Internal Relationships in Iraq: state-of-the-research update

The past couple weeks of my research have been an interesting journey. As I continue to focus on internal Iraqi sectarian relationships, I have noticed several patterns emerge about the nature of the research that has been performed in the field. So far, I have been sticking to Academic Search Premier, Google Scholar, and other such academic search engines for scholarly articles, while looking to Al Jazeera, BBC, NPR and other news outlets when they are helpful.

Regardless of where I look, though, and particularly if it is a Western source, it usually has one of two goals: fit Iraq into the Arab Spring model by manipulating current events and framing them as relevant to the neatly organized “Arab Spring” movement; or, more often, there is an examination and analysis of Iraqi relationships inside the country from a perspective that is external, i.e., neither written nor necessarily condoned by an Iraqi, and with the intention of describing how the United States can tip-toe around ethnic divisions in order to achieve its goal in the country (which is still unclear). Does the US want to frame Iraq as a failed state, or does it still want to claim victory for the spread of democracy to the region? The first seems unlikely, because as we know, leaving Iraq as a failed state leaves Iran as the regions most powerful state, particularly after eliminating “everyone Iran hates” (on both sides in Iraq and Afghanistan), which the US presumably does not want. However, I try to keep a tight focus on what is going on inside Iraq rather than what everybody else in the world thinks about it or wants from it. Which is also my exact problem: it seems that the only voices we hear about Iraq are, well, not Iraqi at all.

I do not mean to say that are there not any sources that describe the situation in Iraq accurately and in the interest of solving Iraq’s seemingly endless array of sectarian divisions, how they lead to violence, what they each want/need from the government, etc. But, as far as scholarly articles on the topic, I have come across very little written from an insider’s perspective.

Because it is central to our paper topic and the main question we seek to answer, I have been most interested in how the Arab Spring narrative has been addressed within Iraq. In my opinion so far? It hasn’t. The reality is that Iraq has been slowly dismantled and arguably destroyed since around 1980; this is evident in the staggering drop in the countries GDP (it was above the world average prior to 1980 and is now far below) and also supported by the severe political unrest, Saddam Hussein, and the many groups inside the country that continue to vie for control of the government, resources, etc. In Iraq, I would argue that the “Arab Spring” began long ago, or at least the ideas that fit neatly into what we now understand as the Arab Spring narrative did. It is very difficult to separate this question from regional and global influence, but I am going to attempt it. It can be considered a disclaimer, though, that Iraq’s history as a nation is filled with others reaching in, feeling around, grabbing what they need (or really trying), and leaving the internal relationships to suffer. This is also not that new or surprising on a global level–leaving the groups inside the country to fight amongst themselves leaves plenty of room for manipulation, exploitation of various ethic and religious identities, and sectarian violence (so long as it stays inside Iraq, since Sept 11th is a shining example of the consequence when it does not) is a convenient way to keep “enemy combatants” killing each other. Simple.

Or not. I did not, by any means, believe that examining these relationships would be easy or uncomplicated. The process of deconstructing and thoroughly understanding the situation within Iraq has been eye-opening, to say the least, and so far impossible to make any concrete judgements or come to very concrete conclusions about. I feel like I am missing critical pieces of the puzzle and I continue to search for articles and scholarship about the connections between sectarian groups and their role inside the country. Some of my questions include: How does the Iraqi public-at-large believe the situation inside its country should be handled (if it is even possible to know)? Does each dissenting or violent group within Iraq want to seize power for itself, or are there groups that would prefer to see a central government that can be “fair” and inclusive?

This post was mostly for the sake of putting writing my own thoughts down and evaluating the state of my research so far. My next posts will focus on a few articles about the Sunni insurgency within the country, suggestions about how Iraq might overcome its inner turmoil, and internal displacement of people within Iraq that has been driven by radical groups.

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