Lecturer/Assistant Professor

Not to mislead peace: on the demise of identity politics in Iraq

The paper tries to falsify the argument that identity politics is declining in Iraq. It argues that the alleged decline in identity politics is not a true change happening in politics in Iraq. Group needs and demands are still there, and have still not been addressed. The dominant socioeconomic needs, in my view, has only…

Research informing summary:
Journal article: Not to mislead peace: on the demise of identity politics in Iraq (2022)
Peer Reviewed
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About:

This research used a qualitative approach and literature review method.

Methodologically, this article deploys a literature review method by investigating publications (journal articles, books, media commentaries, policy reports and the like) that address Iraq’s political history, state–society relations, cross-communal relations, violence, state and peacebuilding and economy. To ensure that the local perspective is adequately represented, the article draws on publications produced by Iraqi scholars and organisations.

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Funding:

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

Key points

  • Kurdish identity issues can, at any point in time, resurface and even reemerge in a violent way

To some extent, nationalism, Kurdish nationalism, sectarianism, and those sorts of things on the surface seem to have lost their value and significance. But I argue that it is just a temporal thing and that identity issues can, at any point in time, resurface and even reemerge in a violent way. So, the core of the argument is that group identities are still there since group issues and demands have not been adequately addressed.

For instance, the issue of disputed territories and the conflict between Baghdad and Erbil over contested areas in Nineveh, Kirkuk and Salahuddin have not yet been settled permanently. It is true that because of the current power balance between Baghdad and the KRG, Article 140 is less talked about, but that doesn’t mean that in a few years’ time when things change, that issue is not going to come up again. The same goes for the role of religion in politics and government. The same with constitutional amendments and reform. These are deeper structural issues that have not been addressed in Iraq.

I was trying to highlight that any peace-building efforts in Iraq require giving attention to those things, even though they are not currently the main priority for people. For example, things like disputed territories might not be a top priority at this stage. But if you’re not dealing with it adequately and are not trying to work out a mutually acceptable solution for it, it might come up again at any point. With the fragile state of the situation in Iraq, it might lead to community tensions and complex violence.

The fact that most Iraqis tend to prioritise social and economic needs, should not mislead us that group-identity issues have lost their significance. Those structural, important things in Iraqi politics have not disappeared altogether; they are still important but behind the scenes now.

Findings

  • Iraq is in a very early stage of its movement towards democracy and rule of law (and it is not always a move towards democracy, often it has been a movement away from democracy.

    ) Despite many criticisms, Iraq has a good constitution, but most of it is just ink on paper and has not been fulfilled. Iraq is struggling with constitutional implementation, rule of law, and the separation of powers, checks and balances.

  • Militias are still active and largely uncontrolled by the state.

    The economy is still controlled by non-formal actors, including people in politics, elites, in government, militias, and families, and there is no open and free market in the country.

  • While Iraq definitely needs a constitutional amendment, but we are not clear about the direction of the amendments or potential amendments.

    Militias are still active and largely uncontrolled by the state. The economy is still controlled by non-formal actors, including people in politics, elites, in government, militias, and families, and there is no open and free market in the country. These are some of the struggles that Iraq faces. Another finding was that Iraq definitely needs a constitutional amendment, but we are not clear about the direction of the amendments or potential amendments. We are not sure that any constitutional amendments are going to be in the direction of better democracy for Iraq. If you look at people who argue for constitutional amendment, you see that some of the demands and agendas are towards re-centralisation of the country .and at times they call for codification of conservative/traditional values and practices. So we are not sure if any constitutional amendments are going to be in the direction of democratisation of the country.

  • While civil society in Iraq, although more vibrant and numerous now than before, is still struggling in many ways.

    To begin with, a large part of Iraqi civil society seems to be dependent on politicians, political elites, and political parties. So, it doesn't seem that Iraqi civil society is largely pursuing an independent agenda. There are interferences in civil society in the way they are running internally. Civil society is struggling and, in many ways, is less change-seeking and less radical than it is supposed to be.

  • Civil society is preoccupied with humanitarian interventions and support (not to devalue the involvement of civil society in humanitarian practices), but civil society is supposed to be more pro-change, promoting gender equality, freedom of conscience, peace, reconciliation, harmony in the country, and environmental protection.

    This sort of pro-change civil society in Iraq seems to be inactive.

How to use

  • The first small step in this direction could be creating an environment where civil society can advocate for their rights, with the understanding that changes may come as a natural progression rather than through artificial intervention: Sometimes change occurs over time due to shifts in various factors.
  • In Europe and in the West, (but I state these words with a lot of caution - as there's also a huge debate around the independency of civil society in the West), but the fact that the economy moves more towards free markets and competition, does help civil society to flourish
  • Privatisation of the economy, (if it happens in a true sense of privatisation of the economy - and not just on the surface), can give civil society better access to the political resources it wants: So, for example, in the context of the West, civil society organisations can seek a multitude of sources of funding from universities, research funding bodies, governments, charities, and so on. In Iraq, civil society needs a similar change in the broader economy so that it won't be obliged to seek sources and resources from the government and political elites all the time.
  • Civil society need to be educated that they can bring about change and know how to realise its potential: Iraqis are totally disappointed with elections and conventional politics. There's a huge distrust in political elites and the post-2003 political landscape. The only source of hope left for Iraqis is civil society, but again, realising this potential remains uncertain.
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Khedir, Hewa. 'Not to mislead peace: on the demise of identity politics in Iraq'. Acume. https://www.acume.org/r/not-to-mislead-peace-on-the-demise-of-identity-politics-in-iraq/