The Mobilization of Grievances. An Alternative Narrative for Understanding Sunni Militancy

Master's Thesis, 2015

53 Pages

Free online reading


There is a virtual consensus among commentators that the post-2003 Sunni insurgency in Iraq has been driven by political exclusion and grievance. This grievance narrative features prominently in the commentary put forth by journalists, academics and politicians. It is the aim of this research to look beyond the grievance narrative. In doing so, this project uses the political process model as its conceptual lens. This better explains (1) the timing of particular outbursts of Sunni violence, (2) why militants are more or less successful at various times, (3) the organisational forms and practices of the insurgency and (4) the key allies ISIS has in assisting the insurgency. Two case studies are employed to demonstrate this. The first considers the culturally encoded factors informing the political violence in Iraq. This follows that a network based insurgency (NBI) better explains how insurgents orchestrate episodes of political violence. Second, the changing political and security landscape in neighbouring Syria has increased insurgents' ability to mobilize their grievances vis-a-vis the Iraqi government. The research finds that these two case studies offer an alternative perspective on the insurgency in Iraq. This further nuances the insurgency and unpacks how the ISIS led insurgency has mobilized.



ii) Preface ... 5

Introduction ... 6

1. Grievance: the conventional wisdom narrative (CWN) ... 10

Introduction ... 10

De-ba'athification ... 11

Counterterrorism law (CTL) ... 13

Awakening councils & tribes ... 15

2. Literature Review ... 18

The classical approach ... 18

Resource Mobilization ... 19

Political process model ... 20

Political opportunity structure (POS) ... 21

Political dynamics and contentious politics ... 23

Islamic activism and SMT in Islamic context ... 25

3. Mobilization pt. I; Repertoires and Networks ... 27

Introduction ... 27

Insurgency as repertoire ... 27

Network based insurgency (NBI): Mobilising a support base ... 30

NBI: Prisoners dilemma and rational cooperation ... 32

NBI: Key allies and influential elites ... 35

Conclusion ... 37

4. Mobilising grievances Pt. II; Political Opportunities in Syria ... 39

Introduction ... 39

Shifting allignments and tactical pragmatism ... 39

Exploiting a vacuum ... 41

A government at fault ... 43

Conclusion ... 44




ii) Preface

“It is not that newspaper, radio and television reporting of crises in the Middle East are necessarily wrong, but that the quality and quantity of the information conveyed is limited by the very urgency and brevity of daily reporting. This simply cannot explain something as complex as the reasons behind the rise of Islamic State.”

– Patrick Cockburn1

"...More work needs to be done to discern how intramovement differences relate to shifting opportunity strcutres, micromobilization contexts, recruitment processes, movement success, and other relevant movement issues "

- M. Hakan Yavuz2


This dissertation is concerned with the ways that longstanding grievances held by the Sunni population in Iraq have been mobilized. The primary aim of this research is to uncover what sorts of opportunities from a political process perspective have facilitated the emergence of militant Sunni Islamism in Iraq.

This research critiques the commentary centred on using a grievance narrative to explain the political violence in Iraq. In general terms, there would seem to be a virtual consensus among commentators that the post-2003 Sunni insurgency in Iraq has been driven by political exclusion and grievance. For example, ostracism of Ba’athists and high numbers of Islamic insurgents were quickly identified as indicators that Sunni Iraqis were becoming increasingly aggrieved and maligned in the post 2003 order (Meiloud: 2014). In the following years, this grievance narrative began to feature much more prominently in commentaries and reportage covering outbreaks of violence under the banner of Sunni militancy. This was further induced by the way the al-Maliki government gradually cemented its grip over political power in Iraq, whilst U.S forces began the process of handing over the responsibility for political and security affairs. Experts say that the government is behind "the key factors in the long-developing disintegration of Iraq" (Lynch: 2014). The al-Maliki government’s repressive rule is seen as exacerbating the grievances of what was already an unhappy, excluded and marginalized Sunni minority.

This grievance narrative features prominently in the commentary put forth by journalists, academics and politicians. They have adopted this narrative as a lens in which to view the current Sunni insurgency as well as discuss the rise of groups like ISIS. The employment of this grievance narrative by various sources informs the conventional wisdom narrative (CWN). Put simply, the CWN is made up of accounts in newspapers, academic journals and government reports, which analyse the origins and development of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq using a grievance based approach.

It is the primary aim of this research to look beyond the grievance narrative. In doing so, this project uses the political process model as its conceptual lens. It borrows this from eminent works in the field of Social Movement Theory (SMT) that attempt to situate episodes of political violence within broader socio-political contexts.

Chapter one constructs the Conventional Wisdom Narrative (CWN). As previously mentioned, the CWN is contemporary reportage and commentaries discussing the political violence in Iraq from a grievance based approach. Its origins lie in explaining Sunni militancy by pointing to the repression and marginalisation of an unhappy Sunni minority in Iraq. The CWN draws on factors such as the de-ba’athification policy, the Shia dominated government’s abuse of power and an unwillingness of the wider Sunni population to quell the insurgency. Relying on accounts in the media, academia and government, this chapter weaves together evidence demonstrating that a shared emphasis on grievance constitutes the fundamentals of a CWN.

At the same time the CWN is critiqued as an insufficient narrative for contextualising the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. Some of its shortcomings and limitations are outlined and four key variables remain unaddressed by this approach. These are: (1) the timing of particular outbursts of Sunni violence, (2) why militants are more or less successful at various times, (3) the organisational forms and practices of the insurgency and (4) the key allies ISIS has in assisting the insurgency.

Chapter two reviews the relevant literature on Social Movement Theory (SMT). Important contributions within SMT show a general trend towards adopting a political process model to better explain episodes of contentious politics. In focusing on some of the key shifts in SMT thinking over the last two decades, this project pays close attention to the role of repetoires, political opportunity strucutres and contention. It discusses these variables in relation to islamic activism. As a result, it addresses the need to apply the political process model approach to cases of political violence in authorititve settings in the Arab World.

From this it is clear the Sunni insurgency in Iraq is one such example. Various external political factors are better able to explain the success, timing and organisational practices of the insurgency. Doing so also situates the modern Sunni insurgency within the complex political context from which it evolved. This is done in an attempt to overcome the limitations of the CWN and allow room for studies on the insurgency in a slightly different vein.

More specifically, this dissertation is then concerned with what has made mobilising Sunni grievances in Iraq possible. Chapter three therefore presents the first case study. This case study uses the political process model as its theoretical framework. It establishes that a culturally unique method of making claims has evolved in Iraq and the current insurgency is a product of this. The insurgency is treated as a repertoire, which this research adopts from the theory of ‘contentious politics’. This repertoire has evolved due to the authoritative nature of Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq. Key events and policies in the 1990’s shaped the socio-political context in Iraq and this fostered a series of informal networks and procedures between Iraqis that would later be crucial to the insurgency.

The significance of networks among the Sunni population, and how these networks directly impact ISIS’s operational capacity, is shown. A network of local Iraqis has evolved to form a support base or ‘target group’. A cadre of Islamists and secular militants from the former regime brokered informal networks in Iraq’s most notorious prisons. Some of these key networks between Islamists and Sunni politicians are also thought to have helped ISIS mobilize financially. From a narrative based on political opportunity structure it is the case that ISIS has been able to mobilize Sunni grievance via these networks. The research categorizes this as a network based insurgency (NBI).

Following this the second case study looks at the opportunities awarded to the insurgency by events in Syria. Networks between secular militants and Islamists were brokered in Syria as part of the group’s rebranding efforts in 2009-10. Shifting alignments in the Syrian regime created space for the Sunni insurgents to regroup despite being severely weakened in Iraq. Following the Civil War, a security vacuum presented a different kind of opportunity for expansion. ISIS used its superior organisational capacity to exploit this security vacuum and capture territory; having military strongholds allows it to employ its tactical expertise and fight like a modern army. The Syrian government has shown that it is unable and unwilling to combat ISIS with the result being the successful mobilization of resources by the group.

The methodological approach of this dissertation relies primarily on secondary sources, for example media reportage as well as on publications from counter terrorism centres, declassified National Security Archive documents, various Think Tanks as well as a host of academic journal articles. It considers major developments in SMT and applies these to the case of Sunni militancy in Iraq. In doing so the shortcomings and limitations of the CWN are shown and an alternative narrative is proposed to account for the Sunni militancy in the region. It is a critique of the CWN and an attempt to overcome its deficiencies by presenting alternate case studies.

Finally some conclusions are offered. This section brings together the important points discussed in each chapter of this research and recaps the argument that key changes within the political opportunity structure are more useful in accounting for ISIS because it shows how Sunni grievances were mobilized. In this vein it shows that the conventional wisdom narrative is limited and that alternative narratives based on more useful pillars of SMT help better investigate the Sunni militancy in Iraq.

What is significant about the network of alliances underpinning Daesh3 and how did this network develop? What opportunities have been awarded to the group during its various stages of development that facilitated its ability to mobilize Sunni grievances? What has happened exactly in the political and societal realm that has facilitated the emergence of this organisation? This dissertation will address these questions and go some way towards answering them. In the process it will offer a number of ways to further research the key reasons behind the mobilisation of Sunni grievances in Iraq by ISIS and Sunni militancy more broadly.

