Insurgents in motion: Counterinsurgency and insurgency relocation in Iraq

Pui-hang Wong


Recent studies in general are positive regarding the eff ectiveness of US counterinsurgency programs in Iraq. The right mix of coercion, ethnic strategy, and public goods provision, it is argued, makes Iraqis less likely to rebel against the US army and the Iraqi government, thus reducing insurgent violence. In fact, the number of insurgent attacks dramatically declined shortly after the change in the counterinsurgency strategy in 2007. How robust is the positive finding? A common assumption behind previous analyses is that insurgent attacks have a strong local root and is unlikely to be reproduced in other areas. Violation of this spatial independence assumption, however, can potentially bias towards the positive result. Based on the novel spatial dynamic panel data (SDPD) model, my analysis shows that spatial dependence should be addressed and cannot be assumed away. Results based on the new model also reveal that, conditional upon other strategies, the effects of a counterinsurgency strategy vary considerably both in magnitude and direction, suggesting that some policy mixes could be counterproductive. Policy makers seeking to adopt similar strategies in Afghanistan should take the relocation into account in their policy evaluations.

Keywords: Counterinsurgency, Sons of Iraq, CERP, Troop Surge, insurgency, Iraq, spillover, spatial dependence, spatial dynamic panel data model, policy evaluation

JEL Classification: D74, F51, F52, H43, H56, O53

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