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May
03
2017
10:00-12:00

Research Seminar

Thomas Sommer-Houdeville: Remaking Iraq


- Neoliberalism and a System of violence after the US invasion, 2003-2011

Dr Thomas Sommer-Houdeville, Stockholm University, Department of Sociology.

ABSTRACT

After the invasion of Iraq and the destruction of the Saddam regime in 2003, the US Administration undertook the complete refounding of Iraq as a national state. The initial steps of the US Administration were the quasi eradication of the old Iraqi State. Then, this nation-building endeavour has been based on a federal  constitution promoting an ethno-sectarian power sharing and the attempt to transform what was once a centralised economy into a comprehensive market-driven society. However, the post-2003 period had been marked by the rising of identity politics, the constant delegitimisation of the new political order and successive episodes of massive violence. Obviously, the question of violence and its apex in 2006-2007 is central to understanding the post-2003 period in Iraq. For the first time in Iraqi history, waves of ethno-sectarian violence seriously challenged the possibility of a common life for all the diverse components of the Iraqi society. The Iraqi nation seemed to have been consumed in an existential conflict between components and communal identifications, once relatively integrated. Therefore, there is a need to render an analytical account of the aggressive rise of identity politics, the outbreak of violence and finally the episodes of civil war in 2005-2007 in Iraq.

This study aims to answer these questions by tracking the different political and social processes that have been at play during the American occupation of Iraq and that led to the events of 2005-2007. In order to do so, I will consider the dynamic relations that link political institutions, violence and self-identifications with regard to Iraqi society and Iraq as a National State. This research is built as a case study based mostly on qualitative analysis and the collection of empirical data, interviews, and fieldwork observations, as well as primary and secondary sources. I set out to identify actors and processes and determine a complex chain of reactions (a trajectory) that led to the current state of affairs in Iraq. This trajectory can be summarised in a few sentences:

The destruction of the old Iraqi State and the brutal implementation of neoliberal rationality and reregulations policies by the US occupiers ended in a dystopian economy and the creation of an "absent state" (Davis, 011). Since its very first day, this US-led nation-building endeavour has been flawed by a complete lack of  legitimacy and its substitution with coercion by the US and the new Iraqi "State" security apparatus. Meanwhile, the imposition and the institutionalisation of ethno-sectarian affiliations as a principle of political legitimacy contributed to transform the different communities of Iraq into main avenues for access and control of scarce economic and political resources. In a way, the US occupiers and new Iraqi elites were deflecting the political question of right following a movement similar to what Mamdani and Brown describe as a "Culturalisation of Politics" (2004, 2006). The result was a failure to establish a legitimate and functional political and economic order. This led to the rise of a System of Violence, organised around networks of violence. Within the System of Violence, Culturalisation of Politics would be translated into Culturalisation of Violence. This would contribute to the sectarianisation of space in Baghdad and other localities of Iraq, as well as "manufacturing" (Gregory, 2008) and essentialising sectarian representations and identifications within the society.

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