Scholars observe that armed non-state actors (NSAs) often provide social services to reinforce their popular support and legitimacy as guarantors of local order. On the other hand, NSAs usually face funding constraints that make the independent provision of distributive goods difficult. This article argues that armed NSAs employ an alternative, more cost-effective tactic to deliver services. It argues that militant groups can leverage their armed capacity to capture control of and monopolize access to state-sponsored services. As an example, it documents the capture of public electricity infrastructure that took place in post-invasion Baghdad under the Sadrist Movement, an armed group formed shortly after the ouster of the Ba’athist state. Using local-level information about the location of Sadrist offices and remote sensing data, it estimates that Sadrist-affiliated neighborhoods in Baghdad saw an average increase in access to electricity between 2003 and 2006 that was significantly greater than in other areas of the city. The article concludes by addressing threats to inference, showing that these differences are not alternatively explained by demographic differences or changes therein due to ongoing conflict. It also discusses how this NSA strategy might contribute to an equilibrium of low state legitimacy and weak capacity in fragile contexts like that of post-2003 Iraq.
This was originally published on SAGE Publications Ltd: Journal of Peace Research: Table of Contents.