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The Sons of Iraq – a Step towards Stratified Democracy?

The level of violence in Iraq has decreased to the point where troop withdrawals by both the British and the Americans are once again being discussed seriously. Iraq and the United States have reportedly set a preliminary timetable to start withdrawing American forces from Iraqi cities from next June, according to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari last week after his meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

The Zebari-Rice agreement would link troop reductions to the achievement of certain security milestones. But, given how cautious President George W Bush has been to committing to a timetable for American withdrawal, for his Secretary of State to agree to one at all is an indicator of how much better things have become.

And, of course, a few weeks before, Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a statement to Parliament announcing the intention to further reduce British troops in 2009.

Who would have thought it a year ago? So, what’s changed the battleground so much in the past 14 months?

Partly the much vaunted ‘surge’ of American troops in Baghdad, while merely displacing many insurgents to other parts of the country, did create short-term some of the essentials for peace at least in parts of the capitol – short-lived windows of opportunity, some of which do seem to have been used.

Partly it’s the training and arming of the Iraqi military and police who have experienced success in a number of operations against the insurgents. As they have grown in confidence and expertise, so the Coalition forces have dropped back from true joint operations to becoming more background support.

This, of course, has emboldened Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki who is celebrating any and every victory of the Iraqi security forces and now pushing for the Americans to leave. Recent government successes in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul seem to have convinced Maliki’s inner circle that Iraq’s army does not need American help as much as it used to.

However, a key factor in the calming of Iraq has been the so-called ‘Sons of Iraq ’– men paid $300 a day by the Americans to keep the peace in their area and to inform on anti-American insurgents and al-Qaeda personnel. The Americans provide (very) basic training – but no weapons – and they are only allowed to take defensive action for and within their own area. Most of these vigilantes are armed – indeed many are former insurgents changed sides – and there have been reports of offensive actions, brutality and reprisal atrocities. Hardly surprising, given the blood feuds and tribal and religious enmities in Iraq! Yet, by and large, the Sons have had a positive and calming effect, first helping the Americans and Iraqi combat forces clear out al-Qaeda fighters and then keeping them, other insurgents and criminal gangs out of their districts. And in some areas – such as Risala – the Sons have got involved in the infrastructure repair first the Coalition Provisional Authority and then Maliki’s government have often failed to provide, organising rubbish pick-ups, rebuilding schools and installing street power generators.

There are now reported to be over 100,000 Sons of Iraq on American pay. Approximately 80% are Sunni and 20% Shi’ite. General David H Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq, has told Congress that the rise of the Sons has reduced American casualties, increased security and even saved American taxpayers money – “The savings and vehicles not lost because of reduced violence far outweighed the costs of their monthly contracts.”

Yet Senator Joe Biden (installed this week as Barack Obama’s running mate) is just one prominent American politician who has raised concerns that, by facilitating the Sons, the United States is perhaps unwittingly creating an alternate army to the official one and one inherently weighted against Maliki’s Shi’ite-dominated government.

For Maliki the Sons are a real problem. Not only is his government running slow on the agreement to absorb around 25% of the Sons into the Iraqi security forces but Sons leaders are now being targeted for arrest and the government is working openly on strategies either to disarm the Sons or drive them away. There seems little intention to pick up American projects aimed at developing vocational skills and employment prospects amongst the 75% of the Sons who never had any chance of going into Iraq’s police or official army.

Iraq is a patchwork of PURPLE and RED
As much as the Americans had a plan for Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, it seems to have been little more than to somehow magically impose the one person/one (secret) vote Western model of Democracy.

This was supposed to somehow magically turn Iraqis into a democracy-loving neo-modern people.

After several false starts and an awful lot of casualties, the ‘democracy plan’ has given Iraq a government of mainly Shi’ites, with a Kurdish rump who can barely be bothered to disguise their longer-term intention of creating a separate Kurdistan carved partly from Northern Iraq and partly from Eastern Turkey. All efforts to bring the Sunnis into the government have failed. There have been many more casualties and even the Shi’ites are split into several different rival factions, with most notably a very tense truce only just holding between Maliki’s government forces and the southern militia of Muqtada al-Sadr.

Those who know Spiral Dynamics co-developer Don Beck’s (2002) concept of Stratified Democracy will not be surprised that the ‘democracy plan’ has not worked. The ‘democracy plan’ was very much the product of BLUE thinking – there is one way to create representative government of a people: the one person/one (secret) vote Western model. Stratified Democracy proposes that there are several different ways of creating representative government, each related to the cultural mindset of the people requiring government.

Saddam Hussein’s RED vMEME ran Iraq like his personal fiefdom. It is probably the closest recent times have seen to an approximation of a medieval kingdom. Saddam was the king; the generals were his scheming lords; and the lords ‘lorded it’ over the serfs (the ordinary people). And just like in Medieval England, the King’s structure favoured Normans over Saxons, so Saddam’s structure favoured Sunnis over Shi’ites (and Kurds).

And, just like parts of the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia, when the governing repressive BLUE or, in Saddam’s case, RED-BLUE structure is removed, what emerges is PURPLE tribalism. The mindset of the repressed peoples does not usually jump up the Spiral to BLUE or even ORANGE as one person/one (secret) vote democracy requires but settles down into natural PURPLE with the RED of some individuals driving them to become the new local leaders. They lead the tribe initially in the interests of the tribe – though as their power grows, their RED may well lead them into personal aggrandisement.

Thus, Iraq has become a patchwork of tribes led all too often by those with a nose for power.

