The End

If I had to summarize my research in about 3 paragraphs, it would look something like this:

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I initially began my researching under the topic of tribe-state relations in Iraq from 1990 to 2006, but after pouring over the [surprisingly] extensive literature on the subject I decided that I wanted to focus on an aspect of Iraqi tribalism that received less coverage. After reading several memoirs of the current Iraqi war by American officers I found myself intrigued by the Anbar Awakening, the name given to a loosely unified movement of tribes in the western al-Anbar province of Iraq against Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The Awakening began in Anbar in 2005 but didn’t fully mature till 2006, and started paying significant security dividends by 2007. This movement, combined with the Surge Strategy, had a significant impact on improving Iraq’s security.

I pursued this topic further and found a number of articles, many of them dating from 2007 or early 2008, that describe the Awakening, its origins, and the security it brought to Anbar and later to other areas of Iraq. However these articles did not cover developments in Anbar over the last three years in significant detail, something that struck me as a gap in the literature. After reading two volumes published by the Marine Corps containing dozens of interviews with Anbari sheikhs, clerics, security officials, and American military personnel involved in the Awakening I decided to write my paper on the state of security and governance in Anbar from 2007 to the present.

I found that the the security gains of the Awakening have largely endured and do not appear likely to erode significantly in the near term. Al-Qaeda was generally flushed out of al-Anbar and most residents, while not enthused over the current political deadlock and corrupion, do not want to see a return to that kind of bloodshed and chaos. The extent to which local tribal security forces in Anbar have integrated into the national military and security apparatus is partial, leaving most Anbari tribesmen who helped destory Al-Qaeda unsatisfied. The reasons behind this are mainly political, as the Shi’a dominated government in Baghdad is wary of sharing that kind of power with the overwhelmingly Sunni tribes. Lastly and most importantly, I found that the state of governance in Anbar over the past three years has been poor. The tribal leadership that helped eliminate Al-Qaeda have proved less lethal than the insurgents but have had significant challenges in creating and maintaining the kinds of institutions that lead to enduring victory in a counterinsurgency effort. I conclude by observing the difficulties of building institutions in a tribal environment, and suggest that counterinsurgency efforts are challenging to carry out because so much of their efficacy is based on underlying social conditions over which commanders and strategists have little control.

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It’s a good overview of what I learned and the trajectory that my research took over the course of the summer, but it doesn’t necessarily encapsulate what I learned about how research is done.

I learned, first of all, that genuinely original research of a high caliber is very difficult to do. Absorbing massive ammounts of information on a given topic may be trying or tiring but it’s generally straightforward. Read. Absorb. Learn. But trying to synthesize it in a meaningful way that is both organized and, critically, innovative is a real challenge. I’m sure I was aware of this somewhat abstractly before I started, but there’s no teacher like experience.

I learned that much of my research is spent re-writing and re-organizing my thoughts, ideas, and arguments into better, sleeker, more relevant forms. Eventually there comes a point where you need to stop and just chose a framework and go with it, but until you reach that point it may feel like putting together a puzzle and not having the picture come out just right.

And sometimes the picture wont always come out the way you want to, even after multiple tries. I had something of this experience, and eventually settled with a framework that I was generally satisfied with, but was somewhat different than what I had anticipated in the beginning. I think my research helps cover an area of scholarship that has not received much scrutiny, but it’s not the Be-All-End-All Compendium of All Knowledge about Iraqi Tribes and their Honorable and Glorious Histories.

And that’s alright. I learned an awful lot about my research and even – seriously – about myself. At the risk of making the Charles Center Gods raises their eyebrows I must admit that I discovered that I do not want to do research and analysis for the rest of my life. Nothing against it; it’s quite valuable and important, and I’m not bad at it, but I discovered, in the many hours of solitude at Swem or at my desk, that there are other, less academic qualities that I want to focus on.

That being said, I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to have this experience, to learn about Iraq, her tribes, the Al-Anbar Awakening, and the promise and perils of Counterinsurgency. It’s been a great summer, and I want to express my gratitude for the sheer opportunity of it all.

~Mike