Lecturer/Assistant Professor | University of West London
Peace and Disarmament
Middle East

Elite Theory and the 2003 Iraq Occupation by the United States: How US Corporate Elites Created Iraq’s Political System

Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

Through the 2003 Iraq occupation, this book demonstrates the journey of ideology from corporate elite networks through to national security strategy and finally, how this looks as policy and actual decision-making on the ground. The book shows the level of involvement US corporate elites had in their own privatisation agenda in Iraq, which thus created a similar elitist Iraqi political system.

References

Book: Elite Theory and the 2003 Iraq Occupation by the United States: How US Corporate Elites Created Iraq’s Political System (2021)
Peer Reviewed
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About:

This research used a mixed methods approach, combining biographical analysis, discourse analysis, interviews and social network analysis.

The data for the book came from the US leaks that shared official documents and archives. The data also looked at memoirs and biographies to conduct biographical mapping and social network analysis.

I also did a discourse analysis of both US and Iraqi elites, and assessed how this weighed against their background. I examined 37 US elites that were all influential in the decisions of the Iraq war, both before the occupation and on the ground before.

This was also combined with interviews too.

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Funding:

This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

  • For policymakers
  • For Government & Policy
  • Iraq
  • democracy
  • elite
  • free market
  • iraq war
  • mobilisation
  • Published: 2023

Key points

  • The 2003 Iraq occupation was a pursuit of corporate elite interests that sought to use democracy promotion as a cover up for a heavy privatisation agenda. In any other part of the world, this may have worked, but not in Iraq.

To understand Iraq’s present, we need to reverse engineer all of the very processes that has led to the current political system. It wasn’t meant to be democratic, because it was heavily influenced by corporate American elites that were there to serve their own interests. Understanding this can provide deep insight into why Iraq’s political system is flawed, dysfunctional, and non-representative.

But on a personal level, I was 13 years old when the Iraq war started. I was a Kurdish person living in the UK, with parents that were politically engaged with Iraqi and Kurdish politics. But the Iraq was started when I was in high school, and I was curious why it was happening. It had only been a few years since I had left Iraq and I felt an affinity with the country. The war upset my parents and it upset me. And then it became an obsession to understand the root cause of it – but it was only during my Masters that I began to engage and question the dominant narratives, the neo-liberal and liberal perspectives that had large gaps. And so this book is not only an attempt to fill those voids, but also to give a real explanation to Iraqis.

The dominant narratives argue that the Iraq war was a mistake and a lesson for the history books. However, through in-depth biographical studies and social network analysis of US elites who made decisions in the Iraq occupation, the book demonstrates that group of elites were arguably of the smartest people in the world at that juncture in time. The majority of elites had more than one degree from Ivy league institutions. And so how far was the Iraq war really a mistake, or does this narrative of being a mistake and an attempt to spread democracy serve to hide the real corporate agenda that was meticulously planned, constructed and executed in clear sequential measurements.

Findings

  • The Iraq war was a corporate relief agenda.

    The facts and figures from the Halliburton contracts show that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a major financial corporate strategy. What US elites said and the actions they took in practice did not align. There was no traces of genuine US democracy promotion leading decisions in Iraq, and this became the initial cause for instability in the country because was was needed and anticipated by Iraqis was never delivered by the US.

  • Democratisation was not a priority for the constitution-making process.

    Iraq's constitution was not democratic and led to marginalisation, to the point where the minute the unelected Iraqi elites in the Iraqi Governing Council were announced, we saw the first post-Saddam terrorist attack on the UN headquarters.

  • ISIS started from 2003 and the announcement of this Iraqi Governing Council.

    When the UN headquarters were bombed, we found that the Islamic leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and all the subsequent different metamorphosis took place were transformations of that group eventually led to the formation of ISIS. And so this occupation contributed (whether wittingly or non-wittingly) to the development of ISIS.

  • There was a prioritisation of privatisation and rewarding rebuilding contracts through the Bush elite to friends of the Bush administration in the US - and also in the Netherlands as well.

    These were zero-bid contracts, which means contracts were given directly to corporations without a qualifying process, bypassing the standard process of bidding. And then for each of the corporations that came in, CPA Order 17 meant that none of them could then be tried for not fulfilling their contracts. So firms came in, took the money, and had very minimal accountability. International law was regularly violated, for example contractors used used illegal bullets and illegal weapons.

  • The group who have now set the precedent to how Iraq's next political system would operate were also the same Iraqi elites that were trained in Washington.

    So how is it that a group of political elites, who during the occupation only observed US corporate elite interests being served through an intense privatisation agenda, were then expected to produce a democratic political system?

