Honourable Mention: A Coalition of Negatives: The Case of the Sons of Iraq and the US in their Counterinsurgency Alliance

Nizar Mohamad


Following the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, American policy makers instituted a series of decisions that would later be deemed ‘strategic blunders’. Among such blunders, the policies imposed by Paul Bremer had the most corrosive implications on Iraqi society, creating a fragmented Iraqi state unable to inclusively govern and integrate its diverse ethnosectarian communities. This triggered massive unrest across the country’s fragile and insecure social and communal constituencies. With a civil war in full swing by 2004, American troops found themselves ill-equipped to deal with the multidimensional, multifront dynamics that erupted as a result of the spiralling conflict between Iraq’s major ethnosectarian communities, particularly the Sunnis and Shiites. By 2006, the US, increasingly frustrated by what has since been labelled the “Sunni Insurgency”, formed an alliance with Iraq’s Sunni tribes, many of which had originally participated in the armed resistance against the Americans, in order to acquire support in defeating Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and containing the insurgency. The tribal militias, known as the Sons of Iraq (SOI), became an integral component of the US counterinsurgency (COIN) policy in Iraq, helping to largely defeat AQI by 2009. This paper argues that the alliance between the US and the SOI constitutes a negative coalition, one where the actors involved essentially oppose the status quo but agree on little else.

This paper progresses in five main sections. The first section explains how the link between neoliberalization and de-Ba’athification under the Bremer administration resulted in a fractured Iraqi state incapable of providing inclusive governance to its ethnosectarian communities. The second section charts the development of the Sunni Insurgency as a negative coalition that encompassed a plurality of actors in opposition to the Iraqi state and the Americans. The third section discusses the cleavages that emerged between the Sunni tribes and AQI, which, in the fourth section, culminates in the creation of the SOI as a negative coalition between the Americans and the Sunni tribes against the jihadist group. The fifth section summarizes the successes of the SOI campaign and is followed by concluding comments.

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