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Tribal Identity, War, and the al AnbarSunni Awakening in Iraq

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Abstract

The beginning of the “Awakening” movement in al Anbar Province, Iraq, marked a shift in strategy for Sunni tribes. They turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and ultimately began working cooperatively with American forces in efforts to rid al Anbar of AQI. This paper includes a brief history of the Sunni tribes in al Anbar, explores the history of the Awakening, and argues that the position of Sunni tribal leaders before and during the Awakening was largely driven by threats to their identity. The paper uses identity and image theories to explore initial Sunni reactions to the fall of Saddam Hussein, their disappointment with American decisions, and their eventual support for AQI. We then turn our focus to the process of changing images and perceptions as the Sunni tribes turned against AQI and began cooperating with American forces. Data are drawn from documents, secondary sources, and interviews with Iraqi sheikhs and notables. Data are limited to three districts in al Anbar Province: al Qaim, Ramadi, and Fallujah.