Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Iraq's New Political Elites: A Dream Come True?

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Iraq's New Political Elites: A Dream Come True?

Article excerpt

As a result of the war of 2003, Iraq's regime underwent a complete transformation, which took place literally overnight. In the aftermath, Iraq experienced a dramatic leadership change. As new leaders emerged to replace the displaced dictator, conflicts arose not only between new and old elites but also among the new elites themselves. The clashes have become so brutal that members of these disparate circles were literally being blown up in a continuous cycle of terrorist attacks, seriously hindering their ability to consolidate rule or to establish themselves. While violence has been a recurring theme in modern Iraq, the bloodshed triggered by the current power struggle is the most severe the country has ever known.


The deck of cards distributed by the U.S. Armed Forces at the outbreak of the war, each with a picture of one of the Ba'th regime's leaders, symbolized the social and political upheavals that have beset Iraq since March 2003. Overnight, the once omnipotent leaders were rendered dangerous criminals with rewards on their heads. The leadership's ouster was different from the country's previous power struggles, since the political elite was not removed as a consequence of internal challenges by the Iraqi military or an army-party coalition but rather by a foreign military force. The process condemned everything connected with the old regime, which was to be completely uprooted, and aimed to establish new social and political norms altogether.

Although the Ba'th regime collapsed with astonishing speed, uprooting a regime that dominated a country for more than 35 years required much more be done. A key development was the decision to purge immediately all previous power bases of the regime: the Ba'th party, the army, and all other security organs.

The Ba'th party, with only 2,000 members when it took power in 1968, steadily grew to one million members and supporters who became the country's vanguard in every institution. The purge of all public institutions and organizations from Ba'thist influences (called ijtithath or de-Ba'thification) not only affected high officials but also an entire class of Iraqis who had joined the Ba'th-willingly or under duress-and who instantly lost their livelihood, status, and party-affiliated social network. Moreover, this left an administrative void that only intensified the chaos, making it considerably harder for the new elites to establish their control.

Especially significant was the decision to disband the army, which totaled about 400,000 soldiers on the eve of the 2003 war. This institution had long endowed Iraq with a sense of continuity, especially in light of the changes that often occurred in other institutions. Dismantling the army destroyed the only source of livelihood and pride of hundreds of thousands of individuals and their families, some of whom had until recently been members of the Iraqi elite.1

In addition to the removal of the old civilian and military elite, there was a comprehensive redistribution of power among Iraq's religious and ethnic groups. The Sunni monopoly over most positions of power was immediately destroyed and replaced with a formula designed along communal lines (muhasasa). The Sunnis criticized this re-allotment, contending that it bolstered the country's sectarian allegiances at the expense of Iraqi national cohesion. The Sunnis were greatly reduced in power. For example, among the 25 members of the provisional government, which functioned between July 2003 and June 2004, there were only five Arab Sunnis, compared to 13 Shi'as and five Kurds. The picture was far bleaker from the Sunnis' perspective; their representatives had not received any key posts, though the numbers of representatives were in accord with each sector's relative share of the general population.


Candidates to become parts of the new elites came from a number of directions. …

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