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Tribe and State in a Nested Polity - Imagining Iraq, 1534 to the Present

Tribe and State in a Nested Polity - Imagining Iraq, 1534 to the Present

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Published by Michael A. Cole

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Published by: Michael A. Cole on Dec 16, 2009
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07/28/2010

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Tribe and State in a Nested Polity
Imagining Iraq, 1534 to the Present
Michael A. ColeGOVT 796
,
 Final Paper 
 
Prof. Peter Mandaville
 
March 2008
 
 
 Iraq can best be understood as a network of discrete polities arranged under a single state.The state has shallow roots in Iraq despite the country’s long history, but the country has never  been ungoverned by
 some
form of authority. The Islamic, Ottoman, and British Empires, theArab Sharifians, and Ba’athists have conceived of, and claimed to govern, “an Iraq” from abroador from Baghdad as a frontier between kingdoms (Persia, the Hejaz, and Ottoman Anatolia), acollection of provinces, a united kingdom, and a modern territorial-state, respectively. Much of the historical and political science literature on Iraq records its development as a unified politicalentity, whether autonomous or subject to another state, and therefore fails to capture much of thesubstance of life and politics in Iraq.
1
In fact, the critical political exchanges that impact Iraqis’lives are those between Baghdad (Iraq’s political center) and the local authorities whom Iraqisrecognize and trust. These creative, dynamic exchanges articulate the substance of various Iraqiidentities, define or deny Iraq’s state, and determine the contours of both state and tribe throughso that neither can be understood in isolation from the other. (This paper will focus on tribes, butcould also have profitably explored the relationship between the Iraqi state and clergy; state andleading families; or state and village councils). Beyond descriptions of competition among
1
Sluglett 141
 
various actors—rural and urban, indigenous and foreign, traditional and modern—the history of tribe-state interaction brings useful concepts to bear upon the question of a united Iraq – itsreality, desirability, solvency, and definition – and should inform policies pursued by the Iraqigovernment, as well as foreign governments engaged in Iraq, as they engage Iraq’s tribes in thefuture.Definition of a set of concepts – 
 polity
,
 state
,
nation
, and
tribe
 – lends clarity to each of Iraq’s component parts, as well as to the whole. A review of Iraq’s history informed by theseconcepts exposes the dynamic relationships among groups in the production of Iraqi identities.The ideologies, structures, and internal power-balance of the Iraqi tribes and the Iraqi state maychange with each era, but the “ideal constructs” of 
tribe
and
 state
remain consistent. Fergusonand Mansbach explain,Today, as in the past, a rich variety of polity types interact across global andregional issues. There is, moreover, great variety within each type – family,tribe, city, and so on. Each is merely an ideal construct, or model, whichmanifests itself in a range of forms in real-world polities during a particular time and also over time.
2
 Indeed, Iraq’s history bears out the consistent relevance of its central social groups and power relationships across distinct periods. These central concepts are closely intertwined: Whereas thestate, tribe and nation are each polities, the state and tribe are also potentially, but notnecessarily, nations. The faultlines that define Iraq’s political world develop where the Iraqistate and indigenous groups contend to either define or to deny the Iraqi nation.
2
Ferguson and Mansbach 37

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