Robert A. Pape is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, where he teaches international politics and is the director of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism. He was asked for expert advice after 9/11 and as realised that there was no reliable information available on suicide terrorists, he founded a research institute at the University of Chicago and a database gathering information from all over the world. In 2003, the US Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency contacted him to share his data and funded further research which forms the basis of this book. He is a contributor to the Observer (UK), New York Times, Foreign Affairs, the New Republic, and the Washington Post, and has appeared on various US and British current affairs television and radio programmes.
In Dying to Win Robert Pape presents the findings of the first comprehensive database of every suicide terrorist attack in the world from 1980 until today. Discrediting widely-held misconceptions on suicide terrorism, he creates for the first time a clear psychological, sociological and strategic profile for combating suicide attacks. His thesis — initially based on the 354 attacks throughout the world up to 2003 — has been remarkably born out by the ones that have followed (the 192 attacks from 2004 up to May 2006 are included in Dying to Win). Pape also examines the early practitioners of this guerrilla tactic, including the ancient Jewish Zealots, who in A.D. 66 wished to liberate themselves from Roman occupation; the Ismaili Assassins, a Shi’ite Muslim sect in northern Iran in the eleventh and twelfth centuries; World War II’s Japanese kamikaze pilots, three thousand of whom crashed into U.S. naval vessels; and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a secular, Marxist-Leninist organization responsible for more suicide terrorist attacks than any other group in history.

The Rotten State of Britain
How Gordon Brown Lost a Decade and Cost a Fortune
by Eamonn Butler

(London, UK) Gibson Square is delighted to announce the UK publication in May 2009 of the trade paperback The Rotten State of Britain. Written by Dr Eamonn Butler, head of the non-aligned Adam Smith Institute, the book is the first comprehensive assessment of the achievements of 12 years of New Labour in government based on 8 years of research from the vantage point of the Adam Smith Institute.

9781906142346 *** £11.99 Trade paperback *** 320 pp *** May 2009

‘Jaw-dropping.’ Catholic Herald

‘“A labour made crisis.”’

‘Suicide may be the only answer. Though I will bet the bloody Labour Party has prohibited that on health and safety grounds, and that they won't be able to cremate the body because crematoria aren’t allowed to smoke any more'
Austin Mitchell, Labour MP, Mail on Sunday

‘“We’ve all been made criminals.”’
Sunday Times

‘Turns and bites Labour: The left was, to be sure, asking for it. Its hyperbole in the Thatcher and Major years, both in the pronouncements of the Labour party and in the polemic coming from the left intelligentsia (over the state of a mid-1990s Britain that was getting steadily richer) begged for a payback. This book is evidence that it is getting it.’ John Lloyd, Financial Times

Sunday Telegraph Book of the Week

‘Police who make criminals of the innocent… anti-terror adverts that leave us terrified… security cameras that make us more insecure… No wonder we’re all scared stiff’
Daily Mail

‘We used to think this kind of thing happened only in benighted tin-pot dictatorships. It underlines the fact that we are rapidly becoming a police state’
Sunday Express

‘Greed: all about it’
The Scotsman

‘At a time when there is an almost instinctive longing for the return of the state this book offers a provocative counterweight… Timely and worrying… a devastating report card.’ Professor Trentmann, Sunday Express

‘The book ‘that should do the same for Blair and Brown as Hutton did for Thatcher and Major…So, yes, there's plenty to apologise for – but Gordon Brown hasn't even started yet’ Brian Monteith, The Scotsman

‘A no holds barred critique of the achievements of New Labour’ 
Evening Standard

‘“Britain has become a bureaucratic and authoritarian state.’”
Daily Telegraph


1903933781 (9781903933787 - 13 digit ISBN)
Hardback, 316 pp
GBP 18.99

(To order the book double-click on the jacket image)

(To hear a recent interview, please double-click)

What we still don't understand about Hizbollah

This week, world terrorism expert Robert Pape will share with the FBI the findings of his remarkable study of 462 suicide bombings. He concludes that such acts have little to do with religious extremism and that the West must engage politically to halt the relentless slaughter

Robert Pape
Sunday August 6, 2006
The Observer

Israel has finally conceded that air power alone will not defeat Hizbollah. Over the coming weeks, it will learn that ground power won't work either. The problem is not that the Israelis have insufficient military might, but that they misunderstand the nature of the enemy.

