Desert Sunrise


My name is Michael Cohen and I’m both happy and honored to have the opportunity to conduct some summer research courtesy of the Charles Center and Mr. Tang, who have funded my summer project on “Tribe-State Relations in Iraq from 1991 – 2006.”


A bit about myself: I’m a rising senior at the College of William and Mary where I study Government and Middle Eastern Studies. I’m writing this from Jordan where I’m currently wrapping up a study abroad experience in Amman that’s helped me improve my Arabic significantly and learn more first-hand about Arabic culture.

Purpose of the Blog

As for the blog itself, its purpose is several-fold, and will update you on my research, help me to crystallize and articulate my own progress and thoughts, and also serve as a window on the process of summer research. It is intended to be a window into my thought-process and the various levels of research and writing, brain-storming and writers block, thinking and meditating that comprise research.


I chose my topic partially for its relevance given American interests in Iraq and the tribal realities of many Middle Eastern states and societies (Yemen, Jordan and Morocco come to mind) but more because I believe that tribe-state relations is a helpful and often under-appreciated way of looking at Arabic politics and society. There is a small but growing literature that deals with tribe-state relations in the Arab world, and I hope that my research can help contribute to the field.


I will be reading from a variety of fields to get multiple perspectives on my topic; anthropology, politics, and works of social science. I will also be reading the literature about the Iraq war written by journalists and US soldiers as well as blogs and news articles written by Iraqis.

Questions and Goals

If research can be thought of as a series of questions and answers, then I intend to come up with some intelligent, evidenced responses to the following questions:

1. What is tribalism?

2. Why is tribalism still prevalent in modern and contemporary Iraq?

3. To what extent did tribalism constitute Iraqi civil society from 1991-2006?

4. What role did Iraqi tribes play in the US Surge Strategy and the Sunni Awakening?

5. Broadly speaking, how do tribe and state relate to each other in Iraq? (That is, what is an appropriate set of criteria by which to evaluate tribe-state relations?)

a. What are the structures of tribe and state?

b. How does each define its interests?

c. How does each act upon its interests?

d. How do (a)-(c) affect interactions between the two?

I have answers or partial answers to some of these questions, but the hardest one by far will be #5, which is really at the heart of my paper. I will not settle for a hodgepodge of interesting, unconnected facts or for a glorified book report, but intend to write a full-blown, serious, and rigorously argued paper. This will be a work of a caliber beyond anything I’ve done before and will require a significant degree of focus, discipline, and creativity. It won’t be easy, but I believe I’m up for the task, and can’t wait to get started.



PS My next blog will be a crash course on tribalism.


  1. Morrison Mast says:

    Sounds like some very rigorous and demanding work! Looking forward to a crash course in tribalism, either in person or via CCSR blog.