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The security state and the practice and rhetoric of sectarianism in Iraq

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I make two propositions in this brief essay on sectarianism in Iraq: the first is that sectarianism as category of analysis of identity formation conceals as much as it reveals. Its use by political actors as well as producers of knowledge needs to be at all times analysed within specific contexts; the second is that the sectarianism of post-2003 Iraq cannot be understood by excavating its historical origins in late Ottoman, monarchical or early Ba'athist Iraq. Nor can it be solely attributed to the political arrangements made by the US-British occupation and its allies. It can only be understood by locating it in the specific kinds of violence, physical, bureaucratic and rhetorical, perpetuated by the Ba'athist regime and its opponents during the Iran–Iraq war and the 1991 intifada and its aftermath. The violence of the regime was not sectarian in nature, but informed above all by the logic of security. Nevertheless, the state and the party targeted populations, particularly in the south, that were perceived as a potential threat because of their communal affiliation. While the intifada was a largely non-sectarian popular rebellion, both the regime and the opposition portrayed it in sectarian terms.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2010

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  • The International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies is a new peer-reviewed, tri- annual, academic publication devoted to the study of modern Iraq. In recognition of Iraq's increasingly important position on the world stage, the time is right for a new journal dedicated to scholarly engagement with the country.
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