New imperialism in Iraq: how the US occupation helped establish but then cannibalised the Sadr City district council

From 2003 to 2011, the US-based non-profit contractor, Research Triangle Institute, was awarded $500 million to establish local government institutions. The effort to construct 1,000 councils was one of the largest funded projects in USAID history. In this paper, I show that contrary to the official statements made by USAID and occupation authorities, the Local Governance Project, a conventional international peacebuilding project, was integral to the security priorities of the occupation. I argue that these dynamics cannot be analysed in isolation of US imperial interests to create a client state in Iraq. Controlling the means of violence, particularly forms of power as manifested in local structures, was a central component of the US occupation to shape Iraq’s political trajectory. This paper explores the workings of imperial power by analysing the establishment of the District Advisory Council in Sadr City – a district containing over half of Baghdad’s population.

Academic article published in ‘Peacebuilding’,  June 2019.

About Mehiyar

Dr Mehiyar Kathem is a researcher at University College London (UCL). Mehiyar completed a PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) where he researched peacebuilding interventions and the formation of Iraq’s domestic NGO sector after the 2003 War. During this research, he looked at the gradual evolution of Iraq from totalitarian dictatorship through the country’s emerging domestic organisations. His research interests include statebuilding, civil society peacebuilding and the ways in which development, politics and money interact at a local level. In 2012 and 2013, Mehiyar conducted field research in Iraq for his PhD programme, spending a year meeting with and interviewing domestic NGO actors, political parties, government officials and international donors. Previously, Mehiyar worked on a number of grassroots programmes geared to build the capacity of civil society organisations and continues to advise international donors on the effective design and delivery of projects in Iraq. He tweets at @mehiyar

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