Suicide Bombers in Iraq

The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom
July 2007
285 Pages
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The war in Iraq was supposed to be easy. Instead it has delivered the message that Islamic resistance and martyrdom can defeat the only remaining superpower, just as jihadists drove the Soviet Union from Afghanistan during the 1980s. Now a haven for jihadists, Iraq has entered a civil war whose duration, scope, and magnitude have yet to be determined.

The overwhelming majority of suicide attacks in Iraq have targeted Iraqi security forces and Shia civilians, not coalition forces. The perpetrators appear to be largely non-Iraqi volunteers. Many are from Saudi Arabia, but substantial numbers have come from Europe, Syria, Kuwait, Jordan and North Africa. They are foiling U.S. plans to stabilize the country and turn it into a democratic regime and an ally in a region of religious radicalism, entrenched authoritarianism, and hostile states with nuclear ambitions.

Understanding the phenomenon of suicide bombing in Iraq is therefore vitally important for U.S. national security, foreign policy in the Muslim world, and the war on terrorism. This study, the first of its kind on the Iraqi insurgency, draws extensively on open-source intelligence and papers of record, primary sources from insurgent groups including online documents and videos, and interviews with U.S. servicemen who have served in Iraq. It examines the history of suicide bombing in Iraq and many other countries, theoretical perspectives on suicide bombing, the varied factions that comprise the insurgency, the ideology and theology of martyrdom supporting suicide bombers, their national origins and characteristics, and the prospects for a “third generation” of transnational jihadists forged in the crucible of Iraq.

“Brilliantly considered, crisply written, unsparing in its conclusions, Suicide Bombers in Iraq is an absolutely essential contribution to understanding the factions that are warring over the future of that shattered country, the region, and Islam.”

—Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

“Rich in information and balanced in comments, this volume helps understanding how terrorism and repression feeds each other, reducing the chances for a peaceful evolution in Iraq. Social movement theories help interpreting radicalization processes by focusing attention on the interaction between direct experiences with violence and sentiments of victimization. Hafez combines the analysis of macro-historical conditions, inter-organizational competition and individual paths into the underground, without loosing sight of the diverse strategies of both oppositional groups and state agencies.”

Donatella della Porta, Professor of Sociology, European University Institute

"It is hard to think of a more compelling question today in the international arena than the question of the who exactly is carrying out the suicide attacks in Iraq that have done so much to turn the country into a failing state. Mohammed Hafez has done the world a favor by producing this balanced, clearly written and well argued account of who the suicide attackers in Iraq are and why they are carrying our their deadly missions."

Peter Bergen, author of "The Osama bin Laden I Know."

“Mohammed Hafez has produced a compelling book, which is both wide-ranging in debating the phenomemon of suicide bombing in Iraq and pertinent in terms of the future of this pivotal state in the Middle East. The work combines a forensic approach to the reasons why suicide bombings occur with an analysis of the myriad motives of the suicide bombers. This is a trenchant text for all who wish to understand the complex politics of Iraq.”

Professor Beverley Milton-Edwards, Queens University Belfast

"No better or more detailed analysis exists in making sense of the raging violence within Iraq and the nature of the terrorists. Mohammed Hafez mastery of the Iraqi insurgency and who are the forces behind it is unrivaled. No one better explores in detail the issue of foreign fighters in Iraq and the local forces of the insurgency. This seminal work is essential reading for anyone wanting to truly understand what is going on in Iraq and why it is so intractable."

- Dr Magnus Ranstorp, Research Director, Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College

"Suicide Bombers in Iraq makes a signal contribution to the literature.  Hafez has written what is to date the most detailed and authoritative account of suicide terrorism's impact on Iraq along with its broader international implications. It is especially noteworthy for both its meticulous research and incisive analysis. Suicide Bombers in Iraq is required reading for anyone seeking to understand the dynamics of the conflict in Iraq and the concomitant rise of this devastating tactic."

-- Professor Bruce Hoffman, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University and Senior Fellow, Combating Terrorism Center, U.S. Military Academy

Foreword or Preface • Introduction: Suicide Bombers in Historical and Theoretical Perspective • Nationalists and Baathists • The Jihadi Salafis • Suicide Terrorism in the Iraqi Insurgency • The Ideology and Theology of Martyrdom • Martyrdom Mythology in Iraq • Arab Fighters in Iraq • European Muslims in Iraq • Implications for Theory and Policy

Mohammed Hafez

Mohammed M. Hafez earned his Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2000. From 2013–2018, he served as the Chair of the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. A specialist in Islamist movements and political violence, his books include Why Muslims Rebel: Repression and Resistance in the Islamic World (2003); Manufacturing Human Bombs: The Making of Palestinian Suicide Bombers (2006); and Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom (2007). His current book project, The Nearest Enemy: Factionalism and Fratricide in Militant Islamist Networks, investigates inter-rebel wars in Algeria (1992–2002), Iraq (2003–2011), and Syria (2011–2016) using a combination of comparative case analysis and network-analytic methodologies.

Dr. Hafez is also the author of over 25 journal articles and book chapters on political radicalization, foreign fighters, and Islamist ideologies. He regularly briefs government and military analysts on issues related to terrorism, the war of ideas, and countering radicalization. Dr. Hafez has made several appearances on PBS News Hour, NPR, CNN, C-SPAN, and other national and international media forums.

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