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Al-Qaida, The Tribes, and The Government

Lessons and Prospects for Iraq's Unstable Triangle

Norman Cigar 

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 latter two entities often competing for the allegiance of the tribes.

Norman Cigar is director of regional studies and the Minerva Research Chair at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. Previously, he taught at the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College and the Marine Corps School of Advanced Warfighting. He has served as a senior analyst at the Pentagon, where he worked in the Office of the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence. He is the 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 has focused on jihadist thinking about unconventional war, and his recent publications include Al-Qa’ida’s Doctrine for Insurgency: ‘Abd Al- ’Aziz Al-Muqrin’s A Practical Course for Guerilla War (2008). He holds a DPhil from Oxford; a master of international affairs degree from the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University; and a master of science degree from the National Defense Intelligence College (formerly known as Joint Military Intelligence College).


Chapter 1: The Human Terrain: The Tribal Factor in Iraqi Society
Chapter 2: Al-Qaida Tackles the Tribes​
Chapter 3: Al-Qaida Alienates the Tribes

Chapter 4: Mobilizing the Tribes Against Al-Qaida
Chapter 5: The U.S. Strategy Matures and the Awakening Develops​

Chapter 6: The Shayks’ Positions Assured​

Chapter 7: The Tribal War Against Al-Qaida​

Chapter 8: The Tribal War Against Al-Qaida​

Chapter 9: Al-Qaida Adapts​

Chapter 10: The Tribes and the Iraqi Government: A Rocky Relationship 

Chapter 11: The Evolving Tribal Environment​

Chapter 12: Al-Qaida’s Own Carrot-and-Stick Approach

Contributors and Prospects


7 x 10
224 pages
PDF download

Marine Corps University