Academic journal article The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs

The Survival of the Iraqi State: A CONVERSATION WITH MINA AL-ORAIBI

Academic journal article The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs

The Survival of the Iraqi State: A CONVERSATION WITH MINA AL-ORAIBI

Article excerpt

FLETCHER FORUM: You've spoken and written about the evolution of the state system in general; how would you apply this evolution to the Iraqi state, especially as affects external and internal state sovereignty?

MINA AL-ORAIBI: This is an interesting moment for all countries, as state structure is changing. People feel the need to be a part of regional bodies, especially when it comes to economic issues, because strength comes through being part of a unified economy. At the same time, we're living in an era where people have access to information, ideas, and self-expression; self-determination is at its height. The question is how this access to ideas and that need to belong will impact different states.

Iraq is coming to this question out of a period of dictatorship, sanctions, being cut off from the world, which meant it was largely not part of these international conversations. Iraq was almost like a black hole. There was no internet, no satellite phones, it was cut off from 1990 to 2003. The one part of Iraq that actually did have a window into the international conversation was the Kurdistan Region. After 1991 you had the intifada, with fourteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces rising up against Saddam Hussein, but it was only Kurdistan that got an international safe haven, that was allowed to forge its path outside of the shadow of Saddam's dictatorship. Fast forward to 2003, and suddenly Iraq was given the possibility of determining its future by choosing what kind of state it was going to be.

However, this wasn't a thoughtful process, or a natural process where people came together and discussed what was going to happen. It was done through war, through invasion, through a complete vacuum even before the invasion, which required the United States to lead a coalition and very quickly start making decisions. Take this in sharp contrast to the recent conversation in the UK about Scotland; they had a referendum, a drawn-out political process, campaigns. None of this happened. Iraq was thrown into this. And that was a missed opportunity. The situation was a blank canvas. That isn't to say that it was right for the U.S. and coalition to take apart the army or the police or dismantle state structures, but those actions could have provided the opportunity to create new state structures. It's a lost opportunity for Iraq and the whole Middle East. The restructuring of the Iraqi state could have set a precedent for how you agree on what you want your state to look like. Instead, we've seen twelve years of a political system that is fragmented and therefore negatively impacting the state.

One piece of the system is the Kurdish North, semi-autonomous from 1991, which had and continues to have its own internal political discussions. Although there are major ongoing issues with how the presidency of the Kurdish region is decided and problems of patronage, there is a relatively stable political system. Within this system, the Kurdish leadership of the two main parties say that, given the chance, they would have independence. This independence would mean changing the borders, changing the state-and the Kurdish leadership says this will happen when the time is opportune. Nobody has yet to explain what that means. My reading of it, however, is that the time becomes opportune when the Iraqi state is weak and when greater regional dynamics allow for independence to happen. But I also think that a wise Kurdish leadership equally values a stable Iraq. This might lead to contradiction in some of the Kurdish leadership's statements, but in general the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has tried to encourage a stable, functioning Iraqi state. However, we still see issues of identity: what does it mean when you are an Iraqi Kurdish citizen at this moment? You're feeling less attachment to Baghdad because all your decisions are being made in Erbil, and so that's where you look toward. That's just one part of a complicated equation. …

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