Melissa Sanders Giess
Iraqi Kurdistan in 2015 is polity quite unlike any other. Iraqi Kurdistan has come to be treated in policy making circles as a model for what is sometimes believed to be impossible: a highly tribal, multi-religious and multi ethnic society in the Middle East with sentiments of unity, a burgeoning economy, the makings of a democracy, increasing literacy and quality of life, and (perhaps most impressively) an effective internal security arrangement in the middle of a chaotic region. Yet recent events have cast doubts on the future of Kurdistan. The advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) during the summer of 2014 cast doubts upon the short-term viability of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), and the successes of the Kurdish Peshmerga militia versus ISIS have at best forestalled the question of the Kurdish Region’s security vis-à-vis outside forces. While the future of the Kurdish Region will certainly be determined by a number of factors, this paper seeks to focus on the role of tribalism in particular, seeking to better understand the relationship between tribal structures and heritage, the KRG’s major political parties, and the KRG. Ultimately, this paper argues that tribalism is alive and well in the Kurdish Region of Iraq. Kurdish society, including the elements which are non-tribal, is heavily influenced by tribal mores and structures. This influence includes a tendency for different sectors of society to mobilize in opposition to each other to create a sort of balancing effect. In the days of unrestricted tribal authority, this mobilization of support against another’s gains occurred through violent attacks, and this is still the case in much of the Middle East. In the modern Kurdish state competition along these lines has been normalized into a peaceful political process. The political parties of Iraqi Kurdistan are neo-tribal entities which follow this pattern of balanced opposition, but they are also full participants in a developing modern state’s institutions. This way of incorporating tribalism presents a possible new way forward for other societies influenced by tribalism.
Kennedy, Brian A., "The Shaikh’s Republic: The Kurdish Regional Government’s Incorporation of Tribalism" (2015). Politics Honors Papers. 3.