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The Iraq Invasion at Twenty: Iraq’s Struggle for Democracy

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This research tries to assess Iraq’s attempt to democratise away from the shadow of the U.S. invasion.

References

Journal article: The Iraq Invasion at Twenty: Iraq’s Struggle for Democracy (2023)
Peer Reviewed
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About:

This empirical data collection used a qualitative approach.

To conduct this research, I carried out a series of interviews with civil society activists, politicians from both traditional and new parties, and Iraqi academics and journalists. In addition to this, I utilised indicators that have been compiled by other academics and researchers available online to compare Iraq to the region. For historical information, I relied on a wide range of sources, including books and firsthand accounts by citizens of the time.

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Funding:

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

Additional reading:
  • Background: The Democracy Paradox Podcast[Access resource]
  • For policymakers
  • For Government & Policy
  • democratisation
  • elections
  • iraq war
  • statebuilding

Key points

  • The main takeaway from this research was that Iraq’s democratisation experiment is a lot better than people give it credit for, but it’s a lot worse than it could be, especially when comparing regionally and historically.

I wanted to invite academics, policymakers, and others working on Iraq to stop viewing the country through the lens of the invasion and start assessing it as an independent country that has been operating normally for the past few years.

For years, people approached Iraq through the lens of it being so poisoned by the invasion that anything that comes out of it must be linked to the past in some way. So any bad outcomes are immediately attributed to the invasion period, and any good outcomes are disregarded because it would seem as though you are trying to make an excuse for the invasion. This is particularly true of academics who can’t really deal with Iraq without the shadow of the invasion hanging overhead.

This research was important to conduct, especially on the 20th anniversary of the invasion, which was a good time to take stock of where the country was going. Additionally, given the recent social unrest in Iraq, like the 2019 protest movement, it was a good opportunity to pause, take a look at the country’s institutions, its hopes for democratisation, and what obstacles stand in the way. This allowed me to give an accurate assessment of what things might look like going forward.

Findings

  • Electoral integrity: Elections do occur regularly, which is significant.

    However, how free and fair they are varies over time. But the last election, in particular, was noted to be more free and fair than the previous one.

  • Freedoms of speech and assembly: While Iraq still outperforms most states in the region in this regard, its record here is mixed at best.

    Although foreign journalists are allowed nearly unrestricted access to interview officials and citizens, local reporters have a much harder time. There are freedoms for civil society and speech, but they have been infringed upon in the last few years.

  • However, the use of Baath-era laws to prosecute individuals for criticising state officials expanded under the premiership of Mustafa al-Kadhimi (2020–22) and continue today.
  • Political elites have carved out subnational zones of control in which it is difficult for locals to criticize them publicly.

    For example, civil society activists in Basra expressed greater concerns about criticizing armed groups than did their counterparts in Baghdad and Najaf.

What it means

I had a bare-bones definition of democracy that included things like competitive free and fair elections, a peaceful transfer of power, and freedoms of assembly and expression. With this definition in mind, I tried to see what Iraq has and how it fares along those criteria.

For instance, elections do occur regularly, which is significant. However, how free and fair they are varies over time. But the last election, in particular, was noted to be more free and fair than the previous one. On the topic of freedoms, there are freedoms for civil society and speech, but they have been infringed upon in the last few years.

Iraq today is more of a democracy than most people think, but less of a democracy than it could be. Ultimately, what happens in Iraq will be determined by Iraqis. That is far more than could have been said twenty years ago.

How to use

  • The first step is an honest assessment of where we are and where we want to be
  • If we aim for a consolidated democracy, the next steps are to build on whatever good we already have and try to protect whatever is on the decline

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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Alshamary, Marsin. 'The Iraq Invasion at Twenty: Iraq’s Struggle for Democracy'. Acume. https://www.acume.org/r/the-iraq-invasion-at-twenty-iraqs-struggle-for-democracy/