1. Grievance: the conventional wisdom narrative (CWN)

“At this moment, the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain.” 4

- Barack Obama

This new wave of terrorist activity, moreover, is not an isolated trend; rather, it portends a new era for international security, one that could be called an age of grievance.”5

– Michael J. Mazarr


It is clear that in order for a social movement to emerge, there must first exist a set of grievances. This could be a collective grievance shared by various social and political actors in the advancement of one common cause. Alternatively it may be a disparate collection of grievances bound together by circumstance and/or organisational factors in periods of general popular protest. In any case it is clear that grievances are a widely acknowledged prerequisite to episodes of contentious politics. As this chapter will show, political violence in Iraq is approached through a lens of Sunni unhappiness, exclusion and marginalisation. This is to say that commentary and reportage on the Sunni insurgency in Iraq is grievance based. A number of sources adopt this grievance narrative as a lens in which to view the crisis in Iraq and this commentary forms a conventional wisdom narrative (CWN). Factors such as the De-ba'athification process, the Counterterrorism Law and the Awakening Councils help develop the CWN and specific quotes and references will be presented throughout chapter one to support this. It follows that various explanations within the CWN provide a limited understanding of Sunni militancy. This is due to an inability to explain (1) the timing of particular outbursts of Sunni violence, (2) why militants are more or less successful at various times, (3) the organisational forms and practices of the insurgency and (4) the key allies they have within Iraqi politics.


To begin with a major strand of the CWN draws on the process of De-ba'athification. Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Order 1 issued the disestablishment of the Ba’ath Party (NSA: 2003) and Order 2 authorized the dissolution of the entities. These two orders effectively discharged former regime personnel from the ministries, the military and the intelligence services and prohibited them from any future political participation 6. De-ba’athification was a feature of the CPA’s attempts to build a new democratic state in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s lengthy nepotistic rule. However this process has since been widely touted as one of the biggest blunders committed in Iraq's political transition. Making this point, Pfiffner states that "both of these decisions fuelled the insurgency by: alienating hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who could not support themselves or their families; and by creating insurgents who were angry at the US, many of whom had weapons and were trained to use them” (Pfiffner: 2010, p. 76). As a result of this process Iraq moved from a minoritarian regime to a majoritarian democracy. In other words, it brought an end to a power sturcutre that was largely accessable and clientistic for a Sunni minority. Simultaneously, other cleavages of society were suddenly enfranchised. A change all the more poignant given that 75-80% of the population is comprised of Shia, Kurds and Turkmans. Furthermore, this caused major upheavals to a political order that had existed since the Ba'athist coup in 1968. Clarifying this severity of the blunder, one account from the press reiterates “this De-ba’athification was probably the single most catastrophic decision of the American venture in Iraq. In a stroke, the Administration helped enable the creation of the Iraqi insurgency” (Filkins: 2015). Similarly, the reverberating effects of this policy are considered to have “fuelled a sense of grievance among those affected - not just employees, but also their families, friends and communities” (Al-Saiedi & Sissons: 2013). These commentaries create direct links between the process of De-ba’athification and the establishment of an insurgency fuelled by grievance. This is a key assumption held by literature in the CWN and a nexus between these two factors is a recurrent theme in grievance-based accounts of the political violence in Iraq.

In an advancement of this observation, sporadic rounds of repression by the al-Maliki government build on this nexus in a political setting. The al-Maliki government adopted a general policy of exclusion towards Sunnis. More specifically, Sunnis are denied access to key government positions in part of a wider system of state sponsored patronage whereby public institutions are filled with loyalists of Shi’ite religious parties. For example, the legitimacy and scope of De-ba’athification was expanded in 2008 with the passing of the Justice and Accountability Act. This was a move seen to “preserve the previous De-ba’athification system and extend its reach to a number of organizations not previously affected, including the Iraqi judiciary” (Sissons: 2008). In short, this provides a legal basis in which to repress Sunnis. It essentially justifies a series of on-going purges of former baathists that had been rehabilitated into the government. This was the case in the run up to both the 2010 and 2014 elections where al-Maliki exploited this new legal framework in order to over power his political rivals. He used this Act in the first half of 2010 as a legal tool in attempts at electoral manoeuvring in which he sought to disqualify 511 Sunni candidates and ban 15 Sunni parties from participating in that year’s election (al-Saeidi & Sissons: 2013, p. 20). Citing De-ba’athification as one the “key grievances” (Recknagel: 2014) driving Sunni anger thus helps reconcile contemporary political grievances with growing opposition and insurgency in Iraq. As the crisis in the country has worsened over time, reportage continues to reiterate that “the original de-Baathification law and the disbanding of former president Saddam Hussein’s sprawling military has been widely labelled a key… policy mistake that fuelled the deadly Sunni-led insurgency” (Asharq Al-Awsat: 2007). All of the above accounts perpetuate the notion that Sunni unhappiness bears primary responsibility for the armed insurrection in Iraq.

As accurate as this may be, a grievance centric approach overlooks several issues in Iraq. The first is that this account does not shed any light on the ideological orientation and practices of the insurgency. The Salafi Jihadi mantra of political violence seems irreconcilable with the nationalist objectives held by former members of a famously secular regime. Why would ex-Ba’athists choose to express their unhappiness alongside radical Islamic organizations, as is the case with ISIS? Similarly, what has driven them to do so? Secondly, the fallout of grievances from De-ba’athification doesn’t offer a detailed account of why violence flares up in some periods and not in others. Violence reached an all time high in 2006-07 and has also reappeared as of 2013. But grievances have clearly existed from the outset of Iraq’s complex political transition. Therefore using them to explain the insurgency in Iraq situates violent outbursts in a vacuum. It is in this light that an array of external factors must clearly affect the dynamics of the insurgency yet remain untapped by this CWN.

Counterterrorism law (CTL)

Another feature implicit in the CWN is the effect of the Counterterrorism Law (CTL). Passed in 2005 by an unelected government, the CTL is touted as a strategic weapon in the al-Maliki government's arsenal for repressing and marginalising Sunnis. This repression and marginalisation is perceived to have exacerbated Sunni grievances and created a societal dischord that insurgents have then been able to exploit. Demonstrating this, a wave of protests swept across North Western Iraq during December 2011 in response to vice president Tariq al-Hashemi being sentenced to death under article 4 of the CTL. The British government viewed these protests as a manifestation of Sunni grievances. A corporate report issued by the U.K's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) details this view;

The belief amongst members of the Sunni community that they are disproportionately targeted by authorities through, for example, mass arrests and anti-terrorism legislation, was one of the key grievances of the protest movement that took hold at the end of 2012 .” (FCO: 2013)

There is a widespread recognition that these protests renewed tensions between aggrieved Sunnis on one hand and the Shia dominated government on the other. In support of this view, one observer notes “the increasing marginalization felt by the Iraqi Sunni Arab minority birthed a large protest movement in mid-2013” (Spyer: 2014). Violence in the country had been stemmed in the period between 2007-11 but the protests against the government’s use of the CTL tore open a new rebellious landscape in Iraq. Spyer makes this point in his commentary of the situation when remarking how “Maliki's uncompromising tactics against the protest movement in turn paved the way for the re-igniting of insurgency” (Spyer: 2014). This follows a pattern whereby periods of discontent in Iraq are used to account for the outbreak of insurgency led violence. The insurgency was perceivably reinvigorated following this episode due to the repressive clampdowns on Sunni protestors and the CWN flags the importance of CTL abuses in doing so.

Further compounding this, bodyguards of former finance minister Rafia al-Issawi were also sentenced to death under the CTL. Again this was a point of contention for the Sunnis in Iraq. The Guardian covered a speech given by al-Issawi to protestors in Al-Anbar following his decision to quit, stating “he condemned last week's raid on his office and listed a series of grievances aimed at the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, a Shia, and his government” (Guardian: 2012). Echoing similar calls for its repeal, Usama al-Nujaifi made it clear that he too felt the CTL represented a “sword held to the necks of Iraqis” (Abdel Sadah: 2013). This outbreak of protests gives furher credence to the notion that the renewed insurgency is therefore also a product of unaddressed Sunni grievances. Schrek reports that as a result of these galvanized grievances, insurgents were able to “capitalize on the rage of anti-government protesters and the instability caused by rising civil unrest” (Schrek: 2013). The resultant clashes stemming from the CTL exacerbate the divide between the aggrieved Sunnis and the regime. The execution of 129 Iraqis and the subjection of hundreds more to torture throughout 2012 underline these heightened frustrations (HRW: 2012). These commentaries and reportage feed into the CWN by illustrating that “the protests have evolved into a far deeper expression of the many grievances left unresolved when U.S forces withdrew” (Sly: 2013). In a word, it is to reiterate that the CWN considers reignited grievances responsible for fuelling the re-emergence of contentious politics in Iraq.

With this being said there are still some gaps unaddressed by the CWM. Despite the oppressive appliation of the CTL and al-Maliki's attempts to marginalize the opposition with it, there are a number of mainstream Sunni politicians integrated into the political system. An overly generalized grievance narrative fails to capture this point. Consequently, the CWN does not fully explain what incentivises these politicians to cooperate with armed militants, as has recently been suggested. Where are the insurgents key allies coming from? A second criticism levied against the CWN relates to success. How has a reinvigorated round of protests given rise to a successful insurgency? What is different between 2006 and 2013 and why hasnt the same policy curbed the violence again? The government's repressive laws have been utilized frequently by al-Maliki and purely focusing on grievance can’t explain why Sunni militants have successful mobilized at various times. There are clearly other features at play which better contextualise how these grievances have been mobilized.

