“Proxy Warriors: The Rise and Fall of State-Sponsored Militias” – A Conversation with Ariel I. Ahram

Ariel Ahram is assistant professor in the Department of International and Area Studies and the Department of Political Science at the University of Oklahoma.
He discussed his book, “Proxy Warriors – The Rise and Fall of State-Sponsored Militias,” in which he offers a perspective on the reliance of ‘weak states’ on quasi-official militias, paramilitaries, and warlords. Focusing on three case studies, Iraq, Iran, and Indonesia, Ahram discussed each states particular relationship with “high profile” resident paramilitary organizations.

After providing a thorough historical context for each case study, in some cases drawing upon colonial experiences of the 17th century before honing in on the early 20th century, Ahram focused specifically on Indonesia’s various militia factions, Iraq’s tribal “awakening,” and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Basij corps. He explained why and how these states co-opted these groups, turning former rebels into state-sponsored militias. Ahram suggested that in some cases states serve themselves better by working directly with these militias to maintain stability, even if it means forfeiting their monopoly on the use of force. He cited U.S. success in curbing violence during the 2006 National Council for the Awakening of Iraq, or the “Sunni Awakening,” in which the United States circumvented the Iraqi government and worked directly with various militia groups, to the dismay of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.