Iraq: A Political History from Independence to Occupation

Iraq: A Political History from Independence to Occupation

Iraq: A Political History from Independence to Occupation

Iraq: A Political History from Independence to Occupation


With each day that passed after the 2003 invasion, the United States seemed to sink deeper in the treacherous quicksand of Iraq's social discord, floundering in the face of deep ethno-sectarian divisions that have impeded the creation of a viable state and the molding of a unified Iraqi identity. Yet as Adeed Dawisha shows in this superb political history, the story of a fragile and socially fractured Iraq did not begin with the invasion--it is as old as Iraq itself.

Dawisha traces the history of the Iraqi state from its inception in 1921 following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and up to the present day. He demonstrates how from the very beginning Iraq's ruling elites sought to unify this ethnically diverse and politically explosive society by developing state governance, fostering democratic institutions, and forging a national identity. Dawisha, who was born and raised in Iraq, gives rare insight into this culturally rich but chronically divided nation, drawing on a wealth of Arabic and Western sources to describe the fortunes and calamities of a state that was assembled by the British in the wake of World War I and which today faces what may be the most serious threat to survival that it has ever known.

Iraq is required reading for anyone seeking to make sense of what's going on in Iraq today, and why it has been so difficult to create a viable government there.


This book examines the political development of Iraq from the inception of the state in 1921 to the post-2003 years of political and societal turmoil. Its premise is that from the very beginning of the state the Iraqi project in fact devolved into three undertakings: the consolidation of the state and its governing institutions, the legitimization of the state through the framing of democratic structures, and the creation of an overarching, and thus unifying, national identity. The book is different from other studies of Iraq’s political history, in that it traces the development of each of the three projects of governance, democracy, and national identity separately, while at the same time highlighting the way they impacted and shaped one another.

The idea for this book took shape in the post-2003 period as I searched for answers and tried to make sense of the quagmire into which Iraq seemed to be sinking. A few months into the American occupation of the country, there were signs of a promising future: the end of a brutal tyranny, plans for a liberal constitution, hope for economic rejuvenation, and the possibility of a democratic Iraq that would become the beacon for fundamental political transformations in other Arab states, mired as they were (and still are) in authoritarian cultures and practices.

There were disquieting signs, too. The new masters, strangely unschooled in the complexities of the land over which they now held dominion, seemed unable to understand the nuances of the country they were supposed to administer. The Department of Defense had focused its energies and resources on winning the war against Saddam Husayn’s army, but once that task was brilliantly accomplished in April 2003 the administrators of the victorious power dealt ineptly with ensuing post-war problems. Indeed, they contributed to these problems by implementing a number of . . .

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