Belfer Center Home > Publications > Academic Papers & Reports > Journal Articles > Testing the Surge: Why Did Violence Decline in Iraq in 2007?

EmailEmail   PrintPrint Bookmark and Share

"Testing the Surge: Why Did Violence Decline in Iraq in 2007?"

A member of Arab Jabour Awakening, a movement of "concerned citizens" working with U.S. troops to provide security in the Sunni stronghold, center, strolls past two soldiers with 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment in a suburb south of Baghad.
AP Photo

"Testing the Surge: Why Did Violence Decline in Iraq in 2007?"

Journal Article, International Security, volume 37, issue 1, pages 7-40

Summer 2012

Authors: Stephen Biddle, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, 1985–1987; Editorial Board Member, Quarterly Journal: International Security, Jeffrey A. Friedman, Research Fellow, International Security Program, 2012–2013, Jacob N. Shapiro

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Quarterly Journal: International Security



Why did violence decline in Iraq in 2007? Many policymakers and scholars credit the “surge,” or the program of U.S. reinforcements and doctrinal changes that began in January 2007. Others cite the voluntary insurgent standdowns of the Sunni Awakening or say that the violence had simply run its course with the end of a wave of sectarian cleansing; still others credit an interaction between the surge and the Awakening. The difference matters for policy and scholarship, yet this debate has not moved from hypothesis to test. An assessment of the competing claims based on recently declassified data on violence at local levels and information gathered from seventy structured interviews with coalition participants finds little support for the cleansing or Awakening theses. Instead, a synergistic interaction between the surge and the Awakening was required for violence to drop as quickly and widely as it did: both were necessary; neither was sufficient. U.S. policy thus played an important role in reducing the violence in Iraq in 2007, but Iraq provides no evidence that similar methods will produce similar results elsewhere without local equivalents of the Sunni Awakening.


Read Austin Long's ISSF review of this article.


For more information about this publication please contact the IS Editorial Assistant at 617-495-1914.

For Academic Citation:

Stephen Biddle, Jeffrey A. Friedman, Jacob N. Shapiro. "Testing the Surge: Why Did Violence Decline in Iraq in 2007?." International Security 37, no. 1 (Summer 2012): 7-40.

Bookmark and Share

Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.