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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Counterinsurgency and the Ethical Life of Material Things in Iraq’s Anbar Province

  • Author(s): Rubaii, Kali Jessica
  • Advisor(s): Rutherford, Danilyn
  • Brenneis, Donald
  • et al.

Counterterrorism, the suppression of the capacity for insurgency, transforms the environments in which people live and die in Iraq. These environments consist of social arrangements that link humans with one another and with nonhuman beings, material objects, and chemical substances. How do families from Iraq’s Anbar province face intersecting forms of dislocation from their homes and land in the wake of the Global War on Terror? Through careful attention to daily modes of living, moving, and dying in and out of Anbar, this dissertation shows how Counterterrorism changes the way people read and interact with their environments, and how it makes them feel.

This research is based on one year of ethnographic research in 2014-2015 among farming families from and in Anbar, along with visits to Counterterrorism training camps in Jordan, Denmark and Bosnia. It documents how Iraq's landscape becomes charged with new meaning as Counterterrorism operatives and farmers make and respond to material things around them, and as configurations of time and space afford or foreclose the possibility for certain modes of existence to go on or begin. This ethnography centers on the materiality of Counterterrorism: temporal qualities of objects, molecular impacts of chemical traces, textures of landscapes, and dilation of attachments among material things. Practicing “transhumant ethnography,” the author participated in coming and going between Anbari farmland and refugee neighborhoods, and in moving between Counterterrorism training camps and Iraqi communities. Ethical commitments to Anbari farmers meant that this fieldwork involved both participant observation and activism, spending time with people in different positions of power, and centering the author’s own body as focal point of harm.

This dissertation defines what Counterterrorism is by examining what it does, something that has been missing from scholarship that “studies up” the logics and imaginaries of counterinsurgency elites. The research offer a new study of militarism by exploring aspects of Counterterrorism that exceed violence centered around the boundaries of death and killing. Instead, the author focuses on how less-than-lethal modalities of control are transformative to a vast array of inter-subjective relations among people and landscapes.

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