In terms of structure and hierarchy, it is less comparable with, say, a religious cult such as the Taliban than to the multi-dimensional American civil rights movement of the 1960s. What made its rise so rapid, and will make it impossible to defeat militarily, was not its international support but the fact that it evolved from a reorientation of pre-existing Lebanese social groups.

Evidence of the broad nature of Hizbollah's resistance to Israeli occupation can be seen in the identity of its suicide attackers. Hizbollah conducted a broad campaign of suicide bombings against American, French and Israeli targets from 1982 to 1986. Altogether, these attacks, which included the infamous bombing of the marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, involved 41 suicide terrorists.

Researching my book, which covered all 462 suicide bombings around the globe, I had colleagues scour Lebanese sources to collect martyr videos, pictures and testimonials and biographies of the Hizbollah bombers. Of the 41, we identified the names, birth places and other personal data for 38. We were shocked to find that only eight were Islamic fundamentalists; 27 were from leftist political groups such as the Lebanese Communist Party and the Arab Socialist Union; three were Christians, including a female secondary school teacher with a college degree. All were born in Lebanon.

What these suicide attackers - and their heirs today - shared was not a religious or political ideology but simply a commitment to resisting a foreign occupation. Nearly two decades of Israeli military presence did not root out Hizbollah. The only thing that has proven to end suicide attacks, in Lebanon and elsewhere, is withdrawal by the occupying force.

Previous analyses of suicide terrorism have not had the benefit of a complete survey of all suicide terrorist attacks worldwide. The lack of complete data, together with the fact that many such attacks, including all those against Americans, have been committed by Muslims, has led many in the US to assume that Islamic fundamentalism must be the underlying main cause. This, in turn, has fuelled a belief that anti-American terrorism can be stopped only by wholesale transformation of Muslim societies, which helped create public support of the invasion of Iraq. But study of the phenomenon of suicide terrorism shows that the presumed connection to Islamic fundamentalism is misleading.

There is not the close connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism that many people think. Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist campaigns have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.

Religion is rarely the root cause, although it is often used as a tool by terrorist organisations in recruiting and in other efforts in service of the broader strategic objective. Most often, it is a response to foreign occupation.

Understanding that suicide terrorism is not a product of Islamic fundamentalism has important implications for how the US and its allies should conduct the war on terrorism. Spreading democracy across the Persian Gulf is not likely to be a panacea as long as foreign troops remain on the Arabian peninsula. The obvious solution might well be simply to abandon the region altogether. Isolationism, however, is not possible; America needs a new strategy that pursues its vital interest in oil but does not stimulate the rise of a new generation of suicide terrorists. The same is true of Israel now.

The new Israeli land offensive may take ground and destroy weapons, but it has little chance of destroying Hizbollah. In fact, in the wake of the bombings of civilians, the incursion will probably aid Hizbollah's recruiting.

Equally important, Israel's incursion is also squandering the goodwill it had initially earned from so-called moderate Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The countries are the court of opinion that matters because, while Israel cannot crush Hizbollah, it could achieve a more limited goal: ending Hizbollah's acquisition of more missiles through Syria.

Given Syria's total control of its border with Lebanon, stemming the flow of weapons is a job for diplomacy, not force. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, Sunni-led nations that want stability in the region, are motivated to stop the rise of Hizbollah. Under the right conditions, the US might be able to help assemble an ad hoc coalition of Syria's neighbours to entice and bully it to prevent Iranian, Chinese or other foreign missiles from entering Lebanon. It could also offer to begin talks over the future of the Golan Heights.

But Israel must take the initiative. Unless it calls off the offensive and accepts a genuine ceasefire, there are likely to be many, many dead Israelis in the coming weeks - and a much stronger Hizbollah.

Democracy is the solution

Damian Thompson
Saturday 13 August
Daily Telegraph

In the days after the planes hit the Twin Towers, it wasn't difficult to spot those of our fellow countrymen who, shall we say, weren't as upset as they might have been. After a sniffle of crocodile tears, they would say: "But the West has to ask itself why the Islamic world hates it so much."

