Iraq: new boss better than the old boss?

AP 434-5As the international community debates how to respond to the crisis in Syria, it’s worth remembering that we’re approaching the ten-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The country regained full sovereignty in 2011, after years of post-conflict reconstruction, counter-insurgency campaigns and state-building. However, serious questions loom over its post-intervention future.

In the IISS’s latest Adelphi, Iraq: From War to a New Authoritarianism, Dr Toby Dodge focuses on three: ‘Can Iraq avoid sliding back into civil war and can it reduce the still-appreciable levels of lethal violence seen since 2010? Will Iraq evolve towards a law-governed, pluralistic polity that in some way resembles the interventionists’ dream of an Arab democracy? Will Iraq once again pose a security threat to its neighbours?’

Dodge also provides some insight into perhaps the most important debate of all: are the lives of ordinary Iraqis better today than under Saddam Hussein?

Dodge, who is IISS Consulting Senior Fellow for the Middle East and a reader in international affairs at LSE, identifies the main drivers of violence in Iraq and asks whether these root causes have been addressed by state-building and security efforts, including the US counter-insurgency strategy and the ‘surge’.  He also examines civil and political developments, where he sees the actions of new political elites – who are exploiting sectarian divisions and seeking to consolidate their own power – as a risk to Iraq’s fledgling democracy.

Iraq’s political issues were also discussed two days ago at the IISS Manama Dialogue. In the Q & A session of the Fifth Plenary Session, former deputy Iraqi premier and PM of the Kurdish Regional Government, Barham Salih, said that the Iraqi constitution had been rushed and the country’s democracy was at risk.

‘We are a long, long way from acquiring a government or state of rule of law and strong democratic institutions,’ Salih said. ‘This is not to say that it is easy to do that, but as we approach the next elections I hope the Iraqi people, in their wisdom, will assess the performance of the present political elite, and that they have not delivered on that very fundamental premise of a drastic change from our terrible past.’

Later, Salih suggested that: ‘Ten years on from the demise of Saddam Hussein – as someone who has been in the Iraqi government, I do not absolve myself of responsibility for this – I say that Iraqis deserve better services, better electricity, better governance and more peace. Something is fundamentally wrong; different communities and leaders in Iraq should all have the courage to come to the table and say, “Let us assess the situation. This is not going the way we wanted it to”.’

In his book, Dodge notes that Iraq’s political system is underpinned by an ‘exclusive elite bargain’ in which certain groups have been excluded from government. This is a possible risk to long-term political stability and legitimacy. In particular, he notes that the centralisation of power around PM Nuri al-Maliki and the armed forces creates the disturbing possibility of a new ‘authoritarianism’ in Iraq.

Dodge also notes that neighbouring Iran, Syria, and Turkey’s involvement in Iraq’s internal politics have caused tensions, with possible long-term implications for the region.

‘Toby Dodge is one of the smartest Iraq analysts around,’ says Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Thomas E. Ricks. ‘Read this book.’

Order ‘Iraq: From War to a New Authoritarianism’


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