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The Localized Nature of Violence in Iraq

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Understandably and perhaps inevitably, the ever more urgent effort to comprehend the causes of violence in Iraq has so far relied on familiar conceptions. The conflict occurring there is variously described as an insurgency, a civil war, and a manifestation of global terrorism. Standard religious and ethnic categories are used to identify the participants and impute their motives. It is becoming evident, however, that the pattern of violence reflects not only a collision of organized purposes but more fundamentally a profound disintegration of Iraq's social fabric, a process that exposes innocent victims but also limits the capacity of predators. Violence resulting from the breakdown of legal order does not have the same character as that which occurs between managed opponents. Better understanding of that distinction is likely to be one of the more important lessons to be learned.

This working paper evolved into an op-ed which was published in the Baltimore Sun on September 10, 2007 to coincide with a major report delivered to congress by General David Petraeus.

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