The Islamic State group is employing multiple tactics to subdue the Sunni Muslim tribes in Syria and Iraq under its rule, wooing some with gifts – everything from cars to feed for their animals – while brutally suppressing those that resist with mass killings.
The result is that the extremists face little immediate threat of an uprising by the tribes, which are traditionally the most powerful social institution in the large areas of eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq controlled by the group. Any US drive to try to turn tribesmen against the militants, as the Americans did with Sunnis during the Iraq war, faces an uphill battle.
Some tribes in Syria and Iraq already oppose the Islamic State group. For example, the Shammar tribe, which spans the countries’ border, has fought alongside Kurdish forces against the extremists in Iraq.
Offering sweeteners In eastern Syria’s Deir el-Zour province, for example, the Ogeidat is one of the largest tribes. One of its major clans, the Bu Jamel, has been a staunch opponent of the extremists. Another, the Bakir, long ago allied itself to the group. IS operatives use threats or offers of money or fuel to win public pledges of loyalty from senior tribal sheikhs.