In 4Q/8L terms what we have is a form of government (Lower Right) that matches the mindset of the people (Lower Left) with the thinking of the individuals who become leaders (Upper Left) just far enough ahead in complexity to manipulate that government.

The story of the Sons of Iraq illustrates these points rather well.

In the 2-3 years following the invasion Sunni tribesmen allied themselves with al-Qaeda in a bid both to drive out the invaders from their land – territory is very important to the PURPLE vMEME – and to prevent the Shi’ite majority from gaining the upper hand in the government of the country.

What has come to be known as Sahwa – the ‘Awakening’ – began in Anbar in late Summer 2006 when the tribal sheikh Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha broke his ties with al-Qaeda and approached the American military with the offer to turn his guns away from the Americans and onto al-Qaeda. (Some accounts have the first breaks with al-Qaeda occurring in late 2005.)

Risha’s motivation was not to embrace the Western model of democracy but to drive out al-Qaeda whose extreme religious zealotry and brutality in the pursuit of their war was increasingly alienating and disgusting their more moderate Sunni allies.

There were also disputes over who controlled what trade and territory – remember how important the land is to the PURPLE mindset! But perhaps even more unsettling for Risha and other Sunni leaders was the flagrant disregard of al-Qaeda for their traditions. According to David Kilcullen, a counter-terrorism expert and sometime advisor to General Petraeus, a key al-Qaeda strategy for embedding themselves into local communities in Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan was to marry senior operatives to local brides. Among Iraq’s Sunnis it was simply not their tradition to marry their women “to strangers, let alone foreigners”.

Although Risha was assassinated by al-Qaeda in September 2007, Sahwa continued to spread throughout Sunni areas, facilitated by the American military. According to Washington Post staff writer Greg Bruno: “In nearly every case, local security forces were created from the ground up, with sheikhs, tribal leaders, and other power brokers entering into security contracts with coalition forces.”

While few other than Bush and Maliki have been so brave/foolish as to say al-Qaeda is beaten in Iraq, the turning of so many Sunnis from insurgents into American allies has most definitely led to major successes in Iraq.

The question now, for observers and policy-makers alike, is where do the Americans, the Sons of Iraq and Maliki’s government go from here?

Avoiding tribal warfare in Iraq
Walt Rostow (1960), founder of Modernisation Theory, saw traditionalism (PURPLE tribalism) as the greatest hindrance to developing Western-style consumer societies (the product of BLUE-ORANGE workings) in Third World Countries. Those who chose to ‘democratise’ Iraq should have taken note of Rostow and other sociologists like Talcott Parsons (1964) who saw the need for major shifts in values if traditional societies were to be modernised.

Apparently there were those in the Pentagon in 2003 who wished to engage with Iraq at a tribal level. It’s a pity their voices didn’t prevail. Thousands upon thousands of lives might not have been wasted and ruined!

An American infantry officer interviewed by the BBC this week conceded that districts under the control of the Sons of Iraq were effectively run as if by mafia-type gangs.

The approach of Stratified Democracy is to deal with whatever form of government works best for the mindset of the populace. If the men of the tribe are happy to live and sometimes die by the autocratic orders of their sheiks, then that works for them at this time. In these life conditions, as Don Beck might say.

Trying to impose Western-style democracy is pointless. All that has done in Iraq is to put in charge of a would-be monolithic structure a tribal leader, Nuri al-Maliki, whose RED and PURPLE look first and foremost for the interests of those Shia tribes loyal to him. It is unlikely Maliki can bring a peace to Iraq which benefits all its many tribes

The Americans clearly want out of the fighting in Iraq – although, equally clearly, they have a strong interest in the oil there; and there is also much speculation that they would like permanent military bases there. (Ready to take on the Iranians, if need be, presumably…?)

The danger is that, by the Americans withdrawing as an intercessionary force  and leaving Maliki in power, already starting to pursue overt anti-Sons of Iraq/implicit anti-Sunni strategies, Iraq will be spiral down into large-scale religious and tribal warfare.

Those who would bring peace to Iraq need to deal with the tribal leaders as they are – often autocrats – and find the common ground between them. Maliki is, effectively, not a prime minister of a unitary and united country but one of the more powerful tribal leaders and needs to be treated as one – without, if this is possible, him losing too much face. (RED won’t be shamed!)

The in-group/out-group functioning of PURPLE is vulnerable to super-identities being created. For example, sparring ‘Yorkshiremen’ and ‘Lancastrians’ will respond to the call to be ‘Englishmen’. ‘English’ and ‘Scottish’ – at least in the past! – have responded to the call to be ‘Britons’. A number of people across Europe now see themselves as ‘Europeans’. The lower-down identities are still there and can be aroused – often with highly-negative consequences – if the super-identity breaks down. (Viz: Yugoslavia.) But the successful creation of a super-identity can unite lower-down identities – though the super-identity often requires a substantial amount of maintenance.

Iraq, if it is to avoid tribal warfare, needs its super-identity rebuilt (for a uniting PURPLE) while the interests of the RED-driven leaders need to be aligned as far as possible.

Interestingly the Sons of Iraq might offer some possibilities here. First, the name refers to the geopolitical entity of Iraq – something all the tribes (at least the Sunni and Shia tribes!) can relate to. Secondly, there are 20,000+ Shi’ites among their number. How did they get there, sharing an identity and a cause with over 80,000 Sunnis? Granted the Sons of Iraq is actually an umbrella name for a number of diverse and independent groups – but does the concept offer some possibilities for bringing Stratified Democracy to Iraq?

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