Al-Qaeda’s Strategic Gamble: The Sociology of Suicide Bombings in Iraq


  • Domenico Tosini Dept Sociology and Social Research - University of Trento (Italy)



The article analyzes the suicide campaign conducted by the Iraqi insurgency since the 2003 US-led invasion. It offers a theoretical framework to identify the factors that explain why only certain armed organizations – in particular Al-Qaeda and its allies – have mounted a terrorist campaign and indiscriminately targeted civilians, in particular the Shiite population instead of the occupying forces, by perpetrating suicide attacks instead of using other tactics. This issue certainly requires identifying a complex set of preconditions for organizing a terrorist campaign, namely the Sunni extremists’ common capacity for exploiting contingent political and social opportunities after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. However, in accounting for the specificities of Al-Qaeda’s suicide terrorism campaign this paper explores three crucial elements: the anti-systemic stand of Al-Qaeda and its allies with respect to the new political regime determined by the Anglo-American occupation; the highly asymmetric nature of the fighting between Al-Qaeda and the occupying forces, combined with Al-Qaeda’s vigilantism against the Shiites; and, finally, the efficacy of suicide attacks in terms of their military, emotional, and symbolic impacts. Keywords: Asymmetric Warfare; Instrumental Rationality; Insurgency; Pan-Islamic Nationalism; Political Opportunities; Terrorism; Suicide Attacks; Vigilantism.