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Iraq: People, History, Politics

ISBN: 978-0-7456-3226-1
280 pages
April 2007, Polity
Iraq: People, History, Politics (0745632262) cover image


The removal of the regime of Saddam Hussein and the reconstruction of the Iraqi state were critical components of US foreign policy towards the Middle East in the aftermath of 9/11. It was hoped that Iraq, free from the oppression of Saddam's tyranny, would be transformed into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. Iraq has indeed been transformed, but into a zone of instability.

With Saddam's regime no more, Iraq has turned into a morass of competing ethno-sectarian political and social forces, in stark contrast to the views expressed by Western and Middle Eastern commentators alike before the US-led invasion, who commonly believed in the strength of Iraqi nationalism. Why did this fragmentation occur? Have Sunni–Shii tensions always been present? Are the Kurds seeking secession, or accommodation within the state? What has been the social and political impact of years of dictatorship, war and hardship? And why have US attempts to restructure the Iraqi state resulted in Iraq being on the verge of becoming a failed state, rather than the first democratic domino in the Middle East?

In this timely new book, Gareth Stansfield explores these questions and frames them in an analysis which takes into account Iraq's diverse society, and the geopolitical interventions of regional states and great powers. He concludes with an assessment of Iraq since the removal of Saddam.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ix

List of Abbreviations and Glossary xi

Map xvi

Introduction: Artificiality, Identity, Dictatorship and State-Building 1

Four Key Debates 2

Analytical Theme 4

Book Outline 6

1 Legacies of Civilizations and Empires 10

Ancient Civilizations 11

The Islamic Conquest 17

The Arrival of the Ottoman Empire 23

2 State Formation, Monarchy and Mandate, 1918–1932 26

The Artificiality Debate 26

The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire 30

Planning the Carve-Up 33

Occupation and Uprising 36

The Cairo Conference 43

The New State and Enduring Pathologies 46

The End of the Mandate 49

3 Conceptualizing Political Mobilization in Iraq 51

The Identity Debate 52

Nationalism 55

The Sunni–Shi'i Divide 57

The Kurds 62

Turkmens and Assyrians 70

Identity and the State 74

4 From Authoritarian to Totalitarian State, 1958–1979 75

The Dictator Debate 76

The Military in Political Life 81

The Role of the Military and the Communalization of Political Life 85

The Intensification of Anti-Imperialist Sentiment 88

Towards Totalitarianism 92

The Totalitarian State 96

5 Iraq at War, 1979–1989 99

History of Iran–Iraq Relations 100

The Kurdish War 103

The Decline into War with Iran 106

Iraq Advances 109

Iran Counterattacks 111

The Kurdish Threat 112

The Tanker War 116

The Political and Economic Impact on Iraq 118

Towards Kuwait 120

6 The Pariah State, 1989–2003 123

Towards War 124

The Invasion of Kuwait 126

Operation Desert Storm 128

The Uprisings 131

The Coalescing of Opposition Movements 136

Sanctions on Iraq 138

The Arrival of the Inspectors 141

Defection 143

The Failed Coups 143

The Opposition Defeated and Kurdistan Divided 147

Oil for Food 148

Sanctions Busting 150

Hide-and-Seek with UNSCOM 151

Towards Invasion 154

State and Society on the Eve of the Invasion of Iraq 156

7 Regime Change, 2003– 159

The State-Building and Democratization Debate 160

Operation Iraqi Freedom 163

The Chaotic Devolution of Political Authority 165

The Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council 167

The Transitional Administrative Law 173

The Iraqi Interim Government 175

Shi'i Rebellion and Sunni Insurgencies 176

January 2005 Elections 182

Constitutional Negotiations 184

The Referendum 185

December 2005 Elections 187

Staring into the Abyss 189

Conclusion: The Passing of Thresholds? 192

Making Sense of the Debates 192

The Government of Nouri al-Maliki 199

The Passing of Thresholds 202

Epilogue 205

Notes 209

Chronology 221

Internet Links 229

Bibliography 232

Index 249

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Author Information

Gareth Stansfield is Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter.
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The Wiley Advantage

  • Another volume in Polity's new series on global political hot spots.
  • Offers a compelling analysis of conflict in one of the world's most notorious political hot spots.
  • Presents a clear, succinct and balanced appraisal of how the current Iraq crisis has developed.
  • Takes into account Iraq's diverse society, and the geopolitical interventions of regional states and great powers which have contributed to the tortured political development of Iraq.
  • Explores the social, political and economic impact on the people of Iraq after years of war, deprivation and hardship.
  • Concludes with an assessment of Iraq since the removal of Saddam, and what may be in store for the people of this tragic country in future years.
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“If you want to understand why Iraq's problems seem so intractable, read Gareth Stansfield's superb analysis of Iraqi society and politics, the psyche of its peoples and the construct of its state.”

“The policy elite in the West needs exactly this kind of book to better understand the politics of this troubled state.”
International Affairs

“Provides an enormously useful overview of four ‘key debates’ that have defined Iraq since its formation.”
Geographical Journal

“As an academic textbook on Iraq, one could not really ask for much more in the current market place of pop-analysis ... Stansfield has no competition.”
Muslim World Book Review

“A well-written and accessible introduction to Iraqi politics.”
Political Studies Review

“Gareth Stansfield’s Iraq is a unique piece of research on post-conflict Iraq; it is meticulous, profound and, more importantly, timely and cool. Timely, because the Iraq syndrome has become the main topic of debate worldwide, and new strategic choices could well be pending; and “cool” because the heat of debate going on is generated by ideological discourses, political jockeying and partisan self-interest that partly at least distort the view. A cool-headed, multidimensional examination from objective scholars is a must.”
Faleh A. Jabar, Birkbeck College, London and Exeter Universities, and the Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies

“This book is essential reading for anyone who cares about what is transpiring in Iraq and the modern Middle East; even specialists in Iraqi politics will find much to provoke new ways in which to view and understand the region.”
Eric Davis, Rutgers University

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