Awakening councils & tribes

Many accounts point out that the Awakening Councils (ACs) were not sufficiently integrated into the Iraqi state apparatus after helping quell the original insurgency in 2006-07. As a result, Sunni tribes are now distrustful of the regime and unwilling to risk alignment with it again. Reportage and commentary discussing ACs, also known as the Sahwa or Sons of Iraq, show that back in 2006-07 a concerted effort was made by Sunni insurgents to fracture and weaken the insurgency. In particular, some of Iraq’s most prominent tribes put down their own arms in order to help the government combat the radical Islamic components of the rebellion. Consequently Recknagel argues that these tribesmen now have gripes with the current regime. They the tribes were excluded by the regime and remained unpaid for months once the U.S handed over responsibility for their maintenance. This “end to government funding also resulted in a loss of salaries for thousands of young men, embittering them, and adding yet another grievance to the long list of complaints” (Recknagel: 2014). This was a pattern that grew as U.S influence waned. Building on this, Heras’ commentary explains that many of the current insurgents “were local protestors in 2013, mainly from Anbar governorate, that actively demonstrated against the al-Maliki government and decided to join an armed uprising against the Iraqi government” (Heras: 2014). The suggestion made in these commentaries is that the al-Maliki government widened its net of repression, which in turn widened the extent of grievances among Sunnis. Again a policy of marginalisation and exclusion is being used to justify the re-emergence of Sunni led violence. The CWN extends the themes of marginalisation and exclusion to explanations around why the wider Sunni population may support political violence.

Elaborating on this, a section of Iraq’s Sunni society who once stood against the insurgency is now choosing to act in accordance with it. More poignantly, it cooperates with a threatening Islamist violence akin to that which it so vigorously repelled years previous. These Sunnis have made clear they are unlikely to repeat their actions this time around; an issue the CWN portrays in terms of grievance. For example, a journalist from the Telegraph wrote that the al-Dulaimi tribe would not step down from the insurgency until its grievances with the government are addressed and it would cooperate with ISIS until achieving its aims (Spencer: 2014). Similarly other reportage shows that the al-Jumaili tribe has also pledged allegiance to ISIS in protest to the political situation. These accounts highlight a distinct break from previous tribal standpoints on the insurgency. From the perspective of the moderate Sunni tribesmen, the threat from Islamists does not outweigh their grievances with the regime. The CWN emphasizes this trade off facing the tribes of Iraq and uses their grievances in order to illustrate why they might want to make “common cause with ISIS” (Harris: 2014). The approach taken by the CWN is clearly that the government’s marginalisation and repression of Sunnis continues to fuel sentiments of disempowerment. As a result, more and more Sunnis no longer view alignment with the regime as a favourable option and turn towards insurgency.

With this in mind there are some comments to be made. It may be the case that it is not possible to divide and conquer the insurgency this time around. In saying this, many tribes are still fighting against ISIS and many more have been slaughtered. Is it really the case that tribal support has swung this war in favour of the insurgency? Are there no other critical factors external to the grievances of moderate Sunni Iraqis that help explain their success this time around? There are other variables in this situation and a general nexus between grievance and violence fails to capture these.


In sum this Chapter has sought to connect a discussion of Sunni disempowerment to perceptions that this disempowerment has fuelled armed militancy. The de-ba’athification process, the CTL and the awakening council were used as points of departure to discuss this disempowerment and how commentators have subsequently framed it. As was shown, a predominantly grievance-based approach is adopted by these observers and the commentary and reportage in line with this approach constitutes the coventional wisdom narrative. It is also the case that a number of factors remain unaddressed by the CWN. There is now a need to look beyond grievances and understand what has enabled the recent insurgency to mobilize these grievances. In order to do this a different narrative will have to be employed. The next chapter will outline the theoretical framework this research will adopt in an attempt to address the limitations of the CWN.

2. Literature Review

The classical approach

Early research in the field of Social Movement Theory (SMT) focused around the behavioural aspects of collective action. This portrayed collective action as a unique phenomenon, one largely unrepresentative of mass society where periods of revolt were largely isolated from genuine political concerns (Park: 1921, Blumer: 1939, Smelser: 1962). Drawing mainly on the emergence of fascist movements in Europe, collective behaviour was not initially viewed as a reflection of serious grievances with political and societal issues. In a sense, it was perceived as psychologically irrational.

Following this, Davies (1962) was among scholars who investigated the conditions that predisposed men to collective action and started the trend towards legitimizing conventional understandings of the psychology behind grievance. He concluded that ‘revolutions are most likely to occur when a prolonged period of objective economic and social development is followed by a short period of sharp reversal’ (Davies, p. 6). In this sense he draws extensively on de Tocqueville’s work that equates periods of prosperity with periods of instability. When the opportunity to satisfy basic needs are threatened, a person is more conducive to revolutionary principles, since their sole objective during this time is safeguarding the opportunity to satisfy their immediate needs. In equal terms, when things are getting better on a societal level, people expect things to be getting better for them personally. Other research in this manner further legitimized grievances and together, these constitute what is known as the ‘classical approach’ to collective action studies (Davies: 1963)

The psychological inquiry into the development of grievances opened up avenues for further research in the classical field, a notable facet of this being Relative Deprivation theory (RD). Gurr (1970) is among the proponents of RD. At base level he is concerned with peoples perceptions of societal values and rationalising these perceptions into a logical framework for understanding collective action and revolution (Brinton: 1973, Olson 1974). The crux of his analysis is that perceived deprivation among a population can increase the propensity for discontent. The point of contention arrives when actors perceive a discrepancy between what they should have and what they actually have.

Another notable strand of this approach is Rational choice theory. Scholars within this field point to the cost benefit analysis undertaken by actors before deciding whether or not to align with a social movement. Given the varying degree of risk and investment facing different individuals, a debate emerged on ways to overcome the ‘collective action problem’ (Dowding: 1996). Although it wasn’t long before investigations took a new approach.

Resource Mobilization

An emphasis on psychological grievances fell out of favour with many theorists in the 1960’s in large part as a response to the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. In this case, black activists organized collectively and were well resourced because the rewards of action outweighed the risks of potentially not acting. This episode inspired an alternative approach to the study of social movements focusing on resource mobilisation (Oberschall: 1973). Subsequent attempts to explain the emergence and development of Social Movements focused on the ways in which actors mobilized the organisational resources available to them.

McArthy and Zald (1977) make the biggest contribution in this field. They propose that it is the way in which resources are used and organized by social movements that help understand their emergence and capacity to act. They conclude through a series of hypotheses that a social movement can be explained though its ability to identify, utilize and sustain its access to and management of resources. Essentially this approach frames social movements as “entrepreneurs” (McArthy & Zald: 1977), prescribing to them responsibility in mobilizing the organisational resources that are available to them.

In a similar manner of thinking, a slightly different approach looks at the way resources unavailable to social movements are mobilized. This takes into account the “internal and external determinants of the organizational development” (Kriesi: 1996, p. 183) of social movements. Alluding to the significance of indirect political influences, this approach measures the influence of the political system and its effect on mobilizing resources that the social movement cannot. For example the economic development of a country can predetermine the resources available to a group but economic development is something social movements are unlikely to have any direct effect over.

In essence this approach facilitates a critical assessment of the actors involved in social movements in a way that seeks to move beyond their grievances. It gives the field of study a greater scope and provides an opportunity for a more acute analysis of the actors in a Social Movement Industry (SMI), the rationale of Social Movement Organisations (SMO) and the inner workings of the Social Movement Sector (SMS) generally (McArthy & Zald: 1977). By focusing on the accumulation, transfer and diffusion of resources this approach unlocks new ways to conceive of SMT. It measures what actors are able to do themselves, but more importantly, what is outwith the scope of their influence.

Political process model

As such, attention was drawn to the exact nature of factors outwith the organizational scope of social movements. From this a third approach to the study of social movements emerged – the political process model (Eisinger: 1973, Tilly: 1978, McAdam: 1982 Kitschelt: 1986). This highlights the impact that political changes can have on the outcome of social movement success or failure. Tilly’s research highlights the significance of political opportunities affecting a movement’s capacity to act (Tilly: 1978). A central component of this is dependent on the facilitation/repression hypothesis, which explains the nexus between politics and society. This holds that governments can be facilitators of collective action or they can be repressors, providing an arena where social movements either thrive or suffer respectively.

This contribution drew inspiration from earlier research by Eisinger (1973) into protest behaviour in American cities. Tilly’s repression/facilitation hypothesis (1978) has parallels with Eisinger’s findings that open and closed characteristics of a political system can determine the extent to which social movements are able to act. This holds that some American cities have open characteristics of governance, meaning that the potential for participation is relatively high for social movements. Conversely, other cities have closed characteristics deducing that potential participation is lower for societal actors because of the constraints inherent within these closed political structures. Essentially, the level of access and inclusion to political decision-making is key here.

McAdam (1982) developed this idea further to tackle the ‘conceptual muddle’ that SMT found itself in following the sixties and seventies. This expanded the political process model and further advanced the case for the model as an alternative to both the classical and resource mobilization approaches. Essentially, McAdam draws on a combination of “expanding political opportunities, indigenous organizational strength, and the presence of certain shared cognitions within the minority community that is held to facilitate movement emergence” (McAdam: 1982, p. 59). The merits of this contribution lay in the way it reoriented the attention of academics towards the confluence of factors internal and external to the social movement (Meyer: 2004) and in the process challenges the utility of social movement entrepreneurship. Crucially, the political process model inspired further inquiry into the mobilization of social movements within the constraints of a political system.

Political opportunity structure (POS)

The political opportunity structure (POS) may be a more insightful concept in explaining social movement success or failure. Further study was conducted around the political process model in attempts to understand a wider spectrum of episodes of contentious politics; research which gave rise to the concept of the ‘political opportunity structure’ (McAdam: 1982, Kitschelt: 1986). This concept builds on the established wisdom that social movements do not act in a vacuum or outwith a political context but are responsive to the world around them.

