Post-2003 Iraq: A Postcolonial, Iraqi Perspective on the Crisis of “Democratic Nation-Building”

By Mariam Georgis
Submitted to Session P4739 (On the Verge of Rout: The Politics of Hope and Disappointment Post the Arab Spring, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
In post-2003 Iraq, the strongest and most violent groups secured their political and economic interests, while ordinary Iraqis suffered the effects of war and occupation. Today’s Mosul operations reflect and illustrate the animosities and tensions between the different military forces and militias, which make who will capture what land a secondary if not primary concern alongside liberating the people who have been living under the rule of ISIS. This echoes similar concerns at the height of the violence, which ensued shortly after the invasion and occupation of Iraq wherein the major power blocs divided Iraq and claimed neighbourhoods as their “territory.” This paper problematizes the crisis of democratic nation-building in post-war Iraq. After thirteen years of ‘democratic nation-building,’ Iraq exhibits no signs of becoming a functioning democracy; sectarianism and violence continue to dominate Iraqi society and politics. Over a decade of nation-building has also not resulted in a coherent Iraqi national identity; in fact, the politicization of sectarian and ethnic identities has resulted in a regression towards tribal affiliations not seen since the pre-Iraq period. The human toll of this failure is massive.

The majority of the conventional literature on post-2003 Iraq attributes its inability to democratize to the inherent sectarian nature of Iraqi society and to Arab or Muslim exceptionalism to democracy. Moreover, studies on nation-building in post-war Iraq focus largely on elites and a top-down approach to democratization. In this paper I first, explore why post-invasion Iraq has not transitioned to a “democracy” following regime change and “nation-building.” Using critical postcolonial and decolonial thought, this paper challenges the explanatory power of “sectarianism” and “exceptionalism.” Second, I am interested in exploring the potential for grassroots or indigenous perspectives on the current social and political situation in Iraq. This is evident by the mass protests and demonstrations in Iraqi cities and streets since the beginning of the occupation until today. An Iraqi perspective can provide a more nuanced understanding of the current crisis but it also offers an alternative approach to democratization “from below.” To that end, this paper draws on data collected from semi-structured interviews with Iraqi civil society organizations and academics in the Winter of 2016.