Iraq: Tribal Structure, Social, and Political Activities Page: 1 of 6
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Order Code RS22626
Updated April 7, 2008
~.CRS Report for Congress
Iraq: Tribal Structure, Social, and
Hussein D. Hassan
Information Research Specialist
Knowledge Services Group
For centuries the social and political organization of many Iraqi Arabs has centered
on the tribe. Socially, tribes were divided into related sub-tribes, which further divided
into clans, and then into extended families. Seventy-five percent of Iraq's estimated 26
million people are a member of a tribe. They are more strongly bound by these tribal
ties and a strict honor code than by ethnic background or religion. This report describes
the political orientation of several Iraqi Arab tribes, including the Shammar, Dulaym,
and Jibur tribes. This report will be updated as warranted. For further information on
Iraq and U.S. policy, see CRS Report RL31339, Iraq: Post-Saddam Governance and
Security, by Kenneth Katzman.
Iraq is home to approximately 150 tribes that are composed of about 2,000 smaller
clans, with varying sizes and influence. The largest tribe numbers more than one million
people; the smallest a few thousand.1 Seventy-five percent of the total Iraqi population
are members of a tribe or have kinship to one.2 Scholars believe that, despite the
country's many political divides, including religion, ethnicity, and region, one of the least
understood is the country's tribalism. Iraq has thousands of tribal groups to which various
people pledge their loyalty, ranging from extended family clans that may number just
several hundred people to broad confederations of clans that claim the loyalty of a million
or more. Some experts argue that concern for family and clan, factionalism, and intense
individualism - that does not easily tolerate interference from central authority - are
among the legacies of tribalism in Iraq.3
1 Neil MacFarquhar, "Unpredictable force awaits U.S. in Iraq Storied tribes of the Middle East
Devout, armed and nationalistic," International Herald Tribune, January 7, 2003. p. 2.
3 "The historical importance of the tribes of Iraq can scarcely be exaggerated. In 1933, a year
after Iraqi independence, it was estimated that there were 100,000 rifles in tribal hands, and
15,000 in the possession of the government. The settled village community with its attachment
to the land -the backbone of social structure throughout most of the Middle East -has been
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Iraq: Tribal Structure, Social, and Political Activities, report, April 7, 2008; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc807312/m1/1/: accessed March 22, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.