Sunday, April 24, 2005

Al Qaeda and the efficiency of coercion 

This strikes me as likely to backfire:
Al Qaeda's Iraqi wing threatened Sunday to kill fellow Sunni Muslims who join the country's new government, saying they would be considered infidels.

"We warn all those who want to join the politics of infidels and apostates that the steel sword will be their only fate," the group, led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said in a statement posted on a Web site used by Islamic militants.

Al Qaeda has given up on winning "hearts" in Iraq -- there was never much chance of that, and the chance there was vanished in January -- so now it must rely on coercion alone to sustain its war. In order for that coercion to succeed, al Qaeda has to convince Sunnis that they are better off cooperating with al Qaeda than with the government of Iraq. Since the government has more money, power and prestige to induce cooperation, al Qaeda must countervail with accurately targeted punishment. The punishment must be accurate because the typical person caught between the insurgency and the counterinsurgency will cooperate with the side that he perceives is more certain to punish him for not cooperating. If one side in the war appears to kill more randomly than the other, then there is no reason to cooperate with that side because they are as likely to kill you if you cooperate as if you don't. Al Qaeda's almost daily deployment of car bombs to kill masses of essentially innocent civilians undermines the very impression that it must create in order to punish accurately and coerce successfully.

UPDATE: I revised the title of the post to reflect its contents.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Apr 25, 12:57:00 PM:

I disagree. The ME public tries to weigh who is most likely to take action to punish opposition. The terrorists use car-bombs, but if you/innocents are killed as an unintended victim, Islamic teaching is that this is "God's will" not necessarily the fault of the bombers. The Iraqi citizen will adopt a "we are not part of this" attitude and try to not be targeted by either side. That is what hurts our ability to capture terrorists.  

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