Parapundit is not hopeful that the US can succeed in making Iraq a modern democracy. He sees Arab social structure as a major obstacle. He links to a NY Times article by John Tierney that describes how intermarriage within clans imposes loyalties that transcend tribe, let alone country:

Iraqis frequently describe nepotism not as a civic problem but as a moral duty. The notion that Iraq’s next leader would put public service ahead of family obligations drew a smile from Iqbal’s uncle and father-in-law, Sheik Yousif Sayel, the patriarch in charge of the clan’s farm on the Tigris River south of Baghdad.

“In this country, whoever is in power will bring his relatives in from the village and give them important positions,” Sheik Yousif said, sitting in the garden surrounded by some of his 21 children and 83 grandchildren.

Next to the family, the sons’ social priority is the tribe, Sadah, which has several thousand members in the area and is led by Sheik Yousif. He and his children see their neighbors when praying at Sunni mosques, but none of them belong to the kind of civic groups or professional associations that are so common in America, the pillars of civil society that observers since de Tocqueville have been crediting for the promotion of democracy.

“I told my children not to participate in any outside groups or clubs,” Sheik Yousif said. “We don’t want distractions. We have a dynasty to preserve.” To demonstrate his point, he ordered his sons to unroll the family tree. It was on a scroll 70 feet long, with lots of cousins intertwined in the branches.

Cousin marriage was once the norm throughout the world, but it became taboo in Europe after a long campaign by the Roman Catholic Church. Theologians like St. Augustine and St. Thomas argued that the practice promoted family loyalties at the expense of universal love and social harmony. Eliminating it was seen as a way to reduce clan warfare and promote loyalty to larger social institutions — like the church.

The practice became rare in the West, especially after evidence emerged of genetic risks to offspring, but it has persisted in some places, notably the Middle East, which is exceptional because of both the high prevalence and the restrictive form it takes.

In other societies, a woman typically weds a cousin outside her social group, like a maternal cousin living in a clan led by a different patriarch. But in Iraq the ideal is for the woman to remain within the clan by marrying the son of her father’s brother, as Iqbal did.

The families resulting from these marriages have made nation-building a notoriously frustrating process in the Middle East, as King Faisal and T. E. Lawrence both complained after their effort to unite Arab tribes last century.

Saddam’s clan fought its way to the top of the heap in Iraq. Now that Saddam has gone, we see individual clans, tribes and sects fighting over the spoils. Add in de-stabilizing elements like Al Qaeda franchises and Iranian backed militias and you get a recipe for disaster.

All is not lost, however. Tierney does note that:

The more educated and urbanized Iraqis have become, Dr. Hassan said, the more they are likely to marry outsiders and adopt Western values. But the clan traditions have hardly disappeared in the cities, as is evident by the just-married cousins who parade Thursday evenings into the Babylon Hotel in Baghdad. Surveys in Baghdad and other Arab cities in the past two decades have found that close to half of marriages are between first or second cousins.

The key is education and urbanization. The leadership of Iraq will have to come from the urban elite if the country is not to descend into anarchy. The challenge is to give that elite time to establish control and start improving the lives of every Iraqi.

If the leadership fails, Iraq will fall into chaos. The US task is to ensure the leadership succeeds.

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