Fratricide in rebel movements: A network analysis of Syrian militant infighting

Author : Mircea Birca | Monday, January 28, 2019
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Violent conflict among rebels is a common feature of civil wars and insurgencies. Yet, not all rebel groups are equally prone to such infighting. While previous research has focused on the systemic causes of violent conflict within rebel movements, this article explores the factors that affect the risk of conflict between pairs of rebel groups. We generate hypotheses concerning

how differences in power, ideology, and state sponsors between rebel groups impact their propensity to clash and test them using data from the Syrian civil war. The data, drawn from hundreds of infighting claims made by rebel groups on social media, are used to construct a network of conflictual ties among 30 rebel groups. The relationship between the observed network structure and the independent variables is evaluated using network analysis metrics and methods including assortativity, community structure, simulation, and latent space modeling. We find strong evidence that ideologically distant groups have a higher propensity for infighting than ideologically proximate ones. We also find support for power asymmetry, meaning that pairs of groups of disparate size are at greater risk of infighting than pairs of equal strength. No support was found for the proposition that sharing state sponsors mitigates rebels’ propensity for infighting. Our results provide an important corrective to prevailing theory, which discounts the role of ideology in militant factional dynamics within fragmented conflicts.

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