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When the United States government decided to invade Iraq in response to 9/11, one of the most frequently cited arguments was that this step was crucial to ensure that the country would not turn into the haven for ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other terroristic organizations. Despite the fact that terrorist ideologies never gained much popularity in the country, the invasion still took place in March 2003, which brought about the complete opposite result: The number of terrorist groups within Iraq borders rose dramatically.
78 attacks followed immediately during the first year after the invasion and 302 were added to this number during the second year. In 2007, approximately 5,500 lives of the civilian population were claimed during the attacks. The presence of the American troops on the territory of the country was one of the major factors making young people join jihadi groups to struggle against the occupation. An Al Qaeda strategist, pen-named al Suri, claimed that the invasion was the key factor that led to the revival and reinforcement of the whole movement.
The major problem that Iraq has to solve now is how to stop terrorist groups born in the course of the conflict since most of them are resurgent. The most influential leaders started to build networks in Jordan, Libya, and Syria.
Thus, the cost of the situation created by the war is not limited to the number of lives lost in the country during this period and in the aftermath. Besides the spread of the movement to other countries, ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other organizations received an unprecedented opportunity to test their strategies and weapons against one of the best equipped and trained military forces across the globe. As a result, they managed to perfect their explosives and multiply them. Besides, growing tensions created favorable conditions for propaganda, which continues to thrive. Finally, a great number of veterans of the war left for new fronts, which threatens to foster global jihad.
Thus, in order to deal with the current problem, it is essential to investigate its root causes. Since the country never supported extremist ideologies, it means that the existing situation is rather alien to it and can still be altered. That is why the research hypothesis of the proposed study runs as follows: If the country manages to achieve a higher level of political stability, the number of terrorist organizations as well as their activity will considerably decrease. The second hypothesis is that the economic development of the country may also contribute to the solution of the problem.
In order to understand what factors led to the rise of terrorism in the country where it was never widespread, it is necessary to analyze both scientific literature (exploring the causes of terrorism and discussing existing theories, explaining the essence of it and suggesting strategies of counteraction) and newspaper/magazine articles related to the Iraq topic, which will allow forming the holistic picture of the problem.
In most general terms, terrorism in any country including Iraq pursues three major objectives: 1) to attract the attention of the global community; 2) to delegitimize the political structure of the country; 3) and to cause life losses and economic damage in order to instill fear. The ultimate goal of terrorist leaders is to redistribute wealth, power, and influence in the world. The root-causes approach is counteracted with the position that it is wrong to try to explain terrorism relying on commonly accepted notions, norms, and logic. The proponents of this view consider terrorism totally irrational.
As far as Iraq is concerned, scholars do not have a commonly shared opinion on the correlation between political, social, demographic, and economic factors that led to its sudden rapid spread. Some of the researchers claim that the war was not the primary cause and only acted as an aggravating factor. According to their opinion, the root evil is poor economic conditions, including poverty, lack of investment, hindered trade, unemployment, etc.
The explanation is rather clear and logical: Since the income of the population continues to be below average in non-violent context, this creates a delusion that one could earn more being involved in terrorist activities. That is why the perception of terrorism changes significantly in people’s eyes and starts to be viewed as an opportunity to protect the country from enemies.
Another argument supporting this approach is that the country was and is in the process of transition from the traditional to modernized society). As a result, a lot of people become unemployed owing to economic changes. Many citizens start to view such transformations as a challenge to the culture. This makes terrorist recruiting much easier. Besides, terrorists soon learned how to use the poverty factor in pushing forward their ideas as it leads to poor control, education, and governance.
The other group of scholars does not support the idea that terrorism is determined by sociopolitical or socioeconomic circumstances. This position is proven by the fact that most of the terrorist leaders have an exceptional education and high economic status. It means that terrorist organizations prefer people with higher education to uneducated ones, especially for the leading positions. Therefore, it is ordered to make conclusions about the dependence of Iraq terrorism on poverty, it is crucial to consider not the general prosperity or education level but the position of those who act as foot-soldiers. Most of the recruits during the war lived beyond the poverty line and had been earlier arrested for participating in the opposition.
