes, al-Qaida, and the government (or the United States as the governing authority in the initial stages), with the latter two entities often competing for the allegiance of the tribes.

Al-Qaida, the Tribes, and the Government



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Norman Cigar is director of regional studies and a Minerva Research Chair holder at Marine Corps University, Quantico, VA. Previously, he taught at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and the Marine Corps School of Advanced Warfighting. He has served as a senior analyst in the Pentagon, where he worked in the Office of the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence. He is author of numerous works on politics and security issues dealing with the Middle East and the Balkans and has been a consultant at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague. His recent research focuses on the strategic and military aspects of radical Islamic movements, and his publications include Al-Qa’ida’s Doctrine for Insurgency. 



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