Violence against civilians in Syria’s civil war

(working paper) [pdf]

I evaluate the ability of several competing theories of why armed groups kill civilians in civil war to explain violence in Syria. Using data on civilian deaths, territorial control, and military offensives geocoded to the town or village, I find much more support for a “drain the sea'” logic of civilian targeting than for theories emphasizing territorial control and intelligence. The paper develops two new quantitative methods: automatically geolocating Arabic place names and inferring degrees of territorial control from binary measures. These methods will aid future quantitative studies of civil war.