Book review: 'Al-Qaida, the Tribes, and the Government'

Article Highlights

  • "Al-Qaida, the Tribes, and the Government" is a must-read for anyone interested in Iraqi studies.

    Tweet This

  • Rather than simply react to Al Qaeda, Cigar shows how a nuanced US policy can make it harder for the terrorist group to function.

    Tweet This

President Bush’s announcement of “the Surge” in 2007 defied conventional wisdom. Congressmen, diplomats, and journalists all argued that Iraq was spiraling into civil war, and that there remained no military option to return it to stability. The push to flood troops into Iraq and, especially, its Sunni hinterlands, reversed the course of the war.

 The surge was not only a military strategy, however; it played on complex tribal relationships in Iraq’s “Sunni Triangle,” the area roughly between Baghdad, Tikrit, and Ramadi. Al Qaeda initially found support among Iraqi Sunni Arabs who felt disenfranchised by the loss of influence following Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s ouster. Al Qaida overreached, however; its tendency to run roughshod over local tribal customs created a backlash. Sunni-dominated Awakening councils emerged, which abandoned the insurgency to join forces with surging Americans troops. Al Qaida, in turn, rebounded somewhat by exploiting tensions between the Awakening Councils and the Shi‘ite-dominated central government in Baghdad.

Cigar, director of regional studies at the Marine Corps University, tackles his subject masterfully. Whereas many academics fail to master foreign languages, Cigar bases his study almost entirely on primary Arabic sources.  While many Middle Eastern professors prioritize theory and polemic over fieldwork, Cigar’s practical experience in staff positions and in Iraq puts him head and shoulders above others who have tried to tackle the same subjects.

 He makes a solid case that the interplay between Al Qaida and the Sunni tribes illustrates both how local resentment of Al Qaeda can undercut the group’s effectiveness, but also how Al Qaeda has been able to learn from mistakes and adjust on the fly. Rather than simply react to Al Qaeda, Cigar shows how a nuanced U.S. policy can shape the terrorist group’s operational environment and make it harder for it to function.

 Al-Qaida, the Tribes, and the Government is not only informative, and the depth of Cigar’s research makes it a must-read for anyone interested in Iraqi studies. That Cigar writes well and the book is beautifully published with maps and high quality paper is an added bonus. Any serious policymaker or scholar’s library should include this work.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Rubin


  • Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy. Rubin instructs senior military officers deploying to the Middle East and Afghanistan on regional politics, and teaches classes regarding Iran, terrorism, and Arab politics on board deploying U.S. aircraft carriers. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, both pre- and post-war Iraq, and spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. His newest book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engagement examines a half century of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups.


    Follow Michael Rubin on Twitter.


  • Phone: 202-862-5851
    Email: mrubin@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Ahmad Majidyar
    Phone: 202-862-5845
    Email: ahmad.majidyar@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image The money in banking: Comparing salaries of bank and bank regulatory employees
image What Obama should say about China in Japan
image A key to college success: Involved dads
image China takes the fight to space
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.