Still, the majority of scholars believe that socioeconomic factors are far from being as influential as political determinants. Besides the invasion, terrorism is rooted in political transformation and a lack of institutional order. Yet, despite a number of inner political problems in the country, it is still evident that the war acted as the major triggering factor to the formation of terrorist groups.
Another one, often cited in order to explain the sudden popularity of terrorism in Iraq, is “contagion”. This implies that terrorism is able to spread randomly in occasion and space and its emergence cannot be predicted or prevented by the previous state of things. Although past experiences of terrorism are likely to increase the possibility of its reinforcement in the future, there is no guarantee that the previously non-terroristic attitudes will persist over time.
Furthermore, terrorism is believed to be contagious in terms of space. That explains why the jihadi movements started spreading so rapidly from Iraq to other countries. The cost of attacks is significantly lower when the distance between the countries with affiliated groups is small.
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Study Design and Methodology
In order to make the analysis more precise, I decided to limit the number of possible causes leading to the spread of terrorism in the post-war period in Iraq to the two major determinants: sociopolitical and socioeconomic factors.
The study will consider only one country, disregarding those that happened to be captured by the Iraq effect and found themselves in the interior ring of ISIS. The key reason for such exclusion is that the paper at hand is aimed to provide an in-depth case study that is initially focused on a single state within the limited time period following the American invasion.
For proving the research hypotheses, I will compare three time periods. The first will cover 2001 and 2002; the second–2003-2010; and the third–2011 up to the present moment. These times periods are to be juxtaposed to see the cause-effect relationships between the named factors and terrorism. 2001 is taken as a point of departure since it is the year of September 11, which drastically changed the course of Iraq history. 2003 marks the beginning of the war, whereas 2011 is connected with the establishment of the Obama Administration, which managed to considerably decrease the number of troops in the country.
The dependent variable used in the research is the level of terrorism, which is deduced by examining the number of attacks during the specified periods. For obtaining only unbiased, objective data, I will use the Global Terrorism Database (START) that provides reports on all attacks committed by ISIS, AQI, JTWJ, and other groups. I will need the statistical tables titled al-Qaida, Islamic State of Iraq, Tawhid, and Jihad.
The independent variables that are to be considered include the level of the country’s political stability and its rate of economic development (which implies that all other factors including geography, demography, religion, and culture are not included in the scope of the paper). This is done because the major goal of the research is to find out whether economic factors can be regarded as producing a considerable influence on the rise of terrorism as compared with powerful political driving forces.
In order to assess the level of economic development, I will look at GDP per capita and the HDI (Human Development Index), which allow measuring the level of poverty as one of the most demonstrative indicators of the economic level of the country. The World Bank is to be accessed to obtain international data.
The second variable, political stability, will be operationalized by investigating the stability of the regime. This means identifying whether the country is involved in a war or a civil war and if it is, during which years the peak was reached. Since the study is qualitative, a whole variety of sources can be used, including peer-reviewed journals, newspaper articles, reports, government documents, etc.
The implication of the Study
The results of the research are supposed to provide a clear demonstration of the influence of the United States invasion into Iraq on the spread of terrorism as compared to the impact produced by socioeconomic factors such as poverty and the level of education. The results are essential to obtain since they will make it possible to develop a comprehensive strategy to tackle terrorist ideologies. On the one hand, it is possible that the most effective method to do it is to achieve a higher level of political stability by restraining from both military conflicts.
On the other hand, the state of art may improve if the country shifts the focus of attention to economic development and stabilization with the purpose to improve the standards of living of its population. Further actions of the government are still unclear and the policy may be changed if the effectiveness of one of the methods will be grounded in substantial evidence.
Gardner, Hall. American Global Strategy and the ‘War on Terrorism’. London: Routledge, 2017.
Hiro, Dilip. War without End: The Rise of Islamist Terrorism and Global Response. London: Routledge, 2014.
Pauly, Robert J. Strategic Preemption: US Foreign Policy and the Second Iraq War. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis, 2017.
Renshon, Stanley A., and Peter Suedfeld. Understanding the Bush Doctrine: Psychology and Strategy in an Age of Terrorism. London: Routledge, 2013.
Schwartz, Michael. War without end: The Iraq War in Context. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016.