This was the case early on in Kitschelt’s (1986) cross-country comparison of the anti-nuclear power movements in France, Sweden, the U.S. and Germany. Aiming to overcome the assumptions within resource mobilization literature (McCarthy & Zald: 1977), this study focused on institutional constraints as a determinant factor on the mobilisation strategies of social movements. In addition to the open/closed characteristics of “input structures” (Kitschelt: 1986), this research added the centrality of state capacities to understandings of the POS. A weak political capacity delineates a POS less able to shape public policy and respond to the demands of pressure groups. This is contrasted with a strong political capacity in which a POS is more able to respond to pressure from societal actors and subsequently push through policy innovations.

The fall of the Soviet Union drew scholars further into the significance of these state capacities and characteristics. A series of contentious political episodes precipitated the collapse of the USSR and Gorbachev’s policy of political openness Perestroika in the late 1980’s was a decisive factor in this. Tarrow’s (1998) investigation into the nature of political power expanded the scope of the POS. With Access and capacity already well documented, Tarrow (1998) proposes three additional variables that inform the POS; (1) shifting alignments, (2) influential allies and (3) a divided elite (Tarrow: 1998, p. 78-79). These extra variables extend the ways in which the political process approach can be used and applied. Whether thinking about the anti slavery movement in Great Britain in the 1700’s or the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 (Tarrow & Tilly: 2006) these additional variables are all evidently at play across time.

Complimentary to this, Kriesi (1996) maps out three broad properties of the POS as “the formal institutional structure of a political system, its informal procedures and prevailing strategies with regard to challengers, and the configuration of power relevant for the confrontation with the challengers” (Kriesi: 1996, p. 160). McAdam et al (1996) carve out a complimentary caveat to this, proposing the importance of ‘mobilizing structures’. Mobilizing structures “mediate opportunity by mobilizing networks and resources and producing collective action” (Aslanidis: 2012, p. 9). This emphasizes the relevance of networks and the effects of different political cultures on certain case studies.

In saying this, critics of POS have warned of this concept being overly ambiguous and too far-reaching to possess any utility in SMT. In attempting to act as a conceptual structure, it has been pointed out that the idea “is in trouble, in danger of becoming a sponge that soaks up virtually every aspect of the social movement” (Gamson and Meyer: 1996). Equally, Meyer (2004) argues that it had become “conceptualized broadly but operationalized narrowly” (Meyer: 2004, p. 141). He upholds that scholars have applied it only partially and to a limited variety of cases thereby detracting from its claim to be a more reliable and explanatory model.

Political dynamics and contentious politics

It became clear that this approach didn’t mesh well with trying to understand specific historical events and account for the success, failure and timing of particular social movements. A less rigid framework was called for whereby the political process model is to be used to study specific episodes of contentious politics. Attempts to overcome these conceptual criticisms led preeminent theorists towards ‘dynamics of contention’ (McAdam, Tarrow & Tilly: 2001).

This research articulates the importance of mechanisms and processes in triggering political opportunities as opposed to using an overly general structure to analyse movements and polities. Fundamentally, the focal point of this research is the relationship between social movements and politics and what changes the dynamics of this relationship. This reorients the object of study from organizations and individuals to processes and mechanisms. In doing so these mechanisms and processes can better account for shifts in political and social dynamics. Brokerage is one of these mechanisms and is concerned with the way unconnected social sites are linked and how their relations are mediated. This is essentially the process where networks between unfamiliar groups are established. A second key mechanism is radicalization. This holds that increasing divergence between competing claims can result in episodes of contentious politics. All in all, this approach seeks to put into motion “the constituent parts of the classical agenda – opportunities, mobilizing structures, framing and repertoires” (McAdam, Tarrow & Tilly: 2001, p. 43).

On this note, repertoires and regimes evolved to become key features in analyses of the relationships at play in episodes of contentious politics. Repertoires are the inherited forms of collective action (Tarrow & Tilly: 2006, p. 4) which define the way social movements pursue their stated aims and mobilize their grievances. This could be through petitions and strikes or protest and violence. In a word it is the “culturally encoded ways in which people interact in contentious politics” (McAdam, Tarrow & Tilly: 2011: p. 16) meaning that repertoires vary according to the political setting in which claim staking is played out in. In addition to this regimes are framed as high capacity or low capacity, democratic or undemocratic (Tarrow & Tilly: 2006). Importantly, low capacity denotes government action that has little effect on the character and distribution of population, activity and resources within its territory. It runs accordingly that “Low capacity undemocratic regimes host most of the worlds civil wars and low capacity democratic regimes gather more than their share of military coups and struggles among linguistic, religious, or ethnic groups” (Tarrow & Tilly: 2006). Repertoires and regimes interlink with the POS and should be considered alongside its main variables; access, capacity, alignments and elites/allies within a regime.

It thus follows that the type of regime, the set of repertoires employed by social movements and the way that a specific POS influences episodes of contentious politics varies from case to case. There are still problems of ambiguity and over generalization when using the political process model which make reaching conclusions problematic. As a result of this, the best way to adopt a political process approach is therefore on a case-by-case basis. In doing so the nuances of a particular regime are most comprehensively taken into consideration. Additionally the unique features of repertoires can be deduced and applied to cases under investigation. From this, it is possible to employ the variable of a POS to specific case studies in order to explain episodes of contentious politics.

Islamic activism and SMT in Islamic context

Having been largely applied to social movements and periods of discontent in Western contexts, scholars of Islamic activism have recently attempted to merge Islamic movements with tenents of SMT (Wiktorowicz et al 2004). One approach used in these studies is based on new social history, which examines collective action in the context of sociological and Islamic forces at play within a country (Burke III; 1988). The Iranian revolution challenged preconceived theories about revolutions and theorists of SMT were likewise intrigued by the seismic changes this event produced.

In saying this, Iran served as a catalyst for conducting studies generally outside of the Western paradigm. One such study is the Arab World and Sunni society. Linking grievances to political violence in the name of Islam is a pattern that can be traced back to the early 2000's. Osama Bin Laden put a systematic account of Al-Qaeda’s motivating principles forth soon after 9/11 which were broadly perceived as the "list of grievances" 7 shared by him and the mujahideen. These grievances were henceforth used in attempts to frame episodes of islamic political violence carried out by the organisation. The grouping of Salafis into three distinct creeds gives an insight into different approaches and methods employed by Islamists in pushes for social and political change (Wicktorowicz: 2006). Purists are concerned with changing societal values and they use the concept of jihad to delineate a moral reform among individuals in society. This is contrasted with jihad used as a concept for political reform advocated by politicos and jihadis. The former constitute a Muslim Brotherhood inspired, politically aware group of scholars who criticize authorities that are unrepresentative of Islamic values. The latter, whose roots lie in the mujahideen mobilized to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, support the use of violence to dislodge authority it sees as jahiliya. Crucially, this grouping shows disagreement on “the proper method of implementation (i.e., Strategy)” (Wiktorowicz: 2006, p. 219) between various Salafi creeds.

However caution is advised when attempting to understand socio-political activism in contemporary Muslim societies because these societies are “characterized by political control and limited means of communicative action” (Bayat: 2005, p. 891). Hafez (2003) adopts a political process approach in his study on why Muslims rebel. His research is an inquiry into the reasons behind rebellion in Islamic societies and employs exclusion and repression form the political process model as factors to explain this. It is found that authoritarian governments often facilitate the process of radicalization because social movements resort to “exclusive mobilization structures to ensure against internal defections and external repression…and ideological frames to justify radical change and motivate collective violence” (Hafez: 2003, p. 22).

Supplementary to this, authorities in the Arab World are largely monarchical, familial and/or retain close ties to the military meaning their political systems stifle civil society (Singerman: 2004). By way of accounting for this, Singerman (2004) explains that Islamists use informal networks outwith the public sphere to “constitute a parallel site of political life, connecting disparate and varied individuals, families, and communities to… political contestation” (Singerman: 2004, p. 155). This suggests that within this type of political system, the repertoires and regimes will take a more informal, harder to assess format. Therefore these are cases that would benefit from a dynamic framework of analysis in regards to contentious political episodes they have experienced.

In sum it can be stated that analysing contention as well as understanding how social movements are mobilized in Islamic cases is a relatively new endeavour. It represents a new testing ground for SMT in general and the political process model in particular. As this model has been devised and developed in relation to contentious politics in Western settings, similar studies in an Islamic setting must also be conducted. This is all the more prudent given that regime type, repertoires and POS vary significantly in Islamic settings. This aside, the political and societal dynamics in countries like Iraq and Syria have transformed significantly over recent years owing to the Arab Spring and popular protest in the Arab World.

3. Mobilization pt. I; Repertoires and Networks


The aim of this chapter is to approach the political violence in Iraq using the political process model. In doing so, the insurgency is first presented as a method of claim making by aggrieved Sunni Iraqis. In other words, the Sunni insurgency is framed as a repetoire. In the case of Iraq, several culturally encoded factors inform the repertoire dating back to the time of the Saddam regime. Following this, a network based insurgency (NBI) has emerged which better explains the political violence in Iraq. Factors such as (1) the politicization of a support base, (2) prison networks and (3) key allies all explain how a NBI gives ISIS a leading role in the insurgency. Unpacking these points provides a more nuanced account of the recent political violence in the region. In particular, it sheds more light on the organizational practices and forms of the insurgency and the key allies of the insurgency.

