Can Hearts and Minds Be Bought? The Economics of Counterinsurgency in Iraq

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Original Publication Date

October 4, 2011


Eli Berman, Jacob N. Shapiro, Joseph Felter


Journal of Political Economy


We develop and test an economic theory of insurgency motivated by the informal literature and by recent military doctrine. We model a three-way contest between violent rebels, a government seeking to minimize violence by mixing service provision and coercion, and civilians deciding whether to share information about insurgents. We test the model using panel data from Iraq on violence against Coalition and Iraqi forces, reconstruction spending, and community characteristics (sectarian status, socioeconomic grievances, and natural resource endowments). Our results support the theory’s predictions: improved service provision reduces insurgent violence, particularly for smaller projects and since the “surge” began in 2007.