Iraq and the Arab Awakening-Final Paper Submission

Below is the final Iraq Country Report that we compiled throughout the semester, detailing the modern history of Iraq and its role in the Arab Awakening.

Research was completed during Prof. Tom O’Donnell’s course entitled Geopolitics of the Middle East and North Africa, Fall 2011 at The New School University.

Geopolitics Paper Submission PDF


Freedom in the World 2009

Freedom in the World!


Purple=Not Free, Yellow=Partially Free, Green=Free

As you can see, the majority of the MENA states are not free–this includes Iraq.  This representation, determined by Freedom House organization, is determined by a multitude of measurements.  These measurements include transparency of government institution (collaboration with Transparency International), political rights and civil liberties afforded to the citizens and the freeness and fairness of elections. All of these measurements factor into the ranking of free to not free.

Iraq a misnamed Arab Spring–not uniquely Arab

The debate still wages between those who argue for and against Iraq exhibiting their own Arab Spring.  Journalist for the conservative magazine American Thinker Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi argues that the term “Arab spring” or the Arab Awakening doesn’t wholly apply to the revolutions taking place across the MENA states.  This perspective shows a different facet of the United States conservative opinion.

Unrest across the MENA states is many things, but “uniquely Arab” is not something all the states have in common.  The term Arab Awakening was originally understood as revolutions across the many different states towards a pan-Arab identity.  I do not believe these revolutions across the MENA states are striving towards a pan-Arab identity, especially non-Arab states in the region-exhibiting revolutions. Al-Tamimi argues, the term Arab Spring/ Arab Awakening was born out of Western Media, first coined by The Guardian, and rooted in the assumption that this unrest was about disposing long time dictators and former colonizers responsible for denying the pan-Arab identity.  Similarly, the London Newspaper- The Times also corroborated this idea/term the Arab Spring, going further denying any existence of sectarian feuds during the Arab Spring.  I agree with Al-Tamimi that this unrest across MENA states is not uniquely Arab, and that sectarian divides exist dominantly today in the MENA states and governs their behavior and posturing towards surrounding regional actors.  The role of transnational identities is the most persuasive argument in how states of the region act towards each other-as described by expert on Middle Eastern Affairs Gregory Gause.  Journalist Al-Tamimi and many others do not agree with this term the Arab Awakening and claim it to be somewhat of a misnomer for the following reasons.

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Iraq’s ties with Syria, new regional alliances forming over sectarian identities

In the face of sanctions against Syria and the Arab League ousting Syria, Iraq has held friendly relations with Syria-abstaining from sanctions and the ousting by the Arab League.  Al-Maliki will take a role in mediating between Al-Assad and the Syrian government and their opposition to end months of violence and killings.

Al-Maliki stepping in as mediator for Assad’s government and the opposition is speculated for a multitude of interrelated reasons.  Al-Maliki faces growing border control issue with Syria with rebels and refugees escaping into Iraq.  Also, with such repression from the Syrian government, the predominately Sunni opposition groups could find refuge with Sunni opposition groups in Iraq. Al-Maliki has also warned that violence and spillover will enter Iraq, igniting sectarian divide among Iraqi Sunni populations.

Some argue, Al-Maliki’s actions could be an effort towards a strengthening of regional alliances.  This mediation Al-Maliki will be overseeing between the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition groups will resemble the same talks Al-Maliki hosted in his own country.  This was speculated as a method to fraction opposition groups from collaborating with each other to against their collective enemy-the Iraqi government.  This could serve as a similar tactic in the Syrian talks.  It is clear that Al-Maliki has a strong interest in keeping the Alawite government in place so as to not usher in a opposition like extremist Sunni leader.

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Timeline of Arab Springs- Interactive Map

As mentioned before, there is debate over whether Iraq is part of the Arab Spring. This interactive map is a timeline of the beginning of significant movements termed as the Arab Spring and Iraq is included. What is interesting about this map is that it includes other countries of the region that aren’t Arab that have had revolutions and protests. Perhaps the Arab Spring is mislabeled and should pertain more to people gaining agency in the region in multiple ways and rising up against longterm oppression and social/economic injustices. Enjoy this interactive map.

Interactive Map

Regional Alliances Shift/ Rejection of claim that US had involvement in starting Arab Spring

Regional Alliances Shift/ Rejection of claim that US had involvement in starting Arab Spring

Cheney has been quoted early this year as accrediting the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq as spearheading the Arab Spring movement.  Now, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is perpetuating the same argument in her new memoir, “No Higher Honor.”  She remarks former President Bush’s “freedom agenda” was channeled through Iraq to the other Arab countries like Tunisia and Egypt.  “The change in conversation about the Middle East, where people bow routinely talk about democratization is something that I’m very grateful for and I think we had a role in that.”  Cheney has been quoted as saying similar claims, ” I think what happened in Iraq, the fact that we brought democracy, if you will, and freedom to Iraq, has had a ripple effect on some of the other countries.  This is the claim across the board, that the United States role in the Middle East has had regional influence and has been correlated to the Arab Spring movement.  Rice argues without the ousting of Saddam from Iraq that an equivalency to an Arab Spring in Iraq would have been unthinkable.   By extension, former Bush officials say the regional influence Saddam had over surrounding states would have made it unlikely for similar Arab spring movements to happen in those countries either.

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Saudi Arabia’s influence in Iraq and fear of Iran


Since 2007, it has been clear that the United States withdrawal from Iraq will create disruption and a power grab for hegemony in the Middle East. The big oil players of the Persian Gulf- Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia continue to play a balancing act of power. Iraq, now with Saddam Hussein out of the picture and with a decade of war and US occupation has been weakened, positioning Iran and Saudi Arabia as the next potential hegemons in the region. The movie Highlander explains it the best, “there can be only one.” Saudi Arabia without the support of the United States within Iraq stands little chance to have power and influence over the region. It is clear the Saudi’s do not want the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq to keep Iran at bay. Due to the change in balance of power, the Saudi’s position was originally against the occupation of Iraq in 2003 and now they do not want the US to leave.

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