Researchers at Harvard say that public debates about the rights and wrongs of the U.S. occupation of Iraq have a measurable "emboldenment effect" on insurgents there, and periods when there is a lot of media coverage about the issue are followed by small rises in the number of attacks.
The researchers, a political scientist and a health economist, studied data about insurgent attacks and U.S. media coverage up to November 2007, tracking what they called "anti-resolve statements," either by U.S. politicians or in the form of reports about American public opinion on the issue.
The study, published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, uses quantitative analysis, a statistical tool employed by economists, to empirically test for the first time the widely held nostrum that public criticism of U.S. policy in Iraq encourages insurgents there.
"We find that in periods immediately after a spike in anti-resolve statements, the level of insurgent attacks increases," the study says. In Iraqi provinces that were broadly comparable in social and economic terms, attacks increased between 7 percent and 10 percent.
The study also found that attacks increased more in parts of Iraq where there is greater access to international news media, which its authors say increases the credibility of their findings.
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