Conservatives had no difficulty interpreting this statement. It meant: "America had it coming." (Interestingly, many people who uttered it were Liberal Democrats, an early indication of that party's shameful equivocation over the war on terrorism.) Yet the question itself was a valid one, and after the London bombings the Right found itself forced to address it.

... To discover why, read Dying to Win by Robert A Pape, a political scientist who is the director of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism. His book is of crucial importance because the greatest threat faced by the West is posed not by the Communist-style annexation of countries by Islamists, but by suicide killers who are on the verge of acquiring chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

Although Pape recognises that the terrorists are likely to be Muslims, and that there is cross-pollination between extremists, he is not convinced that Islamism is a unified global ideology. If it were unified, he says, then one would expect al-Qa'eda to have attacked Israel, or Hamas to have attacked America. He also rejects the assumption that the root cause of the epidemic of suicide bombings that began in the 1980s is fundamentalism. Many of the Palestinian fanatics who blow up innocent people in Israel are nationalists, not Islamists; they do not expect to be rewarded in the afterlife. Nor do the Tamil Tigers, atheists who hold the world record for the number of suicide attacks.

Pape has subjected a database of more than 300 suicide murderers to meticulous multivariate analysis. His conclusion is that most of them were inspired by an anti-colonialist agenda that can (but need not) be combined with religious zealotry. The real objective of al-Qa'eda terrorists, including British ones, is the "liberation" of territory from US-supported regimes. And it is this primacy of land over faith that explains why support for suicide bombings among Palestinians is far higher than support for Islamism. Most suicide bombers kill themselves because they know they will be celebrated as freedom fighters by their communities; doe-eyed virgins don't figure in their calculations.

Pape advocates Arab democracy as a long-term solution. The difference is that he believes any experiment will fail if it carries even the whiff of colonial imposition. Meanwhile, he advises the West to protect itself very aggressively against terror through control of its borders. To adapt a smug liberal cliché that did the rounds after September 11, we have no alternative but to wage war on an abstract noun.
Israel must agree to a ceasefire or Hizbullah will prosper.

Paul Gillespie
12 August 2006
Irish Times

... Robert Pape from the University of Chicago, has made a special exhaustive study of suicide bombers throughout the world since 1980 in a book now to be issued in the UK.

Dying to Win finds most of them are secular; part of organised groups, not individuals; overwhelmingly motivated by nationalist demands for self-determination, not religious fundamentalism; and their actions are overwhelmingly directed against foreign occupations. It follows that withdrawal is the best way to avoid such atrocities. "The longer our forces stay on the ground in the Arabian peninsula," he said in an interview last year, "the greater the risk of the next 9/11, whether this is a suicide attack, a nuclear attack or a biological attack." Pape is no radical fellow-traveller, but a political supporter of George Bush who previously worked at the US air force's school of advanced air and space studies and in 1996 published his first book, Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War.

His continuing project on suicide terrorism is part-funded by the Pentagon. This week he briefed FBI executives on his findings. Writing in the New York Times and Observer about the war in Lebanon, he says: "Israel has finally conceded that air power alone will not defeat Hizbullah. Over the coming weeks, it will learn that ground power won't work either. The problem is not that the Israelis have insufficient military might, but they misunderstand the nature of the enemy."
Hizbullah is basically a broad movement which evolved in reaction to Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, both politically and militarily. Pape was shocked to find that of the 41 suicide attacks on American, French and Israeli targets from 1982-86 only eight were Islamic fundamentalists, and 27 from left-wing political groups. The movement is so deeply embedded in Lebanese society that the Israeli land offensive has little chance of destroying it, but will probably help it recruit. Unless Israel accepts a ceasefire and calls off its offensive "there are likely to be many, many dead Israelis in the coming weeks - and a much stronger Hizbullah".

Part of the comprehension problem is rhetorical. US and Israeli rhetoric routinely uses the term "terrorist" to describe their enemies in Iraq and Lebanon, rather than insurgents, resistance fighters or guerrillas. It is wrong to conflate terrorism and guerrilla warfare. Whereas guerrilla fighters reconfigure the confrontation between combatants and non-combatants by basing themselves in civilian society - fighting where they live - terrorists attack civilians indiscriminately. Surprise is the key element of guerrilla warfare and the ambush its classic tactic, as the Israelis are discovering in south Lebanon.

