Tribes and the State in Libya and Iraq


Book by Alison Pargeter

(LCDHR) Director

An authoritative study of the enduring relevance of tribes in contemporary Iraq and Libya, investigating their complex relationships with state and society.


Regime change in Libya (2011) and Iraq (2003) catapulted a host of sub-state actors to the fore, including tribes, which have emerged as influential political, security and social actors. But despite this increased role and visibility, tribes remain poorly understood. Often mistakenly associated with the ‘periphery’ or with ‘pre-national’ or ‘pre-modern’ forms of political organisation, they are routinely portrayed as the antithesis of the state. Yet tribes—the Middle East’s oldest, most enduring and most controversial social entities—have proved able to adapt and evolve, entering into mutually beneficial relationships with various regimes.

Based on interviews with tribal sheikhs, tribal representatives and other stakeholders, Alison Pargeter traces the role of the tribe in Libya and Iraq from the revolutionary nationalist period into the fraught transitions that followed. She reveals how tribes have succeeded in developing a presence in national and local political structures; how they have engaged and bargained with major powerbrokers; and how they have become important security providers in their own right. Contrary to modernist approaches seeking to write the obituary of the tribe, this book shows how tribes have not only survived in Libya and Iraq, but remain a key component of the state in both countries.


‘This ambitious, compelling and comprehensive examination of the tribes of Libya and Iraq, by one of the most impressive scholars in Middle East Studies today, will almost certainly become the “classic” treatment of the subject.’ — Ronald Bruce St John, author of Historical Dictionary of Libya

‘Readable and thought-provoking. Pargeter has given us a thorough, perceptive, evidence-based analysis. Nothing is off-limits in this full-throated argument for why and when tribes matter, in strong states and weak ones, and in urban as well as rural settings.’ — Michael Knights, Jill and Jay Bernstein Fellow, The Washington Institute, and author of 25 Days to Aden: The Unknown Story of Arabian Elite Forces at War



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