IS media arm Amaq Agency released a video yesterday the 06 April 2016 allegedly showing a meeting taking place east of IS controlled Raqqa city with the Jubur, Maylat, and Afadilah Tribes, apparently hosted by the Bakkarah Tribe.
The IS flag can be seen in the background hanging from the tent wall in which the meeting is taking place.
- Images taken from IS video release by Amaq Agency (06 Apr 2016) – Meeting of the Jubur, Maylat, and Afadilah Tribes hosted by the Bakkarah Tribe in the Jazarah area of Raqqah’s Eastern Countryside:
It highlights the centuries old tribal structures within Syria and Iraq, powerful and influential groups with centuries old traditions that are able to mobilize large numbers of civilians and armed militias should a perceived need arise.
As highlighted in a publication from 2013 by The Jamestown Foundation:
‘Tribalism is the primary form of communal identity among Arab Sunnis across Syria, regardless of whether they live in rural or urban areas.’
‘Of particular concern in the context of Syria’s civil war is the possibility of an alliance, however temporary, between Syria’s Arab tribes and militant Salafist groups such as the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra (Victory Front).
In the north-eastern governorates of al-Raqqa, al-Hasakah and Deir al-Zor collectively referred to as al-Jazirah (bordering Turkey to the north and Iraq to the east), the majority Arab Sunni tribal population coexists uneasily with groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra that have a strong presence in the region.
A tribal shaykh of a major tribal confederation in the area asserted that, without international support, Syrian tribes would do what they had to do to protect their assets, including working with militant Salafist groups or even Iran.’
IS influence among tribes either within territory it controls or in surrounding areas remains important and key to their rapid expansion in 2013 and 2014.
As seen in many middle eastern countries, the tribal dynamic is complicated as allegiances are formed and switched to suit ever changing events, especially in times of conflict. With Iraq and Syria still in a state of war, the tribal influence is as important as ever.
Although allegiances with various tribes or clans is a source of strength to IS, it could also prove its achilles heal should events change on the ground sufficiently for allied tribes to be tempted away.
This however remains unlikely at least for now, particularly among majority Sunni Tribes given the large amounts of Shi’a militia’s fighting in alliance with Shi’a led governments in both Iraq and Syria.