If Pape is right Bush's talk of Islamic fascism and Blair's of an arc of extremism are more likely to stoke conflict than abate it. They should both heed Ovid's advice as well as Sun Tse's: "He himself teaches what I should do; it is right to be taught by the enemy".

It was a wiser Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who said you make peace with your enemies, not your friends.

The Future of Suicide Terrorism in the West
from Dying to Win

On July 7, 2005, Al Qaeda launched its most devastating attack since 9/11—the London suicide bombings on three underground lines and one city bus, killing 52 innocent people.

Although many would have hoped that American and Western counter-terrorism efforts would have reduced the threat, the facts show otherwise. The war on terrorism is continuing to head south. On November 14 2005, four Iraqis left their country on forged passports to carry out suicide attacks against three American-related hotels in Jordan. Throughout 2005, suicide terrorism in Iraq steadily escalated to new set a new record for suicide attacks in a single year.

The reason is not a reluctance to take the offense or a failure to support democracy in Iraq. Rather, the key reason is that the West’s strategy for this war is fundamentally flawed. Right now, our strategy for the war on terrorism presumes that suicide terrorism is mainly a product of an evil ideology called Islamic fundamentalism and that this ideology would produce campaigns of suicide terrorism wherever it exists and regardless of our military policies. This presumption is wrong and is leading toward foreign policies that are making our situation worse. Although multiple factors are at work, consideration of the most prominent suicide attacks in 2005 shows that the strategic logic of suicide terrorism—and especially the presence of Western combat forces in Iraq and on the Arabian Peninsula—remains the core factor driving the threat we face.

The London Bombings

Since the London bombings, many are asking how could local, middle-class, educated British Muslims kill themselves to kill others. Alas, the answer is both simple and disturbing—deep anger over Western combat forces on the Arabian Peninsula.

Since 2002, Al Qaeda has carried out 17 suicide and other terrorist bombings that killed nearly 700 people—more attacks and victims than in all the years before 9/11 combined. Although many have hoped that Western counterterrorism efforts would have weakened Al Qaeda, by the measure that counts—the ability of the group to kill us—Al Qaeda is stronger today than before 2001. The London suicide terrorist attack on July 7 and the attempted bombings on July 21 stem closely from Al Qaeda’s core strategic logic, which is driven mainly by political rather than religious goals.
To make sense of Al Qaeda’s campaign against the United States and its allies, Dying to Win compiled data on the 71 terrorists who killed themselves between 1995 and 2004 in carrying out attacks sponsored by Osama bin Laden’s network. This study was able to collect the names, nationalities and detailed demographic information on 67 of these bombers, data which provides insight into the underlying causes of Al Qaeda’s suicide terrorism and how the group’s strategy has evolved since 2001.

Most important, the figures show that Al Qaeda is today less a product of Islamic fundamentalism than of a simple strategic goal: to compel the United States and its Western allies to withdraw combat forces from the Arabian Peninsula and other Muslim countries. Over two thirds are nationals from Sunni Muslim countries where the United States has stationed combat troops since 1990—Saudi Arabia, other states on the Arabian Peninsula, Turkey, and Afghanistan. Few or none are from many of the world’s most populous Islamic fundamentalist countries. Iran—whose population is 70 million, surely steeped in Islamic fundamentalism, and three times the size of Saudi Arabia—has never produced an Al Qaeda suicide terrorist. Sudan—Islamic fundamentalist with a population almost the same size as Saudi Arabia—has also never produced one either.
Even the one third of Al Qaeda suicide attackers that are transnational in nature are powerfully motivated by anger over Western combat operations on the Arabian Peninsula. The individuals who committed the London suicide attacks are part of Al Qaeda’s transnational support. Although we might like to think the London bombers’ motivations were somehow exceptional, there is powerful evidence to the contrary.

First, the Al Qaeda group that claimed responsibility for the London attacks said they were to punish Great Britain for British military operations in Iraq and went on to threaten Italy and Denmark with terrorist attacks unless these states pulled their forces out of Iraq. The Al Qaeda statement was released just hours after the July 7th attack and said that “the heroic mujahideen have carried out a blessed raid in London … in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Second, Hussein Osman, one of the four would-be July 21 bombers captured in Rome, said in his interrogation by Italian authorities: “This was not about religion. … We watched videos of British military operations in Iraq.”