  • So far Iraq's political parties (especially those that control regions) have prevented Iraq's private market from growing.

    If you have a business in any part of Iraq, in the South and even in the North, and you're doing well - then you are going to be approached by the political party that governs that region. And you will be asked to give part of your profits to that party as a form of taxation. If you do not comply and are seen to be doing well then your business could be destroyed or set on fire and you too, could be targeted.

  • The government of Iraq right now is reactive, not proactive.

    No-one knows what politicians are doing in Iraq, why they are doing it - or what the consequences of their actions might be. And there are real-time, pressing issues (climate change) , but its not being dealt with and each government is coming in and doing something completely different.

  • All of the issues that Iraq faces today are as a result of a rushed and divisive political system of which was designed in theory and practise with not only US influence, but by Iraqi elites who the US had worked with before the occupation.

    These elites were never capable of establishing a true democratic system, and there was never any intention for them to be united. What the US did not foresee is that although this served short-term narrow elite interests, in the long term the divided Iraqi elite would become a source of empowerment for regional powers namely Turkey and in particular Iran, which would eventual contribute to shifting global power dynamics with the rise of China, as my book demonstrates.

What it means

Now there is mass disillusion. The kinetic approaches don’t necessarily solve problems in that part of the world you need solid ideas and intellectual dissemination.

The ordinary population (especially the 70% of youth) from 20011 onwards, know what Iraqi politics is about. It’s about politicians serving their own interests, because elections don’t decide political outcomes in Iraq.

You only have to look at the October 19th Tishreen Movements to know that the youth understand that the elections don’t change the outcomes in Iraq.

The elites come together. For example al-Abadi and Barzani were at war with each other and Baghdad was not releasing salaries. It was ordinary people who had to wait up to six months, and sometimes nine months, without being paid wages. And these two individuals, al-Abadi and Barzani, who created all of that, were then seen hugging and kissing each other in the next series of elections trying to form a political alliance. And so Iraqis, who are politically astute, see that and can interpret what it means. And these are the things that are contributing to declining voter turnout in Iraq.

While 70% of all Iraqis in Iraq are under the age of 35, only 43% (and thats an exaggerated number) came out to vote in the last election. That 43% alludes to almost 9 million people in numbers. The number of people on the public sector payroll is also 9 million. So it seems that those who did vote, did so for their livelihoods, for their pay check, and for their job security.

Some of my family in Iraq do vote – they vote for the parties they have to vote for – to protect their livelihoods.

But there is a 57% to 60% of Iraqis not voting. These people need a new leader, a new ideology, a new vision for Iraq. If there was an actual free market, then people would not vote because they have to – but would vote for political parties that actually serve their current interests depending on what demographic they are. If they are youth, then this might be youth prospects. If they are older, then retirement prospects.

Instead there are empty promises for more jobs, long delays for salary payments and generic statements to make “Iraq a better place”. And so there needs to be a new paradigm, a new grand vision for Iraq.

I have created a blueprint for a new intellectual paradigm for a new Iraq – which can be disseminated through the celebrity, influencer and private market channels to engage the youth. There can be a way to achieve a consensus – for example in England there might be a lot of different identities, but people can still feel and be British and vote on a political party that represents your values rather than identity. Based on the fact Iraq has 70% youth, there is a huge opportunity to engage and unify with a big idea and ideology to transform the political landscape.

How to use

  • Political parties across Iraq know that if there is an established free market then they will lose voters
  • I have been working on a new Think Tank concept, that does something similar to what Chatham House or the Council of Foreign Relations in America would do, that plays both a diplomacy and knowledge production role, that would be very pro free market
  • Banking sector reform is the first step - creating a way for normal Iraqi people to borrow money and changing mindsets around keeping money in the bank
  • The elite groups, who have been supported by outsider forces, both diplomatic and non-diplomatic from the UN to governments, have lost credibility
  • Similar to the holistic government campaign that served Europe during the COVID lockdown, a new paradigm of ideas needs to be approached and information disseminated in a similar way
  • The assumption that America had when it invaded Iraq - that everyone wants what America has - was not at all present in 2003
  • The older generation need to be included too - and getting them on board would they would also compel the younger generation

Acknowledgements

Thank you to KPSRL

These insights were made available thanks to the support of KPSRL, who are committed to the dissemination of knowledge for all.

 

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Nouri, Bamo. 'Elite Theory and the 2003 Iraq Occupation by the United States: How US Corporate Elites Created Iraq’s Political System'. Acume. https://www.acume.org/r/elite-theory-and-the-2003-iraq-occupation-by-the-united-states/