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Abstract: Pro-government militias have become a regular dimension of counterinsurgency operations, serving governments in fighting rebels locally. The level of violence employed by these irregulars, which often seems to exceed that of the regular army, but also the fascination with civilian fighters, have motivated students of counterinsurgency to pay more considerable attention to such actors in recent years. Much of this body of work has focused on the battlefield and tactical utilities of pro-government militias. However, these militias have other functions, which most of the studies tend to overlook, and that are socio-political in nature. Most notably, militias serve governments in their endeavors to divide societies, mainly by playing up parochial identities, such as tribalism and sectarianism, and playing up old rivalries. This function of militias has been particularly visible in cases of “defector militias,” namely militias composed of defectors from the rebel constituency to the government ranks. At least in some cases, these socio-political functions of militias have played no less significant role in governments’ decision to employ these forces than short-term battlefield needs. My study of pro-government defector militias uses two case studies: That of Iraq under the Ba‘th regime and its counterinsurgency efforts against Kurdish separatists in the north; and that of the Sudanese governments and their war against Southern rebels during the First Sudanese Civil War. Based on extensive archival, my work seeks to substantiate the argument about the strategic socio-political function of defector militias.
Yaniv Voller is a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in the Politics of the Middle East at the School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent. His research focuses on counterinsurgency, rebel governance and regional diplomacy in the Middle East. His book, The Kurdish Liberation Movement in Iraq: From Insurgency to Statehood, was published in 2014. His articles have appeared in International Affairs, Democratization, the Middle East Journal and the International Journal of Middle East studies, among others. He is currently working on projects relating to militia recruitment in counterinsurgency, ethnic defection, the impact of anti-colonial ideas in shaping post-colonial separatist strategies, and the role of diaspora communities as a transnational civil society. In 2018-2019 he was a Conflict Research Fellow at the LSE-based Conflict Research Programme, funded by the Department of International Development. Before moving to the University of Kent, he taught and held fellowships at the University of Edinburgh and the London School of Economics, where he obtained his PhD in International Relations.