2007 November 07 Wednesday
US Tactic In Iraq: Bribery

You've heard how the Sunnis in the west of Iraq became tired of the foreign fighters who were brutalizing them and therefore the Sunnis turned against the fighters who claim membership in Al Qaeda and embraced an alliance with US forces. Well, maybe there is something to that story. But the Christian Science Monitor reports on an entirely different reason for the big change in the Sunni Triangle: Bribery to rent tribal loyalties in Anbar province. (and what happens when the rent stops?)

TIKRIT, Iraq - Inside a stately guesthouse on the grounds of Saddam Hussein's palace in Tikrit on the banks of the Tigris, sheikh Sabah al-Hassani jokes that the initials "SH" of the former dictator etched on the walls are his.

"I have a weakness for Cuban cigars, French cologne, and Spanish-made loafers," he says with a wide grin.

Since June, Mr. Hassani, who claims to be one of the princes of the legendary Shammar tribe, which numbers nearly 7 million across the Arab world, says he has received at least $100,000 in cash and numerous perks from the US military and the Iraqi government.

With his help, at least $1 million has also been distributed to other tribal sheikhs who have joined his Salahaddin Province "support council," according to US officers. Together, they have assembled an armed force of about 3,000 tribesmen dubbed the "sahwa [awakening] folks."

This is not a tale of the triumphal march of democracy. But it is a tale of how humans respond to incentives. The tribal chiefs were given both carrots and sticks by both sides. The insurgents who threatened and killed tribal sheikhs helped to create the conditions that made American bribery so productive.

Al-Qaida in Iraq insurgents took advantage of the upheaval, Allen said, initially portraying themselves falsely as “liberators,” but rapidly showed their true intentions not long after, declaring Anbar to be the starting point for their vision of an “Islamic State of Iraq.”

When their extremist views were rejected by Anbar’s tribes, al-Qaida in Iraq began a campaign of murder and intimidation, Allen said, targeting traditional “anchor points” including influential tribal sheikhs, doctors and teachers, as well as roads, bridges and other key infrastructure.

Can the US repeat this bribery process with the Shias? I think the bribery teams will face tougher sledding in Shia areas for a few reasons. First off, there are a lot more Shias to bribe. Second, some of the Shia insurgencies are bound at the hip to political parties with real power. The Shia insurgents aren't outsiders so much as tools of governing factions. The Shias can't be split away from the insurgents as easily. Plus, the Shias are getting a lot more of the oil revenue and powerful Shias are more likely to be wealthy Shias. So I'm thinking the bribery tool isn't going to be as successful outside of the Sunni areas.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 November 07 07:16 PM  MidEast Iraq New Regime Failures

tommy said at November 7, 2007 8:02 PM:

Well, finally we're learning something from the old British colonials about how to deal with tribes in the Third World. This won't get these people any closer to democracy, of course.

black sea said at November 8, 2007 3:47 AM:

I realize this is not an original observation, but are we not, by cutting deals with Iraqi tribes in exchange for cooperation, or at least for foregoing overt hostilities, replicating the much-condemned approach of our crumbling ally Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan? The Musharraf government's agreements with the tribes of Waziristan excite the condemnation of those neocon warhorses who dismiss anyone not 100% committed to combatting the Islamist upsurge. Their plan of action seems to be to pressure governments around the Middle East to slaughter large masses of heir own citizenry, until the remaining few survivors wake up, smell the coffee, and embrace a Constitutional democracy that allows them to vote once every four years in exchange for obedient compliance.

And so far, this is working?

Our foreign policy "experts" are cutting deals and dispensing bribes to Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish tribes because they oh-so-slowly figured out that these people actually ARE the government in Iraq. As the above commenter pointed out, buying off the locals is an old and time-honored practice. It doesn't promise much in the way of longevity, but for now, or until early 200
09 . . .

Anyway, evidently it's something that we, as liberators, are entitled to do, but God forbid that the region's own governments should descend to such corrupt practices, even as the blessings of liberty are so easily within their reach.

We call this delusion a "foreign policy."

Kenelm Digby said at November 9, 2007 3:44 AM:

This is not a new policy - it is as old as the history of mankind itself.
Didn't the Romans have to pay huge subsidies to the Goths and Parthians (which bankrupted their treasury and lead to hyper inflation), and The Anglo-Saxon English paid a very substantial tax to 'buy peace' to the Vikings called 'Danegeld' - literally Dane's Gold or money.

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