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Last Updated: 03/05/2013
Terrorism and Violence in Iraq
Majid Salih

Majid Salih, formerly a field monitor for the world food programme in Iraq and currently a graduate student at the University for Peace, explains how his life, family, city, and country have been affected by terrorism and violence. Salih then addresses what he feels are the primary factors motivating terrorist acts and generates a complementary set of "solutions". This analysis is meant to provide a basis for further research and reflection, and ultimately, to contribute to the reduction of terrorism and violence in Iraq and elsewhere, where enormous damage to life and social progress has already been felt.

Author's perspective

I am a student researcher at UPEACE and studying in the International Peace Studies programme. My name is Majid Ahmed Salih from Iraq living in the most deteriorated, dangerous and deadly area in this country; it’s called Salah Al Din Governorate or Tikrit City where Iraqi ex-president Saddam Hussien used to live. I am the guardian of a family of eight individuals. Unfortunately, my family, myself, and other close relatives have been directly affected by terrorism and violence.

I worked for more than 12 years with the United Nations and the World Food Programme in Iraq as a Field Monitor. With these positions, I accumulated experience in both of the opposite fields of Peace and Terrorism, in all of their different aspects and influence. During the first six years (1997 – 2003) of my work, there was not a single incident of terrorism recorded, no car bombs, Bomb-belts, suicide bombers, kidnapping, or the appearance of armed groups. However, after 2003, when the American troops invaded Iraq, terrorism (in different manifestations) became apparent as a daily scene, instead of peace.

In the past ten years, the situation in Iraq has become complicated in comparison with the years preceding the American occupation. Although the Iraqis were under blockade and living in poverty during the previous regime, they were somehow satisfied with their standards of living. This is compared to current circumstances and the terrible situation we now live in, as security has disappeared, ethnic cleansing is being practiced by one religious group against the other, and in general, terrorism is felt in the lives of hundreds and thousands of innocent civilians on daily basis.

What could be discussed as an essential issue of what makes Iraq a place for a conflict of interests between many nations and countries that are heavily invested in this vital area of the world, is the apparent weakness of all the different parties and political movements that have more loyalty to their parties than to their country. In other words, they rule Iraq according to their own personal interest, rather than according to the general good of the country. This weakness has led the country to the bottom of hell (e.g. terrorism, bloodsheds, and political instability), and is allowing other countries to interfere in Iraq's domestic affairs.

As a person having the opportunity to be educated outside Iraq, I have learned the value of education to transform the current situation in my country. I am inclined to find ways how to prevent or stop terrorism and violence in Iraq. While it remains difficult to arrive at a single/unified definition of terrorism, the term could be defined according to Kushner as "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or correct a Government" (Kushner, 2002).

Being exposed to the outside world, I feel that most of the people on earth are living in peace, but the people of Iraq who are also part of this world, have not felt the meaning of this word for the past ten years. During this past decade, terrorism has comedown in all its forms to affect the lives of tens and hundreds of innocent victims every day. Thus, now the Iraqis – and I am one of them – are not asking for bread, water, electricity or any essential daily needs, but are seeking only to survive and live in peace.

It is worth mentioning that among the most violent aspects of terrorism has been the process of killing and assassinating scientists, thinkers, writers, and senior doctors: the death toll for them has reached thousands, while most of those who are still alive have been forced to migrate and leave the country.

Due to my work with the UN as a Field Monitor for more than 12 years, many such attempts where made on my life, as when the terrorists completely bombed my house by using more than 100kg of high explosive material (TNT) in early 2005. My family of eight individuals and I were forced to live under a tent for eight months following the explosion. Then, in 2006, while I was in my car with my family, they attacked me using automatic guns and my daughter and I were severely injured. In 2007, mortar shelling on the area where I live killed 15 people, while 44 were seriously injured, including myself. Pieces of the shell are still present in my knee and legs. All these events are officially documented.

The author in the hospital after a terrorist attack

Through my experience and observation, terrorism comes in many forms. One popular tactic of terror is the use of car bombs, especially in public gathering places. Sometimes the number of car bombs reached 50 or 60 cars in one day throughout the 15 governorates of Iraq. Another tactic is the use of magnetic bombs which are used daily to kill people by affixing the device to a car and detonate it through remote control. Another tactic is the destruction and explosion of houses and public buildings using highly explosive material like TNT. At times, suicide bombers are used, especially when they want to kill VIP, military or police leaders and social leaders (Sheiks). Roadside bombs are also used to create terror in Iraq and are mostly used on the main highways between cities.