Third, Mohammad Sidique Kahn, the ring-leader of the July 7th bombers, made a martyr video that Al Qaeda released several months after the attack. In it, Kahn says that the purpose of the London attacks was to punish Britain because its “democratically elected governments continuously perpetrate atrocities against my people all over the world…. Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight.” Finally, the British home office conducted a detailed survey of the attitudes of the 1.6 million Muslims living in Britain in April 2004. This survey, located on The Times web site, found that, while 85 percent condemned suicide terrorism, 13 percent believed that more suicide attacks against the United States and the West were justified. The survey went further to identify the specific reason—Iraq. In other words, the principal factor driving support for suicide terrorism among British Muslims was not an evil ideology, but deep anger over British military policies on the Arabian Peninsula.

Close inspection of the pattern of Al Qaeda bombings since 9/11 helps to explain why London was selected as a target and why Al Qaeda was especially interested in attacking it in the time-frame of 2005. As Dying to Win shows, what is common among Al Qaeda’s post-9/11 attacks is not their location but the identity of the victims killed. Since 2002, the group has killed citizens from 18 of the 20 countries that Osama bin Laden has cited as supporting the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

There is good evidence that this shift in Al Qaeda’s scheme was the product of deliberate choice. In December 2003, the Norwegian intelligence service found a lengthy Qaeda planning document on a radical Islamic Web site that described a coherent strategy for compelling the United States and its allies to leave Iraq. It made clear that more spectacular attacks against the United States like those of 9/11 would be insufficient, and that it would be more effective to attack America’s European allies, thus coercing them to withdraw their forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and increasing the economic and military burdens that the United States would have to bear.
In particular, the document weighed the advantages of attacking Britain, Poland and Spain, and concluded that Spain in particular, because of the high level of domestic opposition to the Iraq war, was the most vulnerable.

“It is necessary to make utmost use of the upcoming general election in Spain in March next year,” the document stated. “We think that the Spanish government could not tolerate more than two, maximum three, blows, after which it will have to withdraw as a result of popular pressure. If its troops still remain in Iraq after these blows, then the victory of the Socialist Party is almost secured, and the withdrawal of the Spanish forces will be on its electoral program.”
That prediction, of course, proved murderously prescient. Yet it was only one step in the plan: “Lastly, we emphasize that a withdrawal of the Spanish or Italian forces from Iraq would put huge pressure on the British presence, a pressure that Tony Blair might not be able to withstand, and hence the domino tiles would fall quickly.”

The bottom line, then, is that the suicide attacks against those buses and subways in London are clearly of a piece with Al Qaeda’s post-9/11 strategy. And while we don’t know the full extent of the terrorist network, it is reasonable to believe that Al Qaeda has not been fundamentally weakened but has changed course and achieved significant success. The London attacks will only encourage Osama bin Laden and other Qaeda leaders in the belief that they will succeed in their ultimate aim: causing America and its allies to withdraw forces from the Muslim world.

Indeed, Americans should take little comfort in the knowledge that Al Qaeda has decided to focus over the past few years on hitting US military allies. As of 2006, this component of Al Qaeda’s strategy nearly ran its course and was always viewed as a step toward adding more pressure on the United States by increasing the military and economic burden of keeping troops in Iraq and the rest of the Arabian peninsula. Further, Osama bin Laden’s January 19, 2006 statement suggests that A Qaeda may also be focusing on its main target, The United States and American targets around the world. Using language similar to the 2003 document found by Norwegian intelligence, bin Laden says that although Al Qaeda has recently focused on “the capitals of the most important European countries of the aggressive coalition” in Iraq, “operations are in preparation” to carry out “similar operations in America.” Given that Spain withdrew its forces from Iraq in 2004 and Britain and Italy both called for substantial withdrawals in 2006, it is unsurprising that Al Qaeda—whether in conjunction with Iraqi suicide terrorists or not—believes that the time is right to focus again on American targets.


Most analysts are at a loss to explain why suicide terrorism is escalating in Iraq, and presume that it must be a chaotic or religious phenomenon, one without a pragmatic basis. However, suicide terrorism has a coherent strategic logic and understanding the factors actually driving terrorists to use this strategy is crucial to capping the volcano now erupting in Iraq.
A key reason why the logic of suicide terrorism in Iraq—and elsewhere—has been hard to grasp is that we have lacked robust information about the suicide attacks and the suicide attackers themselves. Recently, I have extended the database for the crucial case of Iraq, including every suicide terrorist attack in the country through the end of 2005.

