Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor | University of East Anglia

Pride and Power: A Modern History of Iraq

My book explored Iraq’s modern history and the fundamental issues that have shaped its political development. It has a chronological approach, starting in the Ottoman period and looking at how the state was created after the First World War.

Research informing summary:
Book: Pride and Power: A Modern History of Iraq (2020)
Peer Reviewed
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About:

This research used a qualitative approach and archival research method.

My research was predominantly based on archival research and I found and scrutinised as many sources as possible (found in libraries, bookstores, pamphlets, booklets etc). I tried to find sources in Arabic, English, and other languages to have a balanced and objective approach.

An issue I faced was that there are no surviving governmental archives, so you have to piece everything together and find fragments here and there. Iraq does not have a national archives. One of the problems therefore is that because surviving and accessible sources are British and American, most accounts of Iraqi history have been written from a Western perspective. I was trying to counter that by using as many Arabic and Iraqi sources that I could possibly find and incorporate to balance the narrative.

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Funding:

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

Key points

  • Because Iraq was historically set up by outside powers, which failed to take into account what the Iraqis themselves wanted, the state was always an alien force for Iraqis – never their own state, nor allowed to evolve organically

Iraq was set up as a “modern state” with a League of Nations’ mandate. To a large extent, it was an imperialist project, but couched in the language of international law. It had this humanitarian language attached to it, saying, “We’re doing this for the Iraqis, for the interests of the Iraqis.” But by and large, it was all set to work with British interests, which was to control Iraq, control the oil, control the strategic region, the air routes to other parts of the empire, etc.

For that reason, there was never a gradual development of indigenous institutions linked to the state; they were imposed top-down from abroad. A monarchy was installed under Faisal, the son of Sharif Hussein. He was brought in from outside and became king, even though he had no association with Iraq and had never set foot there before. All of that conspired to make the new state and its institutions tenuous. Iraq’s modern history has revolved around efforts by its elites to make those institutions more palatable and rooted, and ordinary Iraqis’ resisting them, instead making use of familial, tribal, and sectarian ties.

I did this research because at the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I became very interested in Iraq. I realized there weren’t many historical works on Iraq, and most of them weren’t based on solid research. I wanted to present a different perspective than what was the media-driven narrative at that time, which was all about the Western perspective and very little about what it actually meant to Iraqis themselves.

The book took me many years to work on off and on. It’s about 600 pages long and covers Iraq’s modern history up until 2019, following the defeat of ISIS and when a new government came in, but we still started to see the same old problems.

Findings

  • A lack of institutionalization is a key issue in Iraq, with no process for institutions to grow and gain trust from the population. This issue can be traced back to the British-established institutions in the 1920s and 1930s, followed by a series of coups and revolutions, and the authoritarian rule of the Baath party, which also failed to gain popular support.
  • Different political groups in Iraq, like the Iraqi Communist Party, Kurdish groups, and the Baathists, have tried to resist Western powers and establish their own political systems.However, these groups have struggled to build consensus and were often only able to gain power through force.
  • The challenges faced by Iraq in establishing democracy are not solely due to the Iraqi people, but also involve outside forces and the way Iraq was created - and not consulting with Iraqis about the type of institutions needed for their country.
  • A parallel can be drawn between the current corruption in Iraq and the corruption of the 1950s. Politicians, knowing they have the backing of Western powers means that they feel secure and know that the Western powers will turn a blind eye to certain types of corruption, resulting in the system growing more corrupt.

How to use

  • Building trust in state institutions: Learn from the examples of post-WWII Germany and Japan, where trust in institutions was established over generations through consistency and commitment. This may require a long-term investment in resources and time.
  • Encourage the return of exiled professionals: Create incentives for Iraqis living in exile to return and contribute their skills and knowledge to rebuilding the country.
  • Engage people in local governance: Implement direct democracy projects at the local level, encouraging citizen involvement and fostering trust in the political system. This can gradually be expanded to a national level, building trust in national institutions over time.
  • Address corruption: Work towards reducing corruption by increasing transparency and accountability. Engage people directly with their leaders and representatives to foster trust and reduce corruption.
  • Support religious institutions in promoting trust: Encourage religious institutions to take a stand against militias and corruption, and support their efforts through international partnerships and NGOs.
  • Transform militias into a part of the state: Develop strategies to incorporate militias that were formed to protect citizens from threats (such as ISIS) back into the state structure, ensuring a more stable and unified security system.
  • Work with willing partners to enact change: Recognize the necessity of collaborating with certain groups, even if they may be associated with corruption or militias, in order to bring about positive change in the country.
  • Encourage regional and international cooperation: Promote dialogue and collaboration among regional powers, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, to reduce external interference in Iraq's internal affairs and create a more balanced foreign policy.
  • Let Iraqis put pressure on leaders: Encourage moral and ethical leadership by emphasizing their duty to work for the benefit of the people and foster a culture of responsibility and public service.
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Franzen, Johan. 'Pride and Power: A Modern History of Iraq'. Acume. https://www.acume.org/r/pride-and-power-a-modern-history-of-iraq/