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The sectarian state in Iraq and the new political class

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This article serves as a critical examination of sectarianism in Iraqi society and politics, considering both its historical origins and its contemporary manifestations. The article thus evaluates the sectarian question in two parts: (1) its historical context in the Iraqi milieu and (2) the uses of social sectarianism for political purposes in modern Iraq. This provides the framework for a critical evaluation of the assorted actors, both Iraqi and foreign, who have used sectarianism to advance their parochial interests in occupied Iraq. The historical survey of sectarianism examines the social and folkloric bases of social sectarianism in modern Iraq. We argue that the manifestation of sectarianism in contemporary Iraq was transformed from a social phenomenon into a political programme under the Anglo-American military occupation. Even before the occupation, a primary theme of global discourse on Iraq (1990–2002) was the attempt by external actors to embed political sectarianism into the political dynamics of Iraq. This essay argues that the violent and highly politicized form of sectarianism that currently characterizes Iraq is the result of a deliberate manipulation of social differences that had been largely transcended in Iraq's major urban centres through decades of national state-building. The processes of this 'new sectarianism' are evaluated in terms of the political and legal mechanisms that have been institutionalized in occupied Iraq. The primary instigators of this new sectarianism are identified as Anglo-American occupation authorities; regional actors; and critically, a class of 'carpetbaggers' – Iraqi expatriates who were parachuted into power by occupation forces and have since developed narrow sectarian constituencies in the pursuit of their parochial interests. The development of this expatriate political class is examined in terms of the patronage it receives from foreign forces, particularly American and British, and in its ongoing dependence on external actors.
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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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