Insurgency as repertoire

The Ba'ath Party ruled Iraq in an authoritarian manner. This was characterized by high levels of exclusion for the majority of Iraqis. The Iraqi populace experienced limited access to the political system and sporadic participation in political affairs. The state permeated the country's political and economic sectors and stifled civil society during its thrity five year rule. Saddam Hussein was the figurehead of this repressive state for twenty four of these years in which time he embossed his own image onto Iraq. Aspects of this authoritarian rule involved using intelligence networks to infiltrate peoples homes, intimidating Iraqis the regime viewed as suspicious and scaremonging any political dissidents. So brutal was this government that it is credited for building a Republic of Fear (al-Khalil: 1989). In particular Saddam's regime produced the "authoritarian étatisation of civil society; that is, the repression of political opposition or difference, coupled with an incorporation of all institutions and associations into the state” (Zubaida: 2003). The Fedayeen Saddam was set up as a paramilitary group bearing loyalty only to the presidency. The members of the Islamic Da’wa party were forced into exile. Anyone suspected of renegading on his or her loyalty to the regime was killed. In essence, this closed repressive state structure means that no opposition forces could legitimately express themselves in the country.

Having said this, the gradual Islamization of Iraq serves as a prelude to the modern insurgency. The integration of Islamic forces into the country is evident from as far back as the 1980’s. Despite the Ba’ath Party occupying a spot in Middle Eastern politics as an avowedly secular entity, Saddam began instrumentalizing Islam in the interest of his own survival. A need to exert greater authority over Iraq became very clear following the Gulf War in 1991 due to both Shia uprisings and Kurdish separatism taking on renewed vigour. Pandering to the increasing influence of Salafi Islamists in Iraq was identified as one way for the regime to win over important blocs in society and combat this opposition. Part of this strategy was the Faith Campaign, known as al-hamla al-imaniyya, whereby Iraqi politics and society became increasingly islamized. It is posited that the Islamist bloc represented a threat to the regime thereby suggesting the Islamic Faith Campaign was meant to preempt Salafism's eventual usurption of Ba'athism (Hassan & Weiss: 2014). Irrespective of the extent to which this is true, it is clear that Iraq moved from a position of stern militant secularism towards Islamism (Baram: 2014). Izzat Ibrahim al-douri, Saddam’s vice president, was tasked with inaugurating the Faith Campaign. It’s ideology was manifested through the state’s support for building new mosques, introducing Islamic teaching into the national educational curriculum and aligning foreign policy with Islamists abroad (Helfont: 2014). Officers in government were instructed to take courses in Quranic history, senior figures of the regime grew increasingly pious and the Takbir8 was added to the Iraqi flag. This laid some early foundations for the growth of Islamist ideology in Iraq. As is the case, the majority of groups and individuals party to the Sunni insurgency have roots in either the Saddam regime or as advocates of radical Salafi doctrines. The point being made it that these two separate ideologies have a key convergence point in the former regime’s initiatives to keep power.

Another prominent factor relevant to this topic is the recent history of the tribes in Iraq. As was mentioned, part of the regime's adapt-and-survive strategy in the 1990's consisted of decentralizing its power base and co-opting the various actors within Iraq. Tribesmen were another pillar of society that was given increased perquisites and privileges under this strategy. A system of patronage and nepotism along tribal lines had been wiped out by the Free Officers following the 1958 coup but this was largley reversed by Saddam in the early 1990's (Baram: 1997). For example, the tribes received payments from the regime, access to weaponry and got away with smuggling and other illegal activities (Baram: 2003). Many men also escaped sentencing in the justice system after a rise in 'Honour Killings' – a phenomen which increased as a result of the regime's lax policy towards reprimanding the perpetrators. In addition to this an emphasis was put on the tribal roots of Ba'ath Party officials. Takritis – Saddam's tribe-, the Dulaim and the Harb – Izzat Ibrahim al-douri's tribe - are among those which produced notable leaders in the regime and the tribal lineage of these senior statesmen was heavily publicized in this period. Basically, Saddam bought the tribal Sheikhs as a sociopolitical power (Global Security: 2012) but in doing so, he was required to fragment Iraq along tribal lines. The tribes helped quell the 2006-07 insurgency and are seen as powerful and influential in Iraq. They are organized and able to mobilize resources largely thanks to their recent of experiences in doing so. This is relevant to the discussion because the fragmentation of Iraq means that no centralized power is able to combat strong insurgent groups and actors are vulnerable if there is no strong state control over the country.

As well as this the development of an underground economy feeds into the state of the insurgency in Iraq as a repertoire for contentious politics. Iraq was levied with crippling economic sanctions in the wake of its repressive clampdown on protests. The UN issued a no fly zone and the international community implimented harsh sanctions on Iraq to isolate the regime. In order to ease the disarray from these restrictions, the country developed illicit means of sourcing its income. Smuggling networks reportedly emerged to avoid the effects of sanctions in the 1990's (Sly: 2015). Oil may have been exported to neighbouring countries on the black market but the state did not subsequently invest the money into schemes for the people or reward Iraqis financially. The new ties based on kinship and patronage in Iraqi society and politics became key to economic stability. Ties to the regime and influential elites in Iraq would determine who was guaranteed work and a solid income. Escaping the economic marginalization caused by international sanctions was therefore another tool at the disposal of the authoritative Iraqi regime. This is relevant because prominent insurgent groups such as ISIS are reliant on these informal black market networks to export resources and fund their operations. Illicit financial schemes may be keeping the insurgency afloat. These factors combine to inform the sociopolitical backdrop in which Iraqi claim making has emerged. An islamic nationalist idelological frame has been established. Informal procedures for controlling society and doing business has also been established. With this in mind, the research now considers the mobilization strucutres that have facilitated the emergence of ISIS.

Network based insurgency (NBI): Mobilising a support base

The first component of the NBI is the evolution of its support base. ISIS has politicized the grievances of radical Sunni Iraqi militants. It has done so by using mobilizing structures such as Iraqi nationalism and Islam. This evolving politicization helps explain why, despite consistent political violence over the last twelve years, the insurgency has been successful at various stages as well as why violence flares up at certain moments.

By way of an example, early manifestations of political violence in Iraq were visible through Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror cell tawhid wa jihad. It was not so much an insurgent group at this stage but more of an international terrorist network. It was a cadre of mujahideen from countries like Egypt, Saudi and Yemen led by a Jordanian9 that used Iraq as a base for training terrorists. This is somewhat reflective of the context of jihad during this time period i.e. in a similar manner, Bin Laden led a cohort of radical Saudis in the mountains of Afghanistan under Taliban sponsorship. These groups supported targeting foreign enemies and blamed regional leaders for their inability to expel Western influences. Their common cause against the West united all islamic sects, nationalities and heritages. Consequently Zarqawi's group was composed of many foreign fighters and recruited on the basis of fighting both a near enemy – the Safavids10 – as well as a far enemy – the crusaders11.

The post-2003 situation in Iraq added some important caveats which changed the nature of political violence. It is clear that the CPA invasion had caused an exogenous shock to the country and this spilled over into a country wide insurgency. After having pleged allegiance to Bin Laden in 2004, Zarqawi's tawhid wa jihad became known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). It fought in the insurgency by using car bombs, suicide attacks and IEDs. These tactis meant that the U.S and Iraqi army could contain the insurgency and it had little chance of success. This form of the insurgency is markedly different from the full scale military that ISIS uses now.

Also at this stage, Zarqawi's distrust of the Shia became a more central concern for the group. The rise of a Shia dominated government meant that insurgents were now not only aggrieved by the CPA forces but also an ever threatening Shia claim to power. Indeed as the al-Maliki regime went on to cement its control over Iraqi politics, the sectarian elements of the insurgency intensified. Politically aggrieved Sunnis clearly became the support base for AQI at this point. This pool of resources was lucrative given that De-ba'athification had cast many Sunnis out of politics and marginalized their standing in society. AQI's sectarian narrative cleverly pitted these disillusioned Sunni insurgents against the new Shia government. Its support base therefore took on an inherently sectarian facade. This provides greater clarity around the ideological frame used by the group.

In saying this, more changes around 2007 reorientated the group's strategy. This was due to the success of the Awakening Councils in quashing islamic militants throughout 2006-07. A name change from AQI to the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) gave the organization an Iraqi face in an attempt to reach out to the Sunni Iraqi community that had helped U.S forces defeat it (Roggio: 2010). Besides being a symbolic change it also spelled the beginning of major restructuring within the group. ISI became “a mostly Iraqi network of small, roving cells” (Londoño: 2009). It issued pleas to the Iraqi Sunni community to rise up and achieve the common goal of removing the occupiers and dislodging the Shia government. In addition to this, Iraqi militants gained more prominence in ISI in terms of managing ISI affairs. So much so that U.S General Ray Odierno pointed out how the organization had become more Iraqi and that outlawed Ba’athists were now more prevalent in running its operations (Christie: 2009). This created a nationalist support base in which ISIS began to draw on.

All of this has culminated in the recent success of ISIS in mobilising the Sunni insurgency. Islam and Iraqi nationalism are mobilising structures for ISIS. Abu Bakr and his advisors politicized their support base to enhance the effect of these mobilising structures. He continues to select a number of Sunni Iraqi militants from the organization’s target support base and integrates them into the organisation. It is posited that the organizational capacity is so great that the group has succession plans in place in the event that any senior figures are killed. The Ba’ath nationalist and Salafi blocs have been merged together. Longstanding secular militants and Islamist have been successfully married in ISIS. This has altered the nature of the insurgency over the course of the last twelve years and distinguishes the current insurgency from previous ones. It has a specific religious-nationalist repertoire.

NBI: Prisoners dilemma and rational cooperation

The support base and source of recruitment of ISIS is built on a series of networks established by Iraqi Sunnis in prison. Prison acted as an exclusive mobilisation structure for Sunni Iraqis from all creeds and backgrounds.

