CUREJ - College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal

Martyrs in Mesopotamia: The Logic of Suicide Terrorism in Iraq

Brian M. Kelly, University of Pennsylvania

Division: Social Sciences

Dept/Program: International Relations

Document Type: Undergraduate Student Research

Mentor(s): Cristiane Carneiro

Date of this Version: 01 March 2008

This document has been peer reviewed.



Although the tactic of suicide terrorism is thousands of years old, it has appeared in Iraq at unprecedented levels. The predominance of suicide terrorism in the insurgency has led scholars to embrace two diametrically opposed theoretical frameworks. Whereas Huntington’s framework explains suicide terrorism in Iraq as the result of a clash of civilizations between the Western and Islamic worlds, Pape’s framework argues that secular nationalist forces in opposition to the U.S. occupation conduct the attacks. However, both of these frameworks overlook the ethno-sectarian divisions within the insurgency. This thesis offers a new theoretical framework, which argues that suicide terrorism is a practical tactic adopted by Sunni groups that lack both the political means and the conventional military capability to achieve their goals. However, as the U.S. begins to reintegrate Sunnis into the state and crackdown on Iranian-backed Shi’a groups, many Shi’a may find themselves alienated and disenfranchised. This could herald a similar Shi’a suicide terror campaign in Iraq.


International Relations

Suggested Citation

Kelly, Brian M., "Martyrs in Mesopotamia: The Logic of Suicide Terrorism in Iraq" 01 March 2008. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania,

Date Posted: 08 September 2009

This document has been peer reviewed.




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