Can States Retain Control after Empowering Non-State Armed Groups? An Exploration of Three Mechanisms

  • Ayesha Abdulla Alshehhi

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The aim of this study is to examine how states attempt to keep control non-state armed groups (NSAG) after empowering them. This thesis aims to evaluate the extent to which states are able to balance the risks that come with the empowerment of NSAGs with the means to retain control and authority over them. In order to do this, it looks at three common mechanisms by which states empower NSAGs (funding, armaments and legitimacy) and analyses which of the three allows the state to retain control and which does not. State weakness in power and authority in many parts of the world has enabled the emergence of many NSAGs who compete with the central government for authority. Often, because of the disintegration of a state's military apparatus, NSAGs emerge to the scene to fill the security vacuum and even provide governance in some settings. Typically, states have no desire to share authority over the use of force with non-state armed groups. On the other hand, a diverse set of militias or armed groups have prospered is some countries and are even supported, facilitated or endorsed by the regime of the state. In some cases, the weakness of the state security can only be compensated by mobilizing militia forces. Especially in times of crisis, these NSAGs can be fundamental for the state's survival strategy. This is the situation Iraq found itself in 2014. Too much support from the state, however, can strengthen the NSAG's presence in the internal affairs to the level that they become either autonomous or an actual challenger to the government that empowered them. This research takes qualitative approach to this dilemma, providing and small–N study of the case of Iraq to test a number of research hypotheses. The study utilizes original data from Iraqi government documents (Cabinet and Parliament) and foreign government documents (US Office Secretary of Defense) in order to test the research hypotheses. The key findings of this research reveal that Iraq has failed in its attempt to keep control after empowering the so-called Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU).
Date of AwardDec 2018
Original languageAmerican English


  • Non-State Armed Groups; Militias; Counterinsurgency; Coercive Violence.

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