Another problem I have observed is kidnapping. People with influence such as politicians, journalists and sheiks are being kidnapped for many reasons such as for money, personal grievances, religious differences, political issues, and commercial differences. For example, kidnapping is used by competing businessman to control the exporting and importing process as well as the local market.

The author's house after being destroyed by TNT.

Since occupation, armed groups and militias are spreading out everywhere in Iraq, especially in the capital Baghdad and the four main governorates in the Western area (Anbar, Deyala, Musel, and my Governorate, Salah Al Din - Tikrit City). The armed groups kill anytime, anywhere and whoever they want according to their regional and international agenda, except the resistance who are more focused on fighting the occupation troops. In my experience, there were no armed groups under the rule of Saddam Hussein, but they are all over Iraq now.

Everything that I have narrated above represents my thoughts and views on my country and result from being exposed to this sad environment. And so, in the pursuit of a doable plan in order for me to help my countrymen, or at least my family and friends from being subjected to terrorism, I intend to focus my research at UPEACE on identifying the most important ways to solve the existing problem.

This paper is an attempt to systematically identify the general and individual causes of terrorism and violence in Iraq in brief, based on my personal experiences and the research I have done so far.

Individuals or Personal Causes

Based on interviews I have conducted with people in prison who have engaged in this type of random killing, the following personal motivations/characteristics seem evident:

A. Blind hatred for others, formed through deliberate psychological manipulation since childhood (I do not say “brainwashed”, but it is certainly a contamination of the brain).

B. Feelings of desperation regarding the past, present, and future.

C. A pronounced desire for revenge and historical vendettas.

D. Severe feelings of guilt, leading to a propensity for suicide as a way to get rid of this feeling.

E. A conviction that suicide bombers and others who engage in violent acts will be rewarded in an eternal paradise after death.

General and Structural Causes

The Iraq Government at a Glance

Official Iraqi Governorate is the main element among the above highlighted factors and actors. The government cannot solve any of these problems without the assistance and cooperation of the people. For example, the militia and armed groups were controlling 90% of every aspect of Iraqi life between 2006 and 2008, like Al Sahwat, who were initially fighting the government. Nowadays, they have nearly stopped their attacks and counter productive activities and started to focus their efforts on assisting the government to stand on its feet.

Poverty, Illiteracy and Unemployment

A recent report by the United Nations and the World Bank states that eight million Iraqis have fallen below the poverty line, despite the fact that the country is one of the largest oil producers in the world. This leads us to think about the poor and needy people who are not able to find their next meal and get only two hours of electricity power daily and suffer from too little potable water and medical care. From here, begins the begging, stealing, and involvement in the armed terrorism groups, a phenomenon that is spreading in many places in Iraq, and exacerbated by the absence of a Social Security Act, which should protect and insure people's basic food needs and prevent people from siding and engaging with terrorists and armed groups. I have seen how the problems of lack of food, water and basic services will push people to extreme acts like kidnapping and killings. Sometimes the cost to kill one man is only a hundred dollars and sometimes people pay in the form of premiums, such as $50 paid to the killer up front and then $50 after carrying out the murder.

This is also related to the general lack of basic services faced by Iraqi people. After ten years of U.S. occupation, the Iraqis are still waiting for access to basic services like clean drinking water (potable) and electric lighting, and health care. These demands and fundamental rights of the citizen, if not available, fuel a spirit of discontent among citizens against the governing authority.

According to Muna Al Ma'amor, a parliament education committee member in Iraqi parliament, there are six million mothers in Iraq that do not know how to read and write. There are many challenges to increasing the rate of literacy. For example, the lack of security conditions, deterioration of economic life, a social structure that does not believe in education as a prerequisite for living, the weak chance to get a job for educated girls, early marriage for girls, especially in the rural areas and finally, the effect of terrorism in preventing access to education (except in the religious schools, as they are protected).

This is particularly distressing since, as indicated by UNESCO, Iraq was the first country in the Middle East to eradicate illiteracy completely in the 1980s. Since then, wars and economic blockade have destroyed the economy and infrastructure and led to the abolition of all social projects, disrupting the progress of education and health and leaving Iraq with a large number of illiterates (al Ma'amori, 2012).