A number of prisons were set up across Iraq at the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They acted as holding camps for the occupying forces to detain POWs and insurgents. More importantly these prisons are central to understanding ISIS and the modern insurgency. They essentially became a melting pot of disillusioned Iraqi’s as many Sunni dissidents were brought together here. It is estimated that over the six-year period from 2003 to 2009 approximately 100,000 prisoners were held in various prisons (Keyser: 2011). From among these prisoners it is believed that 17 of the 25 most important Islamic State leaders running the insurgency spent time in US prisons between 2004 and 2011 (Chulov: 2014). The biggest of these prisons was Camp Bucca. In 2007, Iraq’s prison system housed a total of 26,000 prisoners and Camp Bucca held around 22,000 of these thereby making it responsible for approximately 85% of all detainees that year (Keyser: 2011).

Recent information suggests that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi spent close to a year in Bucca and he may have been released around December of 2004 (Chulov: 2014). He is one of many high profile ex-prisoners who built a network of insurgents during his time in jail. He is the charismatic figurehead of ISIS. He is an Iraq as his name suggests and has an ethno-nationalist appeal to politically aggrieved Sunni Iraqis. In addition to this his Islamic background may have been induced by Iraq’s Islamic turn in the 1990s. Claiming lineage to the prophet Muhammad, obtaining at PhD in Islamic Studies and his devout association with the mosque gives him a particular utility to ISIS. He calls out to the religious extremists and taps into a network of aggrieved Sunni Iraqis through religion. In this sense he mobilizes the religious fundamentalists unhappy with the post-Saddam political apparatus in Iraq. He met other key personnel of ISIS in prison.

One of his key advisors was Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khilafawi, also known as Haji Bakr. After spending time in Camp Bucca from 2006-2008 he went on to become one of the most influential members of ISIS. He was seen as the group’s strategic head until his death in 2014 and appointed Abu Bakr to the role of Caliph, recognising his allure to young jihadis. During his time in ISIS, he tapped into his Bucca networks as well as older contacts he had. Tellingly, he was a colonel in the Iraqi Republican Guard during the latter years of Saddam’s rule. He worked on weapons development as well as in a secret service unit attached to the anti-aircraft division during a long career in the Saddam regime (Soufan Group: 2014). Crucially, he mobilized a cadre of ex Ba’athists into the fabric of the Islamic insurgency. He is credited as the driving force behind using former military officers in the restructuring of the military wing and security apparatus of daesh (Mundi: 2014). He headhunted individuals that were left isolated by the state largely due to De-ba’athification and repression of dissidence. Bakr brought capable and organized professionals to ISIS who helped execute land grabs and launch offensives. He facilitated an exclusive mobilisations structure through prison networks.

Among these individuals is Abu Muslim al-Turkmani. Originally from Tel Afar, Turkmani is one of two deputies charged with overseeing control of ISIS territory and is responsible for provinces in Iraq therefore making him senior personnel. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Iraqi Army and a former officer in the Iraqi Special Forces. He also worked for the istikhbarat12 right up until the occupation of Iraq (Lister: 2014). It is unclear how long or when exactly but there is evidence suggesting that he too was detained in Bucca (Thompson & Suri: 2014). Another prominent name is Abu Abdulrahman al-Bilawi. He joined Al-Qaeda in Iraq after the occupation but was eventually picked up by coalition forces in 2005 where he was detained in Camp Bucca. He was a top military chief in ISIS before he was killed in June 2014. He was another graduate of the Iraqi Military Academy in 1993 and went on to become a captain in the national army under Saddam Hussein. Also recruited in this channel was Abu Ayman al-Iraqi. He had been a former colonel in the Iraq Air Defence Intelligence branch of the Saddam government. He was a native of Anbar province and had been arrested in 2007 and taken to Camp Bucca. He is reported to have spent three years in the prison and when released in 2010 fled to Syria where he became a top commander and advisor to al-Baghdadi (Heras, 2014). He was later killed in a U.S airstrike in November 2014.

All of this evidence shows the insurgency benefits from years of experience accrued by those belonging to the former regime as well as the previous insurgency. A series of networks in prison has provided a platform for Sunni insurgents. It has been a starting point for the Islamic State to construct its foundations on. Elaborating on this, Haji Bakr drew up a blueprint detailing the organizational structure of ISIS. This organizational blueprint, recovered by the U.S, shows ISIS as a reflection of the former regime. Meticulously prepared, the blueprint encapsulates the same repressive state structure and violation of society that Saddam’s regime imposed. Spies and informants are mobilized so that the ISIS hierarchy has eyes and ears in all areas within its jurisdiction. Along side this, lists containing names of influential families, their sources of income, their local leaders and material to blackmail them are collected by the organization (Reuter, 2015). This is a carbon copy of the authoritarian étatisation propagated fifteen years previous. Put simply:

ISIS resembles former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein most closely in its political and organization model and tactics, and in its social base. Both relied on a combination of a close-knit core of highly motivated and determined members, a relatively small and secretive military wing, and swift, decisive action to exploit their adversaries’ weaknesses and exploit divisions among allies ” (Sayigh: 2014).

The key point here is that: Military and intelligence officials from the former regime as well as Islamic insurgents were handed the opportunity to interact and build networks in prison. Tracing the background of senior ISIS personnel to Camp Bucca shows that prison is a common denominator among the ranks of the organization’s elite. More importantly it spells out why ISIS is a competent military actor and sheds a more useful light into its organization and practice. Its command structure and ability to mobilize military personnel and resources give it a combatitive edge. Yet it retains an islamic face. This distinguishes it from AQI and other islamic groups that rely on foreign jihadis and suicide attacks for making their claims. The networks built in prison have been invaluable to the organization's success.

NBI: Key allies and influential elites

Networks have served in facilitating ISIS operations in ways outside its immediate stucture and origanization of the group. Key Sunni politicians and influential Iraqi persons have been identified with the Islamic State in an extension of this network of Sunni Iraqis.

For example, recent evidence has suggested that ties between islamic militants and the country's elite may run deeper than expected. "Newly declassified documents ... suggest that some of Iraq’s most prominent Sunni politicians collaborated with the Islamic State’s predecessor in 2009, when the group faced its darkest hour" (Bahney et al: 2015). One of these documents was a letter between two senior figures in ISI around 2009. This letter discusses the organisation's tactics. More specifically it reviews the success of ISI in inflitrating the local Iraqi government or financial gain. Abu Ahmed, a 'soldier' from ISI, apparently used his relations with executives and high authorities in the Iraqi government on behalf of ISI to direct financial resources to the group. Negotiations took place with influential elites such as the Minister of Communications, Faruq 'Abd al-Qadir, and Director of the Office of the Deputy PM13, Hajji Riyad. ISI managed to take some of the funds from regional construction contracts awarded by the civil government to local construction contractors through their networks with these elites. Nineweh governorate has been touted as one whereby financial resources have been siphoned off to islamist insurgents (Shamdeen: 2012) and is also the site where it organized a major bank robbery for hundreds of millions of dollars. Furthermore, Atheel al-Nujaifi14 is explicitly mentioned as having an old friendship with Abu Ahmad and that channels for communication with his representatives and ISI existed. There has been a brokerage of relations between members of government which are crucial to the group's funding and local support.

In addition to this, the network of actual insurgents extends to other groups besides ISIS. This network contains nationalist groups and tribal militias in addition to the islamists component. This has contributed to mobilising the insurgency and enabling it to seize territories from government control. As an example, Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqah al-Naqshabandia (JRTN) is a nationalist group headed by former vice president of Iraq, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. Following the capture of Mosul the JRTN commended ISIS and called for unity among anti government groups. They set up the General Military Council for Iraq's Revolutionaries (GMC) to unify former Ba’athists against the government. The JRTN is believed to assist ISIS in Mosul, Tikrit and Dayala province whilst the wider network of Ba’athists in the GMC has given the organisation a strong presence in Anbar province (al-Tamimi: 2014). This illustrates that a web of interconnected intelligence and military officials outwith ISIS bring the insurgent groups together. This explains the far reaching support that the insurgency has but it also accounts for the success in seizing major cities in the Sunni Triangle like Fallujah and Ramadi. A coalition of forces are acting against the government in key Sunni regions has overrun the government forces and reclaimed territories that former Ba’athists and Islamists have strong ties to.

Tribal militias have also alligned with ISIS. The Dulaim tribe has already come out in public support of the insurgency and made clear its gripes with the current regime. The al-Jumaili, Anbar's biggest and richest tribe, is the most recent to have pleged support to the ISIS led insurgency. For this reason, skeptics are arguing that foreign aid to help Sunni tribal militias fight ISIS may end up in the wrong hands either as a result of more tribal defections or by arms being siphoned off on the black market. Having enjoyied relative autonomy over the previous twenty years, the tribes are well equipped to mobilize resources and act independently. This expands the operational capacity of ISIS and increases its reach over the Iraqi countryside. Given that their support was key to defeating the tribes back in 2006-07, tribal allignment with deash is likely to be a significant factor in the survival of the insurgency.


It is clear that a network based insurgency exists in Iraq. It is underpinned by a local network of Iraqis which give it a strong support base. This has evolved over the years since the first extremist and jihadi groups set up base in Iraq. The prison system in occupied Iraq helped foster this network and bring Islamists into contact with former military and intelligence personnel. In doing so the group benefited from the expertise and operation insight these new members brought. This network subsequently expanded to include local and regional government officials as well as the wider tribal community. This brought many financial benefits as well as allowed it to exert control over more regions.

Sketching out the parameters of this network helps explain organizational forms and practices of the ISIS led insurgency. Ba'athists and Islamists are key allies participating in an insurgency of convenience. A focus on networks also helps account for why the insurgency has successfully mobilized at different times. With this network, ISIS has been able to launch military offensives and secure swathes of territory in Fallujah, Mosul, Nineweh and Ramadi.

