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Democratic Transition in Iraq

Cahiers de la pensée mili-Terre n° 44
International relationships
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Despite the removal of the dictator Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq in 2003, democracy is struggling to establish itself in this part of the Middle East, which is in considerable economic, political and social disarray. The author wishes to present the endogenous reasons for this situation, in particular the ethnic and religious factors that are particularly prevalent in Iraqi society.

Iraq between community temptation and democratic attempt

From 1968 to 2003, Iraq lived under the yoke of Saddam Hussein. Since then, despite an unprecedented military and financial commitment by the United States [1], the country has been sinking into economic, social and political stagnation. This situation seems to show that trying to impose democracy is a vain attempt. Indeed, in Iraq, the "debaassification", intended to remove the actors of the former regime from power, has led to the demise of the state.

Nevertheless, the cases of Germany and Japan after the Second World War show that a foreign power can force a State to undergo a democratic transition [2].

[2] In this case, why is democracy struggling to take hold in Iraq?

Several factors could explain these Iraqi difficulties, starting with the long time or the role of the United States. For the time being, we would like to set these two factors aside and examine a third one in greater depth by examining the internal causes of the Iraqi situation. Indeed, the "debaassification", instigated by the United States, has been carried out by Iraqi authorities with resentment and ethnic and religious considerations. Thus, certain endogenous reasons, in particular ethnic-religious ones, explain Iraq's difficulties in rebuilding its social and State structure.

In order to be convinced of this, we will first analyse the historical and cultural roots of the Iraqi unrest, then judge the state of decomposition of the social fabric in Iraq and finally the challenges facing Iraqi society.

The historical and cultural roots of social breakdown in Iraq

The disintegration of Iraqi society since 2003 has its origins in part in the history of the country since the end of the Ottoman Empire and in the regional historical substratum.

  • Iraq sick since 1920?

Arriving on November 6, 1914 at the southern tip of Iraq, the British founded the Iraqi state in 1920. They then broke with the Islamic past of the country by emphasizing the ethnic identity, that of the Arabs [3]. 3] To stabilize Iraq, the British chose the Hashemite King Faisal, son of Sheriff Hussein of Mecca. A descendant of the Prophet, he is supposed to have ascendancy over the Sunnis and Shiites. Following the European model of the nation-state, the political project of the British found favour with certain Sunni Arab elites, the local relays of the Ottoman Empire. The questioning of the legitimacy of these elites explains a good part of the internal struggles specific to the Iraqi State.

Ethnic groups and tribes in Iraq

Religious and tribal factors play a major role in Iraq and provide a serious endogenous explanation for the democratic stalemate. This explanation is anthropological in nature and is linked to a so-called segmented society. Tribes, some of which date back to the pre-Islamic era, were instrumentalized by Saddam Hussein's regime. He put them forward from 1991 onwards because, "as a social group of reference for the individual" [4], tribes regained their full relevance in the social and economic context of the embargo.

In ethnic terms, the Kurdish question occupies a special place in Iraq. The Arabism of the Iraqi State created in 1920 was not called into question by the incorporation of the Kurds in 1925. Since then, Iraq has been dealing with an "endemic Kurdish rebellion" [5] whose objective is the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Religious antagonisms

The rise to power since the 1920s of an urban Sunni Arab minority has resulted in regular discontent among believers of other faiths, starting with the Shiites. The daily life of these interfaith oppositions regularly recurs in Iraqi literature [6]. 6] These antagonisms are such that some consider Saddam Hussein's regime as "the latest incarnation of a political system of confessional and ethnic discrimination" [7]. To qualify, it should be noted that Saddam Hussein's dictatorial Ba'athism of variable geometry has remained rather protective of Christians, as illustrated by the appointment of Tarik Aziz as Minister of Foreign Affairs. The secular constant, even if it has undergone notable variations, has not disappeared. On the other hand, under the dictatorship, Sunni domination over the Shiites, and Arab domination over the Kurds, was undeniable.

Adecaying social fabric?

Ethnic and religious factors are directly involved in the breakdown of Iraqi society, which was artificially unified by the iron fist of an authoritarian regime. Since the fall of the dictatorship, there have been few signs of democratic transition. A nascent political governance was born in July 2003 with an Iraqi Governing Council representing the different components of the population [8]. 8] However, it appears to be a brutal imposition of political recomposition on Iraq.

