This report analyzes the institutional and social components that shape the politics of reconstruction in Iraq today. It chronicles the evolution of the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Governing Council, the dilemmas of dismantling the structures of state power consolidated under Saddam Hussein, the emergence of a vibrant civil society, and the tensions inherent in a new political order.

Summary

  • In the wake of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and his Ba'athist regime, two main tasks have confronted the Americans and Iraqis who now hold power. One is to stabilize the country; the other is to liberalize it economically, politically, and socially. Although the requirements of stabilization have so far overshadowed progress toward liberalization, significant steps have been taken in transitioning from totalitarianism to free market democracy. Much more, however, remains to be accomplished.
  • This report offers an overview of the problems and possibilities of the transitional period, analyzing the nature of the transition and the players involved and focusing in particular on the process of liberalization.
  • Both stabilization and liberalization have four major elements: dismantling the old power structures; constructing a new political order; liberalizing the economy; and managing the social and institutional forces that the newfound freedom has unleashed.
  • If liberalization is to succeed, the coalition and its Iraqi partners must do more to acknowledge and address three factors that together shape the unique character of contemporary Iraq: the legacy of totalitarianism, the political economy of oil rentierism, and the multiethnic and multicultural composition of Iraqi society.
  • Any effective approach to nation building must be built around all-inclusive participatory mechanisms that give each of Iraq's constituencies a voice in its future.
  • The CPA's record has been mixed. It has been more successful in dismantling the structures of the former regime than in replacing them. Its policy of creating a new political order on three levels (local, national, and sovereign) is sound, but these three levels are disconnected.
  • By establishing the Governing Council (GC) as its Iraqi partner, the CPA effectively gave Shi'i Islamic leaders a platform from which to press for Islamization and for direct elections for Iraq's next government. While the GC provides greater opportunities for inclusion than the old regime, the successor interim government taking over on June 30 must avoid dividing Iraq along communal lines.
  • Efforts to liberalize the economy have been piecemeal so far. The opportunity exists to transform the nature of the oil industry and in the process turn Iraq into a share-owning (and more equitable) society. Until the future of the oil industry has been decided, however, progress toward overcoming numerous economic problems and creating a prosperous Iraq will be halting.
  • Iraqis have responded enthusiastically to their newfound freedom to engage in political debate, creating numerous new organizations and newspapers. So dynamic is the current situation that it is impossible to predict which of the social and institutional forces will survive and how they will develop. Already, though, those forces are polarized along many different lines: pro- versus anti-coalition, Islamist versus secular, federalist versus centralist, liberal versus statist, traditional versus modern, and so on.
  • The future direction of the transition will largely depend on the method chosen to determine Iraq's next government and the drafters of its new constitution. Immediate direct elections would almost certainly yield a Shi'i Islamic majority, which would destroy hopes of securing a fully representative and stable democratic system. Among other options, the most promising are the promotion of a liberal-moderate bloc and the adoption of a system of provincial proportional representation.
  • The June 30 date for the transfer of authority to an interim Iraqi government has a great deal of symbolic value and should be honored. Assuming it is, the next step will be the negotiation of the status of coalition forces. Discussions also remain on the nature of the transitional government, the role of the United Nations, and the direction of U.S. policies toward the region.

About the Report

This report analyzes the institutional and social components that shape the politics of reconstruction in Iraq today. It chronicles the evolution of the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Governing Council, the dilemmas of dismantling the structures of state power consolidated under Saddam Hussein, the emergence of a vibrant civil society, and the tensions inherent in a new political order. Understanding the legacy of Iraqi authoritarianism as well as the potential of new social forces is critical to developing policies that will foster a transition toward a stable democracy.

Faleh Abdul-Jabar is a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, and a research fellow at the School of Politics and Sociology, Birkbeck College, University of London. Formerly a lecturer at London Metropolitan University, since 1994 he has directed the Iraqi Cultural Forum Research Group. In February–August 2002 he conducted field research in the Kurdish region of Iraq, and in June–August 2003 in the Arab parts of the country. This report is part of his larger book project on the legacy of the Ba'ath totalitarian state and postconflict democratic perspectives.

The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect views of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policy positions.

Related Publications

The Current Situation in Iraq

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Iraq’s social and political landscape has changed drastically after an escalation of regional and global power competition, the COVID-19-induced health and economic crises, and the unprecedented uprising by peaceful demonstrators in October 2019 that led to formation of a new government. These developments have exacerbated long-standing ten-sions, feeding public distrust in the state and tribal violence in the south. They have also detrimentally affected minority communities, especially in ISIS-affected areas, creating openings for ISIS remnants to step up attacks and contributing to continued internal displacement of over one million persons.

Type: Fact Sheet

After ISIS Genocide, Yazidis Need More Than Remembrance

After ISIS Genocide, Yazidis Need More Than Remembrance

Monday, August 3, 2020

By: Knox Thames

It’s August 2014 in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar. The police have fled; the army had crumbled. ISIS is rampaging and rolls into Sinjar that summer. The international community is asleep—and the Yazidis (Ezidis) are defenseless. ISIS perpetrates the unthinkable—men and boys are slaughtered, while women and girls enslaved and raped—all because they believe in something different. A genocide happened on our watch.

Type: Blog

Human Rights; Religion

Threat to Kakai Community Poses Broader Challenges for Iraq’s Democracy

Threat to Kakai Community Poses Broader Challenges for Iraq’s Democracy

Monday, July 27, 2020

By: Dr. Elie Abouaoun; Yousif Kalian

Amid the global pandemic, ISIS and the havoc it still wreaks have largely fallen out of the headlines. Nonetheless, the terrorist group’s genocidal march against Iraqi minorities has continued. In Iraq’s eastern Diyala province, ISIS has targeted the Kakai minority with multiple, vicious attacks. The plight of the Kakai community in Iraq is a microcosm of the larger existential challenges Iraq faces. Ethnic and sectarian divides have been a flashpoint for conflict and division for decades. For Iraq to move past the wreckage of ISIS, prevent the terrorist group’s resurgence, and advance its struggling democracy, the Kakai must not only be protected but woven more meaningfully into the diverse tapestry that is Iraq—and the United States has the opportunity to help.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Reconciliation; Human Rights

The Implications of the Assassination of Husham al-Hashimi

The Implications of the Assassination of Husham al-Hashimi

Thursday, July 16, 2020

By: Dr. Elie Abouaoun

The assassination of our colleague and friend Husham al-Hashimi by unidentified gunmen in Iraq comes as a shock to those who knew him, and to those who did not. Not because assassinations in Iraq are unfamiliar, but rather for other reasons, the most important being Husham’s personality, his experience, ethics, and dedication to the cause of peace in his country; also because of the optimism felt by many after Mustafa al-Kadhimi took over as prime minister and the measures he undertook.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Violent Extremism

View All Publications