4. Mobilising grievances Pt. II; Political Opportunities in Syria


The aim of this chapter is to show that the Civil War in neighbouring Syria presented opportunities for mobilisation to the Iraqi insurgency. Although first and foremost concerned with Iraq, the ISIS led insurgency benefited from political and security developments within Syria. Shifting alignments in Syrian politics over the last 10 years have presented Sunni insurgents with key opportunities to plan and regroup. In addition to this the Civil War in Syria gave ISIS additional time and space to mobilize militarily. Most notably, this conflict has empowered Sunni insurgents in close proximity to Iraq and presented them with unique opportunities to launch attacks against the Iraqi government.

Firstly, it is shown that covert meetings took place between Sunni insurgents in Syria when the islamic insurgency was at its weakest. This was complimented by the government's consent to a steady flow of jihadists from Syria into Iraq. Secondly a security vacuum in Syria exploited by senior ISIS strategists strengthened the group's military capacity. By looking at these factors, this chapter builds on the previous one in that it situates the rise of ISIS in a sociopolitical context. The objective is to show that ISIS's ability to mobilize Sunni grievances was affected by key political dynamics in Syria.

Shifting allignments and tactical pragmatism

It is the case that shifting alignments have taken place in Syrian politics in recent times. Unpacking this idea, the regime wanted to present itself as a stable and legitimate government following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Fears of more American-led, bellicose military operations prompted the Assad government to rethink its image. In doing so there became a need to portray itself as a better alternative to the violent, radical and undesirable groups vying for power in the region. Pitting itself against less desirable organisations would deter Washington, or any international coalition for that matter, from interfering in the country's political and security affairs. Tacit support for underground insurgents was therefore based on a strategy of tactical pragmatism for Assad. The relevant point here is that this tactical pragmatism ultimately gave the Sunni insurgency a foundation for growth and development. Seen from a political process approach, shifting alignments in Syrian politics essentially helped Iraqi insurgents continue with their plans. This provided especially useful when the insurgency was weak.

In fact, Iraqi intelligence believes that secret meetings between former Saddam loyalists and radical islamists had been taking place as far back as 2004-05. These meetings were conducted in and around Damasus as the insurgency continued to unfold across the border in Iraq. These meetings set the scene for cooperation between key personnel. In 2009 Major General Hussein Ali Kamal taped two covert meetings in the city of Zabadani. During these meetings former high-level Iraqi Ba'athists secretly met senior figures in the ranks of AQI. Interestingly, Syrian military intelligence officers were also present (Chulov: 2014). These meetings came at a time when the group was severaly weaked in Iraq. Old relationships between Haji Bakr and Syrian intelligence officials are likely to have facilitated cooperation between these parties (Reuter: 2014). The Syrian intelligene officers were mediators in the meetings and assisted talks between two key pillars of a Sunni insurgency aiming to usurp the al-Maliki government in Iraq. It can be posited from this that networks were once again a crucial element in ISIS's attempts to mobilize Sunni grievances and resources. Cooperation with Syrian officials represents a new dimension to the Sunni insurgents' ability to mobilize against the Iraqi government.

Expanding on this, these secret meetings were part of a more general strategy adopted by Damascus to undermine American efforts in the region. For example during Iraq's civil war in 2006-07, the al-Assad regime allowed many jihadists to enter Iraq via its Western border with Syria. This supply line opened the door for former detainees of Bucca as well as a host of other insurgents to return to Iraq and fight against U.S forces and the al-Maliki regime they sponsored (Ismail: 2014). This exacerbated violence in Iraq and was a catalyst in pushing the country towards civil war in 2006-07. The Sinjar records recovered by U.S forces back this up. These records detail the various nationalities, occupations and motivations of jihadists in the region. All evidence points towards Syria being either a final destination or a "stop" on the way to Iraq for the majority of these fighters (Fishman & Felter, 2007: p. 20). Syrian authorities would detain men at the Sadnaya military prison for questioning but later release any fighters who intended to cross into Iraq and fight the western occupation. The Syrian government essentially facilitated ISIS's predecessor [AQI] when it was concerned with fighting western forces in Iraq (Ali-Habib: 2014). This informal procedure of border crossing accounts for one way the insurgency was able to mobilize fighters over the years. Furthermore, it can also explain bursts of success. As the government in Syria lost control, the easiness in which insurgents could operate freely over this border increased. Free movement becomes less difficult for jihadists if no permission is required to cross territories. This key development is factor unique to the post 2013 insurgency and largely accounts for the strides made by the recent insurgency.

Exploiting a vacuum

In addition to the opportunities brought about by shifting alignments, Syria offers another avenue for political violence; a fertile location without government interference. While the covert meetings between key officials and flow of jihadists across the border was a calculated step taken by the regime, a lack of interference arguably is not. The Civil War led to the erosion of government control in key areas of Syria which was counter balanced by gains for Islamist rebels. These Islamist gains continued as Syria slid towards a state of chaos and instability. The Assad regime initially asserted that islamists formed the backbone of the Syrian opposition and any support for this opposition would consequently have perilous effects on the security situation in the country. As a counterwight to this, detractors of the regime played down the Salafi influences among the Syrian opposition in order to preserve the image of a pristine uprising (ICG: 2012). In any case the deterioration of government influence in Syria has awarded Sunni insurgents in Iraq the opportunity to mobilize. In this sense, it is largely recognized that islamists 'hijacked the Syrian revolution' (Cockburn, 2015: p. 79) and several factors made this mobilisation possible.

A clear cut opportunity to establish a military presence in Syria is one. Ever since Iraq's islamic insurgency had been deafeated by the Awakening Councils, it was devoid of any major military threat. The change of political and security dynamics in Syria gave insurgents the ability to rectify these problems and overcome its deficiencies. Syria had become a place, unlike Iraq, where no repressive authority could interfere with its planning or stifle its operations. In a small unit spearheaded by Haji Bakr, ISI reached out to Syrian jihadists in an attempt to capitalize on the instability in Syria (Reuter: 2014). By way of an example ISI sent commanders into Syria to exploit this security vacuum. Abu Mohammed al-Jolani was reportedly one of these dispatched directly to Syria in mid 2011 in order to advance ISI's efforts and take advantage of the instability the Arab Spring had induced. The group Jabhat an-Nusra (JAN) was set up as a result of these efforts. JAN forces drew on ISI to begin with and was ultimately a splinter group of AQ. It captured swathes of land with the city of Raqqa a key grab for the group. Following its split with JAN, ISIS retained control of Raqqa. This has proved to be a strategic location in that it lies on the Euphrates river, is near a main supply route in Syria and is in close proximity to the border with Iraq (Solomon: 2013). Capturing this city gave an unorganized cell of Sunni insurgents in Iraq a place to base themselves out of.

More importantly the aquisition of Raqqa represented a strategic, operational and tactical victory for ISIS (White: 2014). Strategically it frees up some forces that ISIS can redeploy to the frontline in Iraq as well as provide the group with resources and momentum. This was certainly the case as it went on to capture Fallujah and then later in 2014 as it took Mosul. On an operational level it showed that the group is capable of conducting military level attacks against a national army – something it has done vis-a-vis the Iraqi and Syrian armed forces. This distinguishes it from the earlier insurgent groups as its operations are no longer centered on suicide attacks or car bombs. Tactically, ISIS has specific target locations of which Raqqa was one. The regime was already weak in this region and the organisation possesses a clear tactical acumen in recognising this. The ranks of intelligence and security officials the group now has mean that it adopts military tactics for taking land. Again, this new organisational practice gives ISIS an edge over previous incarnations of the insurgency.

A government at fault

Government inability to repress the actions of other groups is certainly a factor in aiding the influence and power of other actors. In saying this, it is also believed that the Syrian government may have actively preserved ISIS's capacity militarily. Syrian arm jets bombed rebel positions in January 2014 but took care to avoid ISIS positions. Similarly the Islamic State emir ordered fighters not to shoot at the Syrian army when grabbing territories from rebels. An explicit example of military cooperation between the Syrian army and ISIS is visible in the case of the army's division 17. Division 17 lost control of its base in Raqqa to local rebels following the outbreak of war. Approximately one year later, once ISIS usurped the rebels in Raqqa and Der iz-zour province, the base was used again by Assad's airforce. There are also suggestions that Bashar al-Assad has funded and cooperated with ISIS directly by allowing the group to export and sell oil worth millions of dollars (Sherlock: 2014).

This inability and unwillingness of the government to repress rebel forces opens Syria up to social and political actors. The collapse of state-society relations at the onset of the Arab Spring significantly destablized Syria. By late 2012 areas of northwestern Syria had been wrestled from the government and threatening political groups no longer operated underground. Heavy clashes between the Syrian authorities and protestors in areas such as Aleppo, Homs and Damascus soon intensified the political violence across the country. Changes in the political sphere came to have a direct bearing on social movements and political actors in this setting. The result of this destablisation was the creation of a political and security vacuum. Local councils and rebel brigades took charge of these areas which represented a victory for the opposition but this was bittersweet. The superior organisational capacity of ISIS (its command structure, military and intelligence networks and strong base of resources/finances) meant that it easily grabs pockets of land from local rebels. The lack of government presence in these regions meant that Syria has become an open system for participation. This was a system more conducive to expressions of political violence. As well as this the regime also had a weak capacity to deal with societal groups.


