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Governance, Identity, and Counterinsurgency Strategy

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This policy brief is drawn from the author’s dissertation, “Governance, Identity, and Counterinsurgency Strategy.”

The premise of most Western thinking on counterinsurgency is that success depends on establishing a perception of legitimacy among local populations. The path to legitimacy is often seen as the improvement of governance in the form of effective and efficient administration of government and public services. However, good governance is not the only possible basis for claims to legitimacy. This study considers whether, in insurgencies where ethno-religious identities are politically salient, claims to legitimacy may rest more on the identity of who governs, rather than on how whoever governs governs. Specifically, it poses and tests the hypothesis that in the presence of major ethno-religious cleavages, good governance will contribute less to counterinsurgent success than will efforts toward reaching political agreements that directly address those cleavages.

The study reviews and synthesizes scholarship and policy regarding insurgencies and counterinsurgencies, the politics of ethnic identity, governance, and legitimacy. Building on this synthesis, it presents an analytic framework for examining these issues. It then applies that framework to brief analyses of counterinsurgent experiences in Malaya, Algeria, South Vietnam, and then to analyses of two detailed local case studies of American counterinsurgency operations in Iraq: Ramadi from 2004-2005; and Tal Afar from 2005-2006. These Iraq case studies are based on primary research, including interviews with participants and eyewitnesses.

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