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Sectarianization and De-sectarianization in the Struggle for Iraq’s Political Field

March 12  2020
Pages 58-69
By Toby Dodge* & Renad Mansour**
Source: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15570274.2020.1729513?journalCode=rfia20&


Iraq’s political system, an elite pact justified through ethno-religious consociationalism or sectarian apportionment (Muhasasa Ta’ifiyya), was created in the aftermath of invasion and regime change in 2003. The system’s legitimation was based on a very specific understanding of Iraqi society and the role of elections in managing that society. However, this system did not prevent the brutal civil war that raged in Iraq from 2004 until 2008. Once the civil war ended and communally justified violence declined, other negative consequences of the system became increasingly apparent, namely the widespread and systematically sanctioned political corruption at its core and the institutional incoherence the system created. A sustained post-civil war challenge to the system has come through a series of mass demonstrations, starting in 2009, but reaching their peak, in terms of size and ideational coherence, in 2019. In the face of its unpopularity, the majority of Iraq’s politicians may have moved away from the overt promotion of sectarianism, but the political system still functions, as it has since 2003, with systemic corruption and coercion taking the place of sectarian ideology in terms of delivering elite cohesion and defending the status quo.

*Toby Dodge is a Professor in the International Relations Department at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is also Research Director for Iraq in the DFID funded Conflict Research Programme and a SEPAD fellow. His main areas of research include the comparative politics and historical sociology of the Middle East, the politics of intervention, the evolution of the Iraqi state, and state-society dynamics and political identities in Iraq.

**Renad Mansour is a senior research fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Programme and project director of the Iraq Initiative.