The New York Times features a story on the new use of warlords aka tribal chiefs and their newly deputized tribal militias. The
The old/new strategy (Mark Kukis profiled the same sheik in a Dec 26, 2006 piece for Time) and even Salon had a 2003 piece on the CIA program to win over tribal allegiances simply empowers the basic building block of the Arab world: The Tribe. A concept that goes back to Alexander, was used by Lawrence of Arabia, Saddam Hussein, the CIA in the 90's and now its seems, the military. While much of the focus in Baghdad has been on the Shia/Sunni axis out in Al Anbar province the tribal structure is not only strong but the key power structure. Around 75% of Iraqis claim membership to one of the 150 tribes in Iraq. Under Saddam's socialist programs, tribalism was discouraged but still a key factor in his retaining power. More importantly tribal connections extend beyond Iraq's borders, beyond Syria, Jordan, Saudia Arabia and even into global diaspora and support mechanisms.
Edward Wong;s story details the story of 35 year old Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi from Ramadi. A man who has asked the United States military for the weapons, vehicles, money and support to battle the forces of more militant Sunni tribes.
Sheik Abdul Sattar is a gun for hire. He has been paid significant money by the government to battle the anti government forces. He is part of a quasi political movement called the Anbar Salvation Council, a group of of 25 tribes. The Shiek's motives are easy to define. His father was killed his brothers kidnapped and numerous attempts against his life has simply given him no other option. He has provided about 300 men to bolster Iraqi police recruiting efforts.
In addition Mahmoud al-Fahdawi, head of Dulaimis in Tarmiya, Dhaloiya, Balad and Taji has thrown in with the U.S. to fight against Sunni insurgents. The Emergency Response Units (ERU)are viewed as mercenaries by some. Paid by the U.S. military often using duffle bugs of dinars. In addition to cash they get new Ford F350 pickup trucks, fuel, AK-47 machine guns, ammunition, body armor, zip ties and cell phones. Mundane items like food, water, and sleeping materials are given to the hired guns. "The Awakening" (Sahawat Al Anbar) is a classic counterinsurgency tactic used in many wars. The impetus began last June when a small group of disenfranchised tribal leaders met to form an alliance. At that time only three of 21 tribes in Anbar Province were willing to work with U.S. forces. A dozen were openly hostile and six insisted they were neutral. As of February the U.S. says that they now have 12 tribes in al Anbar working with them and only 3 hostile. The military even insisted that 80% of IEDs are discovered before detonation. The Sheik and his alliance have been condemned as "a group of criminals and thugs.” by the Sunni resistance. The question, as always, is one of blowback. When the U.S. pours money and support into certain tribal structures, what will be the effect after the money stops flowing?