This chapter shows how the Syrian regime is responsible for contrubting to the Sunni insurgency. Syria initially played the role of facilitator during meetings between key operatives in ISIS. In this sense Syrian officials were key allies to Sunni insurgents during a period of crisis. It also appears to be the case that the Syrian government has been both unable and unwilling to fight ISIS at various times in the protracted civil war. A weakening grasp over certain regions of the country and stategic efforts to avoid ISIS during military confrontations shows that the regime has played facilitator to the continued expansion and operation of ISIS. The organisation's growth and continued existence in Syria is better explained once considering these facts. As long as it continues to operate in what is effectively a safe heaven then it will be able to launch large scale attacks with better chance of success.


… As ISIS becomes an ever more serious regional actor in the Middle East, questions arise as to what it constitutes and how to deal with it.”

– Bernhard Blumenau

The aim of this dissertation is to explain how the Sunni insurgency in Iraq has mobilized Sunni grievances. By looking at the current crisis in Iraq using the political process model, a more comprehensive analysis of the Sunni insurgency becomes possible. The objective of this research is showing the limitations of the conventional wisdom narrative (CWN) and offering alternative case studies to better explain how the Sunni insurgency has been mobilized. The CWN tends towards using the role of grievance in order to explain the Sunni insurgency. In these concluding remarks it should be stated that this research does not consider grievances to be an irrelevant or unimportant feature of the insurgency. On the contrary, frustration and unhappiness with the political situation in Iraq have created a mandate for action. There is a collective grievance with the corrupt administration and this has galvinized Iraqis around a common cause.

However this offers little in terms of explaining how secular and nationalist former intelligence officers in the Saddam regime joined forces with radical Sunni militants. As is the case, this research finds that key networks between former regime members and islamists were brokered in prison. Simply put, an externality of the U.S led invasion was its prison system being a point of convergence between these two groups of people. In addition to this, former Iraqi intelligence officers also bring the role of Syria into play. Their connections with Syrian officers gave ISIS vital time and space to organize when it was weak so the connections made in Camp Bucca have proved useful in many capcities. These networks better explain the organisational form and practices of the insurgency. It highglights networks as a key mobilisation structure that give a more nuanced account of how ISIS was ultimately able to capture land in places like Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul.

It also accounts for some of the influential support the insurgents have. Top level Syrians have brokered meetings between senior ISIS personnel as well as allowed jihadists fighters to pass to the front lines in Iraq. Recent evidence also suggests AQI was assisted financially by the local government and top government officials are thought to have collaborated with ISIS during its darkest hours. The simplicity of a grievance based narrative does not account for this variable whereas a POS lens draws attention to the importance of key elites and influential allies. In the case of ISIS, this means exploring where these allies and elites are that assist the insurgency.

In addition to this the grievance narrative failed to account for the timing of violent outbursts. Civil War was avoided in 2006-07 however it has not been avoided this time. This research highlights some key developments which may explain why violence occurs at certain moments. For example ISIS's connection to Syria gave the organisation a platform to operate from. Shifting alignments in Syrian politics largely facilitated this as the political agenda of the regime was tolerant of secret meetings and the flow of personnel through its borders. This was the case before the Arab Spring but following the revolution this took on another dimension. A lack of repression by the regime in the ensuing security vacuum allows insurgent groups to flourish. More specifically, ISIS was able to use Syria as a platform to laucnh attacks from and this equipped it with important military resources such as a headquarters and

This research attempts to shed light on how the insurgency has mobilized military resources, a support base and key personnel in its fight against the Iraqi government. The point of departure for doing this study is in attempting to understand the ways that grievances have been mobilized. As such, theoretical framework of political opportunities provides a way to reorient studies away from grievance and towards mobilisation. This is to say that rather than focus on the role of grievance, it draws attention to the external political factors which look beyond established grievances. A core componenet for doing this is situating Iraq's political violence and contentious politics into its sociopolitical context.

A brief account of the authoritarian nature of the Ba'ath Party and Saddam regime sketches out the state of affairs in Iraq over the last 35 years. Iraqi society has been stifled and the polity was largely devoid of any meaningful engagement with issues in the country. In place of a civil society, the regime fosetered a series of clandestine, informal networks. These networks were key to opportunity and prosperity. Likewise they were easily inflitrated by the Iraqi intelligence as it sought to extend its reach. In particular Islam was used to tighten Saddam's grip over the populace. Society was fragmented and the tribes became more autonomous entities. Similarly, access to finances and economic opportunity were based on patronage and connections. Charles Tripp posits that a shadow state existed in Iraq. This shadow state 'lay behind Iraq's vulnerable and degraded public institutions' (Tripp: 2007). This idea runs in sync with the fact that informal networks and procedures existed in Iraqi society, economy and polity during the Saddam era. Following the Western invasion, an inability to account for this shadow state has been the major pitfall of the rebuilding efforts in the country. More tellingly, this shadow state goes some way towards explaining the nature of the complex insurgency that has emeged. It accounts for the massive fallout of networks that underpin the insurgency. It put the processess and mechanisms in place for mobilising a support base.

Greater study around the insurgency in Iraq will help establish what has made it successful and why it has occured when it has. More clarity around this topic may be found in Toby Dodge's Iraq: From War to a new Authoritarianism and Ahmed Hashim's Iraq's Sunni Insurgency. Equally, studies using a wider array of social movement theory would further nuance the accounts of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. For example, using diffusion theory as a lens may be one avenue whereby the genetic composition of the Sunni insurgency is better understood. This is to say that looking at how the insurgency has been diffused to its audience in the Middle East but also to its recruits for further afield. Similarly this research intentionally overlooked the concept of framing. It may be useful to explore the ways that jihadists frame the insurgency and compare and contrast this with how top military and intelligence officials frame their cause.


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1 Cockburn, P. How Books can defeat ISIS, The Independent, February 1st 2015.

2 Yavuz in Islamic Activism, (Wiktorowicz et al). p. 286.

3 This is an Arabic abbreviation of il-dowla il-islamiya fi il-’Iraq wa is-Sham. It has been transliterated in English and is commonly used to refer to the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham.

4 This was stated by Obama in September 2014. It was part of his speech outlining the U.S. strategy for defeating ISIL.

5 Michael J. Mazarr, 2014. ‘The Age of Grievance’, in Foreign Affairs Magazine.

6 The CPA passed Orders 1 and 1 in the space of two weeks. Both of these Orders are referred to as process of De-ba’athification. This is not an official name for the Orders but one largely used in reportage and commentaries discussing them.

7 Osama Bin Laden, ‘Letter to America’, The Guardian, 24th November, 2002.

8 The words ‘Allah Akbar’ were etched into the white stripe of the Iraqi flag.

9 The name al-Zarqawi refers to the city of Zurqa, just north of Amman, in Jordan. This is an adopted pseudonym as Zarqawi belonged to a Palestinian-Jordanian family. His real name was Ahmed Fadeel al-Nizal al-Khaleeleh.

10 Safavid is used as a derogatory term in reference to Iran. It is also used to mean the Shia supporters of the al-Maliki government. Its origins are in the Persian invasion of the umma (territory under the Caliphate) during the 1400’s.

11 Crusader is another historical reference used as a derogatory term. Bush and the CPA were framed as Crusaders in the Middle East by al-Qaeda.

12 This was the Directorate of General Military Intelligence. The term istikhbarat denotes the intelligence services and the spy networks used by governments in Arabic.

13 The Deputy Prime Minister at the time of writing this letter was Raif al-Issawi.

14 Atheel al-Najaifi became governor of Nineveh province in April 2015. He was discharged in May 2015, with ISIS still in control of the area. He has close ties to Sunni politicians. His brother, Usama al-Nujaifi, became vice president on 9th September 2014 in Haider al-Abadi’s new government.

1 Cockburn, P. How Books can defeat ISIS, The Independent, February 1st 2015.

2 Yavuz in Islamic Activism, (Wiktorowicz et al). p. 286.

3 This is an Arabic abbreviation of il-dowla il-islamiya fi il-’Iraq wa is-Sham. It has been transliterated in English and is commonly used to refer to the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham.

4 This was stated by Obama in September 2014. It was part of his speech outlining the U.S. strategy for defeating ISIL.

5 Michael J. Mazarr, 2014. ‘The Age of Grievance’, in Foreign Affairs Magazine.

6 The CPA passed Orders 1 and 1 in the space of two weeks. Both of these Orders are referred to as process of De-ba’athification. This is not an official name for the Orders but one largely used in reportage and commentaries discussing them.

7 Osama Bin Laden, ‘Letter to America’, The Guardian, 24th November, 2002.

8 The words ‘Allah Akbar’ were etched into the white stripe of the Iraqi flag.

9 The name al-Zarqawi refers to the city of Zurqa, just north of Amman, in Jordan. This is an adopted pseudonym as Zarqawi belonged to a Palestinian-Jordanian family. His real name was Ahmed Fadeel al-Nizal al-Khaleeleh.

10 Safavid is used as a derogatory term in reference to Iran. It is also used to mean the Shia supporters of the al-Maliki government. Its origins are in the Persian invasion of the umma (territory under the Caliphate) during the 1400’s.

11 Crusader is another historical reference used as a derogatory term. Bush and the CPA were framed as Crusaders in the Middle East by al-Qaeda.

12 This was the Directorate of General Military Intelligence. The term istikhbarat denotes the intelligence services and the spy networks used by governments in Arabic.

13 The Deputy Prime Minister at the time of writing this letter was Raif al-Issawi.

14 Atheel al-Najaifi became governor of Nineveh province in April 2015. He was discharged in May 2015, with ISIS still in control of the area. He has close ties to Sunni politicians. His brother, Usama al-Nujaifi, became vice president on 9th September 2014 in Haider al-Abadi’s new government.

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The Mobilization of Grievances. An Alternative Narrative for Understanding Sunni Militancy
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John Kidd (Author), 2015, The Mobilization of Grievances. An Alternative Narrative for Understanding Sunni Militancy, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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