The debaassificationor the elimination of the elite

Founded in the early 1950s, the Iraqi Baath Party came to power in the July 1968 coup. Saddam Hussein succeeded Baathist General Ahmed Hassan el-Bakr in 1979. The Ba'ath Party was composed of Arab, Sunni (a religious minority which represented between 32 and 37% of the Iraqi population in 2014[10]) and politically nationalist and socialist members with secular tendencies. But beyond these categories, most civil servants had to join the party and devote absolute loyalty to it.

In this context, the debaassification legitimized by the German and Japanese experiences after the Second World War was foreseen by the Americans as "the prohibition of former party cadres from holding public office" [11]. 11] It took the form of a hunt by Shiite leaders for former Baath Party members, a revenge on the "Sunni triangle" (see map above) and on Arab nationalism.[12]. Thus, in addition to the purging of the administrations, there was the "brutal dismantling of the army and the security apparatus, many of whose members then joined the ranks of the armed uprising" [13].

The permanence of authoritarianism: neither forgiveness nor justice?

Dismissed in 2004, Saddam Hussein was executed on 30 December 2006 in unworthy conditions, his hanging being accompanied by cries of vengeance. His regime then gave way to a situation of plural, decentralised dictatorships.[14]. Finally, the dismantling of the state led to the "democratic" expression of communal revenge and conflicting appetites.

Moreover, the divisions are such that reconciliation seems impossible. Imbalance in the social distribution of goods is combined with unbridled clientelism. The lack of State authority can be seen even in the judicial sphere, since no court is prepared to judge daily barbarity.

A society faced with major challenges

A highly deteriorated and extremely complex security situation

The opposition between Sunnis and Shiites becomes even more complex in Iraq because each of the two branches is subdivided into enemy or rival currents.

On the Shia side, some feel Iraqi before being Shia, and vice versa. Leading to struggles for influence, this situation has led to the assassination of high Shiite dignitaries[15] who returned to Iraq after the ousting of Saddam Hussein, and whose project seemed too nationalistic to men close to Tehran.

The Sunnis, on the other hand, are divided into a secularized elite in the big cities and more fervent believers in the countryside. We can then speak of the communitarization or "identity tearing" of the Sunnis, characterized by the articulation, if not confrontation, of "plural repertoires" [16].

This complexity is found in the heterogeneity of what is called the Iraqi "resistance", which brings together a wide range of actors, an imbroglio that Henry Laurens emphasizes [17].

The risk of the communal break-up of Iraq: Internal factors... under foreign influence

Iraqi society finds itself excessively divided and communitarized. It is under the strong influence of foreign actors, in particular Iran, which supports the Shiites, as illustrated by the presence in Iraq since at least 2014 of Iranian 'guardians of the revolution' whose mission is to support Iraqi Shiite power.

On the other hand, the end of the authoritarian regime of Saddam Hussein, which repressed Shiite Islamists, allowed the resurgence of radical Islamism and the appearance in 2003 of suicide attacks which have strongly marked Iraqi society [18]. In this context, does the Islamic state not wish to put an end to the "Shiite Iranian occupation" of Iraq?

ÉIslamic State (EI)between hope and chaos

For the EI, the Iraqi state is the "Safavid state", referring to the one located on present-day Iran between 1501 and 1736 and an enemy of the Sunni Ottoman Empire. Announced on 13 October 2006 in reaction to the project of a federal state in Iraq, "the Islamic State of Iraq" is the fruit of Sunni insurgents close to al-Qaʿida. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed himself Caliph (an unusual term since 1924) on 29 June 2014, advocating a spiritual rebirth and imposing his political project: to recreate a caliphate from the bilad al-cham, Greater Syria. The Sunni populations, who have been harmed by the new Iraqi regime, have access to water, electricity and food thanks to the EI. For them, the caliphate means a better life.

However, al-Baghdadi imposes Sunnism and a totalitarian order on religious minorities such as the Yezidi and Christians. Controlling about 40% of Iraq, the EI finances itself by exploiting Iraqi (and Syrian) oil, raises various taxes, sells stolen antiquities on the black market and almost half of Iraq's wheat and barley production. In human terms, in addition to the abduction and use of child soldiers, EI enslaves Yezidi women and children who have been unable to flee, not to mention the massacres it perpetuates. In this way, the EI contributes to the social, political and economic chaos in Iraq.

In conclusion, the bogging down of the democratic transition in Iraq is due to a multiplicity of internal factors, political, economic and social. These include the population's exasperation with insecurity, the lack of restoration of basic services and low literacy. This situation is strongly linked to ethnoconfessional confrontation. Struggle between Shiites, who were in the majority but dominated until 2003, and Sunnis. The latter constituted the country's traditional elite since the Abbasid and Ottoman empires, then under the British mandate and until the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Now that this ethnic-religious factor has been studied in depth, it is possible to complete this study by analysing other factors such as the long duration, i.e. the cultural, social and religious time in the region, which does not allow democracy to set in quickly as if by magic. Other considerable factors are the policy pursued by the United States[19] and the international community, the consequences of the embargo from 1991 to 2003, etc.

