Mercy Corps: Support for Extremist Groups Linked to Governance Failures After Iraq War

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New Research Reveals Strong Civil Society Can Soothe the Tensions Driving Extremism

Our research suggests that support for violent groups can be countered if we improve the quality of governance in Iraq.

Perceptions of a lack of inclusivity in governance in Iraq have fueled support for extremist groups, according to new research from the global organization Mercy Corps. The report, “Investing In Iraq’s Peace,” is based on a public opinion survey of 5,000 people across Iraq, repeated over three years from 2013 to 2015, coupled with interviews of Iraqi citizens including civic leaders, youth, government officials and activists. The survey found that, contrary to popular assumptions, tensions between Iraq’s different sects have been overplayed as the main cause of conflict. Instead, it is the perception that the government is unjust, unresponsive and unaccountable that pushes people to support militias or terrorist organizations.

“Sectarian tension is undoubtedly worrying, and can be exploited by political actors,” says Beza Tesfaye, Conflict and Governance Research Manager for Mercy Corps. “But our research suggests that support for violent groups can be countered if we improve the quality of governance in Iraq, in particular its responsiveness to the needs of groups who feel marginalized.”

These findings suggest the failure to support fair and accountable government in Iraq following the US-led invasion has directly contributed to the rise of extremist groups. The research also indicates that one way to address instability in Iraq is to support civil society so that people who are frustrated, in particular young people, have a forum to engage with government institutions instead of siding with armed groups.

“The resignation of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in August 2014 coincided with a sharp decline in those expressing sympathy for armed opposition groups in Iraq, according to our surveys,” says Tesfaye. “The data showed that public support for extremist groups can be eroded. Improving governance, particularly by strengthening civil society, is one good way to invest in Iraq’s peace.”

Download or read the full report.

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Christy Delafield
Mercy Corps
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Amy Fairbairn
Mercy Corps
+44 (0)131 662 2378
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