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Iraq and Democracy focuses on the history of democracy in Iraq. Moreover, the article presents various opinions of Middle East Scholars and Politicians on contemporary debates about the future prospect for democracy in Iraq.


The History of Democracy in Iraq

In the book American Hegemony: Preventive war, Iraq and Imposing Democracy, political scholar D.J Caraley refers to the period between 1974 and 1990 in world politics, as a “global democratic revolution”[1]. He goes onto say that "more than thirty countries in Southern Europe, Latin America, East Asia, and Eastern Europe shifted from authoritarian to democratic systems of government".[2] However, because Iraq's history began as a dependent British territory, made out of three imperial districts at the time of the downfall of the Ottoman Empire, Middle East scholar D.Smith argues that 'though there were elections as early as 1925 – Iraq has never been a democracy. Real power has always been in the hands of other states, various army fractions or, for 35 years from 1968 to 2003, the Ba‘ath Party,' [3] and Iraq has thus not been a part of this "global democratic revolution". However, it has to be noted that Iraq is not the only country within Western Asia where democratic developments have been slow. Indeed, 'although most Middle Eastern regimes hold periodic presidential, national and local elections, relatively few of the states of the region have well-developed functioning democratic political systems.'[4]

In the book Overstating the Arab State: Politics and Society in the Middle East (2001), Middle East Scholar N. N. Ayubi argues that ‘to speak about democratisation in relation to Iraq, and however much one may stretch the meaning of this term, seems almost to border on ridiculous.’ [5] Nevertheless, Ayubi notes that ‘the lack of any serious movement towards democracy [in Iraq] …still warrant explanation.’ [5] Ayubi continues, with arguing that the most noticeable example of what can be perceived as a move towards a more a more democratic Iraq occurred in 1988 when ‘President Saddam Hussein announced a general pardon of all political prisoners and promised a democratic multi-party system.’ [6] This meant that non-Ba‘thists were allowed to stand for election when the Iraqi population voted to elect a new National Assembly in April 1989. Moreover, the Iraqi media, which had previously been the subject of a great deal of censorship, were suddenly publishing quite critical items. [6] Nonetheless, Ayubi states that ‘it is not entirely clear why Saddam had decided to take this much vaunted democratisation detour.’ [6] However, Ayubi suggests that these gestures could have been ‘targeted at the West in an attempt to improve the image of the country’s human rights record in the aftermath of the horrendous atrocities committed by the Iraqi regime in Halabja and elsewhere as the Iran-Iraq war was coming to an end.’ [7] The above examples illustrate, as Ayubi argued, the most prominent examples of democratisation of the Iraqi state prior to the US led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Unfortunately, ‘the absence of statistics, and the general difficulty of access to Iraq [pre-2003]… means that it is not possible to carry out the kind of broad analysis of [democracy in Iraq]…for the more recent past.’[8]

The US invaded Iraq in 2003 and in 2006 Saddam Hussein was hung for the ‘genocidal Anfal-campaign of the late 1980s, a campaign that included extensive use of poison gas on Kurdish villagers’[9] in northern Iraq. For more details on this and the contemporary political situation in Iraq see Iraq and Politics of Iraq.

Post-invasion: Future Prospects for Democracy in Iraq

“If we think there is a fast solution to changing the governance of Iraq, then we don’t understand history, the nature of the country, the divisions, or the underneath suppressed passions that could rise up. God help us if we think this transition will occur easily. The attempts I’ve seen to install democracy in short periods of time where there is no history and no roots have failed. ." (Marine General Anthony Zinni (retired) Head of U.S. Central Command from 1997 to 2000, 10 October 2002).[10]

Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni is not alone in believing that the creation of democracy in Iraq does not call for short-term solutions. As a matter of fact, political philosopher Chantal Mouffe develops Zinni’s ideas by arguing that ‘democracy is never going to be completely realized, but it is something which will always need to be a project which we are going to fight for…be aware that there is no final goal – democracy is a process which we are continually working towards. So we are clearly facing a difficulty in terms of the way passion can be mobilized.”[11] To Adam Garfinkle, another Middle East scholar, experiencing difficulty in establishing democracy in Iraq is an understatement. Adam M. Garfinkle argues that attempting to promote democracy in Iraq and the rest of the Arab World will fail and only exaggerate feelings of anti-Americanism within the Arab world.[12]

However, poles apart from Garfinkle, scholar James Fallows envisions the future Iraq as a “City on the Hill” for the Arab World – an Iraq, Fallows believes, which will instigate democracy throughout the Middle East.[13]
Others argue as Thomas Jefferson would have done that ‘democracy must [first and foremost] be rooted… in the “soil” of Iraq if it is to grow. Very few plants and certainly not democracy grow from the top down.’[14] Thus the opinions of the future for democracy in Iraq are quite varied.

The role of Islamic religious infrastructure on democracy in Iraq

Mr. Youssef Chouieri argues in the book A Companion to the History of the Middle East (2005) that 'the role of the Islamic religious infrastructure in shaping the values of people in the region (non-Muslim as well as Muslim) has clearly been crucial since classical times'[15] Charles Tripp continues this debate by stating in the book A History of Iraq (2000):

"...those who are seeking to develop a new narrative for the history of Iraq must recognize the powerful legacies at work in the country if they do not want to succumb to their logic."[16]

See also


  1. ^ Caraley, D, J (2004)(ed.) American Hegemony: Preventive war, Iraq and Imposing Democracy US: The Academy of Political Science p 149
  2. ^ Caraley, D, J (2004)(ed.) American Hegemony: Preventive war, Iraq and Imposing Democracy US: The Academy of Political Science p 149
  3. ^ Smith, D (2006) The State of the Middle East: An Atlas of Conflict and Resolution Hong Kong: Earthscan p 86
  4. ^ Seddon, D (2004) (1st Ed.) A Political and Economic Dictionary of the Middle East Cornwall: European Publications p127
  5. ^ a b Ayubi, N, N (2001) Overstating the Arab State: Politics and Society in the Middle East Bodmin: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd p 424
  6. ^ a b c Ayubi, N, N (2001) Overstating the Arab State: Politics and Society in the Middle East Bodmin: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd pp 424-25
  7. ^ Ayubi, N, N (2001) Overstating the Arab State: Politics and Society in the Middle East Bodmin: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd pp 424-25
  8. ^ Farouk-Slugett, Sluglett (2001) Iraq since 1958: From Revolution to Dictatorship Bodmin: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd. P 308
  9. ^ Galbraith, P, W (2006) The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a war Without End UK: Simon & Shuster p 6
  10. ^ Dodge, T (2003) Inventing Iraq: The failure of Nation Building and a History Denied U.S.: C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd p 157
  11. ^ Žižek, S (2005) Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle Surrey: Verso p 97
  12. ^ Garfinkle, A (April 2003) “The New Missionaries” Prospect pp 22-24
  13. ^ Fallows, J(Nov. 2002) “The Fifty-First State?” Atlantic, pp 53-64
  14. ^ Polk, W, R, Lund, J (2006) Understanding Iraq: a Whistlestop tour from ancient Babylon to occupied Baghdad Cornwall: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd p 197
  15. ^ Choueiri, Y, M (2005)A Companion to the History of the Middle East India: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. p 494
  16. ^ Tripp, C(2000) A History of Iraq Cambridge: Cambridge University Press p280


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