These other data would probably show that in Iraq, as in the rest of the Middle East, democracy "cannot be born as Aphrodite of the foam of the sea" [20].

The social stakes and the geopolitical scope of the terrible Iraqi lesson are such that Western governments don't seem to have taken the full measure of it. The treatment of the Libyan and Syrian questions, which have now become inseparable from that of Iraq, unfortunately seems to prove it.

1] Henry Laurens points out that "the cost of the occupation amounts to $3.9 billion per month" in "... the cost of the occupation amounts to $3.9 billion per month" in "... the cost of the occupation amounts to $3.9 billion per month...".The Arab East in American times, from the Gulf War to the Iraq War"Hachette Littératures, Paris, 2008, p. 261.

2] Laurence Whitehead, "International Aspects of Democratization" in Guillermo O'Donnell, Philippe Schmitter, Laurence Whitehead (eds), "... the cost of occupation is $3.9 billion per month" in ", Hachette Littératures, Paris, 2008, p. 261.Transitions from Authoritarian Rules. Comparative Perspectives"Baltimore Md, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.

3] Pierre-Jean Luizard, "[3 ] Pierre-Jean Luizard.How modern Iraq was born"CNRSÉditions, Paris, 2009, p. 5.

[4 ] David Baran, "To live the tyranny and survive it. Iraq in transition"Mille et une nuits, Paris, 2004, p. 344.

5] Pierre-Jean Luizard, op. cit., p. 7.

[6 ] Samuel Shimon, "[6 ] Samuel Shimon, "An Iraqi in Paris"Actes Sud, Arles, 2008. The author highlights in particular the violence suffered by Assyrian Christians.

7] Pierre-Jean Luizard, op. cit., p. 6.

8] Henry Laurens, op. cit., p. 260.

9] This thesis is defended in particular by Myriam Benraad, "[9 ] This thesis is defended in particular by Myriam Benraad.Has the Iraqi transition taken place?", La vie des idées, February 2012, http:

10] Data from France diplomatie, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Development.

[11 ] Henry Laurens, op. cit, p. 252.

12] Hazem Saghieh, "TheLife and Death of de-Baathification", in "L'Irak en perspective", Revue des mondesmusulmans et de la Méditerranée [Online], 117-118, July 2007, pp. 203-223, put online on July 27, 2007, consulted on October 29, 2015. URL: http: //

[13] Myriam Benraad, op. cit.

14] Loulouwa Al-Rachid(International Crisis Group), "Investigating Authoritarian Regimes: The Case of Iraq". Proceedings of the seminar "The Social Sciences in Question: Epistemological and Methodological Controversies", 15/12/2011.

15] Abdul Majid al-Khoei murdered on April 3, 2003 in Ali's mausoleum in Najaf.

16] Myriam Benraad "Iraq in the Mirror of Occupation, Narrative of an Identity Tear: A Critical Examination of the Collective Arab Sunni Experience (2003-2009)", thesis written under the direction of Gilles KEPEL and defended in Paris, Institute of Political Studies in 2011.

17] Henry Laurens op. cit., p. 262, especially note 8.

[18] Inaam Kachachi, "... Inaam Kachachi, "Si je t'oublie, Baghdad", Liana Levi, Paris, 2008.

19] "Nearly a decade of disastrous occupation", according to Myriam Benraad, op cit. "The failure of the American adventure in Iraq has many reasons, and above all demonstrates that democracy can be neither an imported product nor the fruit of an occupation with deeply ideological, improvised and even more murderous motives".

20] Bernard Lewis in Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner and Daniel Brumberg (eds), "[20 ] Inaam Kachachi, " Liana Levi, Paris, 2008.Islam and Democracy in the Middle East"Baltimore and London, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003, p. 218.

Saint-cyrien of thepromotion "General Vanbremeersch", the Chief of Battalion TRÉGUIER served in the 1st Infantry Regiment and then in ENSOA. Unit commander in the 110th infantry regiment, he then served as the officer dealing with the staff of the 2nd armoured brigade. Laureate of the 2013 competitive examination of the War School, he began his studies in Arabic at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO) in September 2014.

Title : Democratic Transition in Iraq
Author (s) : le Chef de bataillon TRÉGUIER