Bargaining, fear, and denial: Explaining violence against civilians in Iraq 2004-2007

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


From mid-2004 to mid-2007, the Iraq war was distinguished from other comparable insurgencies by its high rates of civilian victimization. This has been attributed to a number of different factors, including the role of Islamic fundamentalist groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq as well as the regional ambitions of Iran and Syria. Using an unpublished dataset of violence in Iraq from 2003-2008 from the Iraq Body Count (IBC), this paper argues that the violence against civilians is best understood as a combination of three interacting logicsbargaining, fear, and denialthat are predominantly local in character. First, armed Iraqi actors bargained through violence both across and within sectarian communities, and were driven by mechanisms of outbidding and outflanking to escalate their attacks on civilians. Second, the pervasive fear about the future of the Iraqi state encouraged the localization of violence in Iraq, particularly in the emergence of a security dilemma and the proliferation of criminal and tribal actors. Finally, Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq played the spoiler in Iraq, using mass-casualty attacks to generate fear among the population and deny U.S. efforts to build a functioning state. Only by addressing each of these three logics as part of its counter-insurgency strategy can the U.S. put an end to violence against civilians and develop the Iraqi state into a credible competitor for the loyalties of the population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)261-287
Number of pages27
JournalTerrorism and Political Violence
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Safety Research
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • Violence Iraq terrorism bargaining


Dive into the research topics of 'Bargaining, fear, and denial: Explaining violence against civilians in Iraq 2004-2007'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this