Oil as Source of Corruption

Most people around the world think of Iraqis as if they were the richest people in the world because of the vast oil wealth their government owns. However, Iraq is far from being a developed country as a result of the wide destruction caused by the war and the advanced spread of financial and administrative corruption between the different components of the Iraqi state. Iraq was named by Transparency International as the least transparent nation among the 169 countries listed. It is worth mentioning that Iraqi oil exports have exceeded the level of production of three million barrels per day for the first time in three decades, but due to corruption, the money is never seen by the common people. It is already spent on bribes or commissions here and there with the front companies and business leaders who make up the mafia market in Iraq and the Pacific Regional Iraq. An actual case of big corruption includes one invisible businessman's complete control on the electricity field and he does not allow anybody to import the electricity energy generators, even the government, which has spent more than $27 billion on electricity production. Even the government acknowledges this overt corruption.

Religious Variety

Religious and ethnic diversity in Iraq is the most important attribute of Iraqi society. Arabs constitute the largest percentage and Kurds and Turkmen make up the religious variety of Muslims. Sunni and Shi'a are the majority and the Christians of Chaldeans, Armenians and Assyrians, Yazds, Sabean Mandaean and Al Shabak and the Jews are all minorities. This diversity was controlled and suppressed by the former regime, but after the U.S. occupation in 2003, all religious communities started to compete for leadership positions in the state, whether in parliament or in the government. Various methods were used to get in to power, some legal and others not, prompting some religious parties to form armed militias fighting for sectarian interests. Many such groups or parties have found support among the regional states.

American Occupation

After 2003, Iraq has witnessed huge changes in all parts of life including increased violence and instability. When U.S. troops invaded Iraq, they left every thing opened, including even the stores for weapons that belonged to the army of the previous regime in all Iraqi towns and cities, which was one of the biggest arsenal of weapons in the Middle East. This was a huge mistake made by the American troops, which led to the growth of terrorism in Iraq. During this period, an incredible thing happened: the price of an automatic gun, i.e. Kalashnikov, dropped down to $10 per piece. Even kids could own these weapons. Moreover, the feeling of lawlessness created by the occupation encouraged the people to use these weapons even in any small limited conflict, and this fertile environment encouraged people to kill. Then, those areas where people could easily buy weapons became a powerful incubator of terrorism. After one year of the U.S. invasion, the resistance against American troops started in Western cities such as Al Falloja city and Al Dhulueya and it then spread to other cities and villages.

The Role of International Community

The UN, which embodies the international community, is heavily involved in unstable countries such as Iraq. I think the UN has neglected many important projects that could develop or increase the ability of Iraqis to prevent terrorist attacks by, for example, organizing educational programs in different parts of Iraq to teach people about the real consequences of terrorism. During the bloody years between 2006 and 2008 (Schmidt, 2011) when armed groups and militias were nearly controlling every aspect of the Iraqi state, there was no significant presence of UN agencies in Iraq. Except, for example, the limited scope of the activities that were run by me and two of my colleges as local UN staff members under the World Food Program, who distributed essential food commodities for approximately 26,000 displaced people out of the 1,250,000 people living in Salah Al Din Governorate.


Given the above analysis, a list of potential solutions can be generated. I hope to analyze these in greater detail in my research at UPEACE and in further study.

  1. It is right that we are creating schools based on a curriculum of rationality and modern understandings that promote a spirit of tolerance and love instead of hatred. This will be my PhD thesis en sha’allah.
  2. Compensation for the families of the victims of terrorism by the government to award them either housing or money or employment.
  3. Official governmental statements should move away from the words and phrases of sectarian discrimination during their speeches because it raises the ire of the other parties and generates adverse reactions.
  4. Economic opportunities, especially those provided by the government, should be made available to all Iraqi people, without discrimination.
  5. Provision of basic services such as food, water, electricity and primary health care must be ensured.
  6. Border crossing points should be controlled in order to prevent weapons smuggling.
  7. Corruption must be eliminated. Increasing the salaries of the staff officials may keep them from bribing citizens.
  8. Official government media should be closer to the common people.
  9. Resolve the hotbeds of terrorism through information and intelligence and avoid damage on innocent civilians.


To kill someone, there must be in you deep hatred for this person and a strong desire for revenge, but to kill a person you do not know just for belonging to another group with different opinions, that means you hate that group of people, and desire for revenge. The personal and general factors leading to terrorism are thus connected to each other and must be addressed together. I hope to work more on this through my research at UPEACE and to contribute to ending terrorism and violence in Iraq.


Al Ma'amori, M. (2012). Illiteracy in Iraq. Elpha Publishing Limited, 4188, 2.

Kushner, H. (2002). Encyclopedia of terrorism. (p. XX). Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Press.

Masood. (2008, January 2). Madras Religious Schools. The New York Times.

Schmidt, M. (2011, April 15). Threat resurges in deadliest day of year for Iraq. New York Times. Retrieved from

Majid Salih, UPEACE, MA in International Peace Studies 2013.