The aardvark, citing Arabic media:
Sitar Abu Risha, head of the Anbar Salvation Council, has allegedly fled Iraq with $75 million that the Americans had given him to fight al-Qaeda. The story links his flight to the near-collapse of the Anbar Salvation Council over infighting among its leadership (which jibes with recent reporting in the Washington Post). It claims that he simply never distributed the American cash to the fighters, who are now threatening to go on strike if they don't get paid. Seeing as how the Anbar Salvation Council has for months now been portrayed as the great American hope in the battle against al-Qaeda, if this story turns out to be true - a big if, given the shaky sourcing to this point - then it would be a rather embarrassing fiasco. "The Anbar model", indeed. I haven't seen this officially reported anywhere, and right now I have no way of checking its accuracy - but thought it worth passing on a juicy rumour just in case it turns out to be true.Comedy aside, The Anbar Model hasn’t been restricted to Iraq. One of the more interesting factors in recent conflicts is the re-emergence of tribes – the Dulaimi confederation in Iraq, the Hawiye in Somalia, the various Pashtun clans in Afghanistan – as major players and there seems to be an emerging military consensus that any kind of lasting victory involves working with and co-opting tribes.
There’s nothing new in that. It always formed part of the imperial expansion strategy of the British and others – arguably the main strategy in India during the John Company period. What it does do is point up the irony of an interlinked series of wars envisioned, amongst other things, as a forced modernization project in Islamic societies should increasingly rely on pre-modern forms of political and social organization.
That, too, has consequences. Pat Lang published a short paper on working with tribes back in April, mainly for the benefit of US troops in Anbar but meant to be applicable elsewhere. He wrote: (pdf)
Part of our (American) heritage is the notion that the past is dead and that the future leads onward and upward in a linear path in which we Americans are the model of future humanity. In order to work successfully with tribesman we have to abandon that idea or at least temporarily suppress it.
Such postmodernists, these retired Green Berets. He went on to give specific examples of tribal customs that people working with them should respect.
The kinds of cases in which ‘urf governs are things like; the shame induced in a family by the lack of chastity of a daughter. Tribesmen (and some town dwellers) will often feel so strongly dishonored by this that the girl’s brothers believe that they must kill her to erase the shame, and they often do. Another example would be a matter of the division of the profits from some tribal commercial transaction such as the sale of livestock. There is no sanction in Shariah law for either of these things any more than there is for the seclusion of women, but it is the customary law that determines what happens.
‘Urf here being the Arabic term for tribal customary law. OK, so you’re an idealistic junior officer convinced that the Middle East needs to be made safe for modernity if the Muslimonazi threat is to be finally thwarted. This quest leads you to some remote part of Iraq or Afghanistan where your job is to win the support of a local clan in the struggle. However, there’s a problem: someone’s daughter has been found out unsequestered on the street, and the boys are in the mood for a stoning. Given that the support of the tribe is essential for your mission, what do you do? Answers on a postcard to the authors of the Euston Manifesto.