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Modeling Insurgent Cooperation Networks Using Exponential Random Graphs and Rhetorical Frames

Growing research agendas that examine insurgent alliance formation and fragmentation build on a bargaining model framework and emphasize the importance of credible commitments. While some scholars have started to identify some of the limitations of this model, few studies have evaluated the importance of ideas and identities in explaining insurgent group behavior during armed conflict. In this study we use insurgent rhetoric to generate quantitative measures for group conflict frames and targeting policies and examine how they relate to inter-group cooperation. Conflict frames serve as a gauge of insurgent social identities in terms of their in/out-group classifications and targeting policies reflect their declared attitudes concerning the legitimate targets of violence. We use these variables to investigate tie formation processes in two distinct networks obtained from insurgent rhetoric -- joint operations and joint statements -- across three time periods in the Iraqi insurgency. We predict cooperative ties between Sunni insurgent groups using an exponential random graph model (ERGM) where tie values indicate the number of interactions between groups and conflict frames and targeting policies are nodal attributes. ERGMs offer the advantage of capturing both endogenous structural effects of the networks and exogenous actor attributes. We find that the strength of homophily effects varies over time and by network type and interpret these results in relation to the circumstances of the Iraqi insurgency.

Joint work with Michael Gabbay (UW-APL) and Ashley Thirkill-Mackelprang (UW Political Science)