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Is Iraq Democratizing? (May 2009)

Is Iraq Democratizing? (May 2009)



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Published by Ben Turner
A look at whether Iraq is democratizing or not and why -- studies internal politics and composition of Iraq as well as the effect of external actors.
A look at whether Iraq is democratizing or not and why -- studies internal politics and composition of Iraq as well as the effect of external actors.

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Published by: Ben Turner on May 05, 2009


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TO: Professor Eusebio Mujal-LeonFROM: Ben TurnerSUBJECT: Final Paper, "Is Iraq Democratizing?"I. Introduction
Iraq has launched from a "rogue state" to a major international geopolitical issue in six years as a result of American occupation. Despite political setbacks such as the Sunni parties withdrawing from past elections, a full-blown insurgency, a massively contracting economy, andlack of representation by key figures in Iraqi politics; Iraq has reduced violence, held a recentelection and referendum, has signed a new Status of Forces Agreement, and appears to be on thepath towards building a sustainable democracy. Is Iraq on this path to democratization now?How are the elite parties in Iraq structuring themselves and how well is this predicted by democratization theories? Will Iraq choose democracy or authoritarianism? Does it have achoice about its future, or will it be responding to geopolitical and regional pressures?It will be argued in this paper that Iraq is on a path towards being a longterm buffer statefor stronger regional neighbors. Iraq will attempt to extricate itself from foreign influences thatseek to use it as a buffer state against other players. The pressures will be strong for Iraq to seek national and internal stability as its paramount national interest, and thus an authoritariangovernment will rise up under the mantle of Shi'ite nationalism in order to protect itself and theIraqi borders. Under threat of fractionalization, the authoritarian government will attempt tostrictly prevent the Kurds and Sunnis from separating or disengaging from the nation. As an extension, Iraqi democratization is a long way off. Iraq must achieve autonomoussecurity of its borders before it can hope to build the civil society complex and secure enough toformalize and consolidate democracy. While Iraq currently holds national and provincialelections, this is maintained primarily under the aegis of the American military -- under the veil,the Shi'ite-led government is consolidating its power and waiting for American forces to leave. All this said, there are also ways in which Iraq could avoid slipping back intoauthoritarianism, consisting of major regional security agreements, reconciliation among themajor ethnic factions in Iraq, and leadership that desires true democratization, pluralism, andrepresentation for the national interest.
II. A History of Mastery and Occupation of Three Ethnic Cities
The region of Iraq has long suffered from foreign occupation, since after the Sumeriansof Mesopotamia lost their rule. It was the Persians who brought Islam, and the Turks andSafavids traded the territory for a while. Eventually after rule by both the Mamluks and theOttomans, the UK came in in the modern era to demarcate the borders of Iraq. Iraq hastraditionally been made up of mainly two cities, Baghdad in mid-Iraq and Basra in the southerntip of Iraq, a gateway to Iraq's only sea port of Umm Qasr. But the UK added Mosul, a city-stateup in the north that had previously existed as a separate tribal region.The result is that in today's Iraq, the borders are arbitrary and there are three primary city-states within Iraq: Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul. Basra has always been in a heavily Shi'ite-dominated area to the south (below the Shi'ite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala), while Mosul isthe gateway to the Turkoman and Kurdish Sunni northern region of Iraq. Under SaddamHussein's rule, Baghdad was firmly Ba'athist, representing more of a bureaucratic totalitariancity than anything else.
II.a. The Disruption of US Occupation
In 2003, the US invaded Iraq and remained there, and has since sloppily occupied thecountry for 6 years under the auspices of democracy promotion. Eva Bellin writes, in an articleabout American support of political reform in the Middle East,
"In short, the ideal of democracy promotion will, at times, conflict with theUnited States' core interests. Some inconsistency and halfheartedness is thus aninevitable part of democracy promotion. Recognition of this fact ought to recommendretreat to a more modest agenda than that suggested by the Bush administration'srhetoric."
Did the US even know what its core interests in Iraq were? Democratic rule? A non-nuclear state? A non-failed state? After many foibles, such as removing any Ba'ath membersfrom government administration, installing unknown politicians into the highest Iraqi
Bellin, Eva. "Democratization and Its Discontents", Foreign Affairs, July/August 2008.http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/64462/eva-bellin/democratization-and-its-discontents?page=show
government positions, and sanctioning Shi'ite consolidation of power over the government andsecurity forces, the US has been presented with a series of "lesser-of-two-evils" choices in itspursuit of democracy promotion, democratization, stability, and security.The first major choice the US had to make was whether to support the Shi'ite-dominatedgovernment, led by Nouri Al-Maliki, or try to break it down. The official US policy was tosupport an Iraqi nationalist government so it stuck with Maliki, even after he was found to haveroutinely rounded up Sunnis, allowed sectarian conflict to clear Sunnis out of Shi'iteneighborhoods, and imprisoned and tortured competitors in prisons to retain power.The US also decided to arm and pay the Sunnis to stop attacking Americans, a decisionimplemented by General David Petraeus and his senior advisors. This, more than the Surge, ledto a massive dropoff in violence to achieve Petraeus' goal of building a security space to allow forpolitical progress. As Thomas Ricks wrote in his excellent book "The Gamble" about the years2006-2008 in the Iraq War:
"Petraeus laid the groundwork for that approach in the letter he issued to thetroops as he left Iraq. While the initiative had been retaken, he expressed disappointmentabout the political state of Iraq. “Many of us had hoped this summer would be a time of tangible political progress at the national level,” he wrote. “One of the justifications forthe surge, after all, was that it would help create the space for Iraqi leaders to tackle thetough questions and agree on key pieces of ‘national reconciliation’ legislation. It has not worked out as we had hoped.” It would be hard to charge that he was being rosy aboutIraq."
It is unfortunate, however, that the US, by virtue of its occupation, has put Iraq on atrack far from democratic consolidation, as now Iraq is a weak nation with little economicoutput and many outsiders hoping to carve out influence within its borders. The US, occupyinga land where tribal relations dominate, is the strongest tribe, as Bing West titled his book aboutthe American occupation of Iraq.But the US has had to ratchet back its plans in Iraq, seeking stability instead of democratization for the time being. Tom Ricks:
"There was good reason for this quiet ratcheting down. As Steven Metz, an astutestrategic analyst, put it, encouraging democracy was at odds with the larger goal of 
Ricks, Thomas. "The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventurein Iraq, 2006-2008", Penguin Press HC, 2009, Kindle version, highlight location 4812-4816.

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