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Tribe and State in Post-Ba`athist Iraq


In 2003, an erstwhile successful state apparatus - the security party-state of Ba`athist Iraq - collapsed as a result of the US-led Operation Iraqi Freedom. The breakdown of the state apparatus was then exacerbated by early occupational policy, which swept away the foundations of both the armed forces and the civil services. As a result, Iraq was faced with a condition of near-total anarchy, as US occupational institutions proved themselves unequal to replacing the state structures they had eliminated.

That governance vacuum enabled non-state coercive actors to compete for authority in the shadow of the US occupation. In much of the country, the result was protracted, multi-sided struggle, but in al Anbar tribal leaders were able to establish themselves as the supreme authorities, carving out a tribal quasi-state in the governorate.

This dissertation examines the process of state failure and the nature of politics in the absence of stable state structures, and in doing so concludes that the institutional configuration of the non-state coercive power competitors is the crucial deciding factor separating winners from losers. In al Anbar, it was two characteristics of the tribes - their hierarchical authority, forged out of long-term historical forces, and the more recent legacy of collusion with the Ba'athist state in the two decades prior to the US-led invasion. The central government in Iraq, like the proverbial stranger in the Alps, has been buffeted by blows from all directions, with unsure governance even in its core territories, while the tribes of western Iraq have only each other as significant rivals.

The paper concludes with thoughts on generalizing this framework beyond al Anbar to the other regions of Iraq, and to other failed states.

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