Tribes and Terror: The Impact of Tribalism on (Counter) Terrorism in Iraq

Primary author: Mohammad Ghaedi
Faculty sponsor: Martha Cottam

Primary college/unit: Arts and Sciences
Campus: Pullman


Most terrorist organizations are created and grow in tribal countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. From the literature in social psychology, we know that groups impact individuals’ behavior, therefore, tribes, as critical groups in the region, might influence their members’ participation in (counter) terrorism. What is the relationship between tribes and terrorism in Iraq? The literature of terrorism has covered various ideational, institutional, and individual variables. But there is a gap regarding tribes. This research attempts to fill this gap. It hypothesized that, in Iraq, given tribal social identity, tribal values (such as sharaf, manhood, and bravery), tribal cohesion (asabiah), tribal conformity, obedience from tribe leaders (sheikhs), and tribe members’ perception of positive response (like support) or negative response (like ostracism) to conformity and obedience, tribe members are likely to participate in (counter) terrorism. To test the hypotheses, 26 in-depth interviews, with tribesmen in the south of Iran and Iraq, were conducted. This study found that Iraqi tribesmen are likely to participate in (counter) terrorism upon their tribes’ demand. This study is important because it is exploratory and theory building, and also contains policy implications for practitioners and policymakers in deterring terrorism. In the future, this theory should be tested by quantitative data. Also, data should be collected from other tribal countries, like Afghanistan, to examine the theory’s capacity to travel to other places.