Suicide terrorism in Iraq is driven not by religion, but by a clear strategic objective: to prevent the establishment of a government under the control of the United States. To do this, the terrorists are attacking targets that they hope would undermine the confidence of the Iraq population in the Iraqi government’s ability to maintain order, and especially to discourage Kurds and Sunni from cooperating with the government. Although the Iraqi rebels may someday intend to foment a full-scale civil war between the Shia and Sunni communities, the facts show that this has not been the principle military objective of the resistance over the past two years.

Three patterns in the data support help to reveal the underlying logic of the suicide terrorist campaign in Iraq. The first concerns the timing of the suicide attacks. Prior to America’s invasion in March 2003, Iraq had never experienced a suicide terrorist attack in its history. Since the invasion suicide terrorism has been escalating rapidly.* Iraq had 20 suicide attacks in 2003, 49 in 2004, and 125 in 2005—a new record for suicide attacks in one year. In other words, suicide terrorism has gone from nothing in all the years before the US invasion to doubling every year that nearly one hundred and fifty thousand American combat forces have been stationed there.

Second, the geographic distribution of the attacks shows a clear pattern, one that has remained remarkably constant over time. Baghdad has been the prime target, consistently hit by the great weight of all suicide attacks (45 to 60%), even as the overall number has doubled each year.** The remaining attacks have been divided fairly evenly across the three main ethnic and geographic divisions of the country outside of the capital, with the annual proportion of attacks varying from roughly 10 to 20% against targets in the Kurdish north, in Sunni triangle in the center and west, and in the Shia south. Focusing on the capital is normal for insurgency that is seeking to undermine confidence in the government.

Third, a look at the specific targets selected for attack helps to further clarify the strategic logic behind suicide terrorism in Iraq. The vast majority of attacks—over 75%—have been directed against military, government and political targets, such as government buildings, police convoys and police stations, recruiting centers, assassination of government leaders, and Western troops and contractors.*** By contrast, only a fraction—roughly 15 to 25%—have been directed at local Iraqi civilians not working for the Iraqi government or Western agencies, such as local Iraqis in mosques and crowded markets. The fraction of civilian targets rose modestly this year, but a major new trend is not yet manifest.

What fuels support for this strategic objective is the continued presence of heavy American ground forces. Although many of the targets are associated with the Iraqi government, the United States is widely viewed as the power behind the throne.
The reason is not that American forces are especially prominent; they often do keep a low profile. Rather, it is simply the basic ground truth that American military forces toppled the previous government, created the conditions to install the current regime, and remain the most potent military force in Iraq today. The presence of nearly one hundred and fifty thousand American combat troops casts doubt on the legitimacy of the Iraqi government and offers the terrorists an opportunity to mobilize resistance against a foreign occupation that is seeking to transform the local society.

The presence of American combat forces is the central basis for the recruitment appeals used by terrorist leaders in Iraq. In his famous letter to Osama bin Laden in January 2004, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi explains the main motive of the resistance is to combat an American plan to transform Iraq:

“The Americans ... entered Iraq on the basis of a contract to create the State of Greater Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates and this Zionized American Administration thinks that in hastening the creation of Greater Israel it will hasten the arrival of the Messiah. ... America did not come here to turn around and go home ... Its immediate objectives are to be able to withdraw to its bases in complete safety, to have its hands free, and to entrust the Iraqi battlefields to the government they have installed, to which they have added an army and police forces.”

Al-Zarqawi’s letter goes on to single out government and military targets, as a way to undermine the American occupation:

“Soldiers, police forces, and agents: these are the eyes, ears, and hands of the occupier who uses them to see, hear, and exert his violence. With God’s help, we are determined to make them special targets in the coming period before the situation is consolidated and they have the means to proceed to arrests.”

