STATE FORMATION AND CIVIL WAR IN IRAQ 2003-2016: A QUESTION OF SECT OR STRUCTURE?
Ethno-sectarian diversity is often cited as a strong indicator, if not a cause, for higher likelihood of civil war. Ethno-sectarian dominance is even more so. Iraq is a case not only of ethno-sectarian diversity. It is a case of ethno-sectarian dominance, par excellence. This begs the question: to what extent was communal diversity to blame for Iraq’s descent into civil war after 2003? To what extent were other structural drivers equally or more explanatory? This thesis argues that Iraq’s decent into civil war was primarily caused by a highly-flawed process of structural transition. Some structural flaws that led to a poor transition pre-date 2003. Others were imported after 2003. All of the key drivers toward civil war were distinctly modern. This study examines four elements of transition: socio-cultural factors (communal identity) and changes to security, economic, and political structures. Chapter 3 provides background information about expressions of communal identity in Iraq during the 20th century and after 2003. This background included aggressive, even militant expressions of communal identity. But it shows that communal identities in Iraq have rarely been static. The importance of sectarian identities is highly historically contingent and fluctuates over time. Chapters 4 to 7 describe challenges posed by political, economic, and security transitions in Iraq. First, foreign occupying forces dismantled existent armed forces, but did not meet Geneva Convention obligations to provide security. A security vacuum quickly emerged. The security vacuum facilitated a range of criminal activities as well as violent entrepreneurship in identity politics. In the following months and years, other fighters joined the violence in Iraq. Some arrived as the militias of returning exiled political parties. Others were created locally, such as the various tribal councils. Second, the occupying power’s emphasis on consociational power-sharing solutions entrenched exile opposition parties that often lacked local support bases. Deba’athification was proposed as a mechanism of transitional justice and accountability promotion. In practice, the parties in power used politicized deba’athification to remove independent opponents. Third, the post-2003 government inherited a highly inefficient centralized economy and a national budget almost uniquely run on oil revenues. Attempts to carry out any large-scale economic changes after 2003 would have added immense pressure to an already highly stressed process of transition. Attempting change in the midst of a security vacuum particularly augmented the dislocation and violence of transition. Security improved between 2007 and 2011. However, the administration of Prime Minister Nūrī al-Mālikī invested the lull in violence not to rebuild professional national security forces, the economy, or accountability mechanisms, but to plunder them. The plague of corruption is now, arguably, a greater threat to national security than international terrorism or other elements of the executive’s attempts to consolidate (competitive) authoritarian rule. Focusing on Iraqi state formation after 2003, this thesis critiques current literature on civil wars and state-formation. The analysis sheds light on non-communal structural factors that pushed Iraq post-2003 into an intractable civil war. More broadly, this case study indicates the key role of non-identity factors in hindering other state-building projects in ethnically and religiously diverse states.
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