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

Publication Type: 
Eli Berman
Jacob N. Shapiro
Joseph H. Felter
We develop and test a theory of insurgency and reconstruction motivated by the informal literature and US military doctrine. We model insurgency as a three-way contest between rebels seeking political change through violence, a government seeking to minimize violence through some combination of service provision and hard counterinsurgency, and civilians deciding whether to share information about insurgents with government forces. We test the model using new data from the Iraq war. We combine a geo-spatial indicator of violence against Coalition and Iraqi forces (SIGACTs), reconstruction spending, and community characteristics including measures of social cohesion, sectarian status, socio-economic grievances, and natural resource endowments. Our results support the theory’s predictions: counterinsurgents are most generous with government services in locations where they expect violence; improved service provision has reduced insurgent violence since the summer of 2007; and the violence-reducing effect of service provision varies predictably across communities.