The identities of the Iraqi suicide attackers are now murky. This is not unusual in the early years of a suicide terrorist campaign. Hezbollah did not publish many of the biographies and last testaments of its suicide attackers until after the suicide operations had ended, a pattern adopted by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka as well. At the moment, our best information is that the attackers are from two main sources, Sunni Iraqis and foreign fighters, principally from Saudi Arabia. The next largest groups appear to come from Syria and Kuwait. If so, this would mean that the main sources of suicide terrorists in Iraq are coming either from Iraqi itself or from the countries immediately adjacent to Iraq whose societies are most vulnerable to transformation by the presence of American combat troops—and not from the world’s largest Islamic fundamentalist populations (such as Iran, Sudan, or Pakistan). This picture is fully consistent with what we now know about the strategic logic of suicide terrorism.


The suicide attack in November 2005 in Jordan was perhaps the most worrisome of the year. On November 9, three suicide bombers launched a coordinated, team attack against three hotels in Amman that were frequented by American government officials and military contractors, killing 60 people and injuring 115 others (although no Americans). A would-be fourth suicide bomber, the wife of one of three and who had three brothers killed by American forces in Iraq , was unable to detonate her explosives and later captured by Jordanian authorities.

The next day, Zarqawi’s Iraqi rebel group claimed responsibility. The statement identified the names of the three suicide terrorists, all Iraqis. This information was confirmed by the captured would-be female bomber, also an Iraqi. Zarqawi’s statement also said that Jordan was attacked because it had become a “rear-base camp for the [American] Crusader army.”
Much of the Western media was captivated by the female suicide bomber, a woman who showed strikingly calm nerves and disturbingly little remorse in her video-taped confession released by Jordan’s security services. However, this attack was ominous for a far more important reason. For the first time, 4 Iraqi suicide attackers struck American-related targets outside of Iraq, and their forged passports could well have gained them access to any number of Western countries had they not chosen to attack in Jordan.

Although some have suggested that suicide terrorism in Iraq might well have an advantage—if they attack over there, they won’t come here—the Jordan suicide attack shows that the opposite is more likely. Just as Al Qaeda carried out numerous suicide attacks against targets abroad prior to 9/11, the longer suicide terrorism continues in Iraq, the greater the risk that Iraqi suicide attackers will follow a similar trajectory against America and its allies.

The Future of Suicide Terrorism

Although terrorist leaders may harbor other goals, history shows that the presence of foreign combat forces on prized territory is the principal recruiting tool used by terrorist leaders to mobilize suicide terrorists to kill us. Suicide terrorism is mainly a demand-driven, not supply-limited phenomenon. Suicide terrorists are overwhelmingly walk-in volunteers, not long time members of terrorist groups. They do exhibit a variety of individual motivations. Some are evidently driven by social prestige, as in the case of those who make martyr videos or attack in teams of pre-existing social networks. Some are out for revenge, seeking to lash out against those whom they believe are responsible for the death of family members or close friends. Others are driven by religion. However, Dying to Win shows that what cuts across these various personal situations is the common motive to end the threat of a foreign occupation. Absent the goal to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland or prize greatly, suicide terrorism hardly occurs.

These facts help to explain not only why suicide terrorist campaigns begin, but also why they end.
If suicide terrorism were mainly the product of Islamic fundamentalism or any other evil ideology independent of circumstance, then suicide terrorism in Lebanon should not have ended when the Americans, French, and Israelis withdrew their combat forces from the country. Since Hezbollah retained its Islamic fundamentalist ideology, we should instead have witnessed suicide terrorists following the Americans to New York, the French to Paris, and the Israelis to Tel Aviv—which did not happen. Similarly, if Islamic fundamentalism is the main factor driving Palestinian suicide terrorism, we should not have seen its dramatic decline following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and other steps in 2004 and 2005, nor, following its electoral victory in January 2006, Hamas’ offer of a truce if Israel withdrew to the pre-1967 borders of the West Bank—which did happen. Although Islamic fundamentalism cannot explain the decline of suicide terrorism In Lebanon and Palestine, this pattern accords closely to the strategic logic of suicide terrorism.

So long as the war on terrorism ignores the actual strategic logic of suicide terrorism, it will likely be impossible to win and our actions may well end up helping terrorist leaders recruit many more suicide terrorists to kill us. The longer American and allied combat forces remain in Iraq and the rest of the Arabian peninsula, the greater the risk of the next 9/11 or 7/7.

May 2006, copyright Robert A. Pape