De-development, the era of the impossibility of development and the in-built dysfunction of Iraq’s political system

Since 2003, Iraq has seen remarkably little development, security and peace.

The country’s infrastructure is the same if not worse than it was in 2003. Roads, hospitals, schools and many other components of the country’s infrastructure have been severely degraded.

The situation is, of course, different in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, whose security and politics were not degraded by the US Occupation in 2003. On the contrary, US politics continue to promote the interests of two tribal families who rule over the semi-autonomous region. Their security structures were not disbanded like in the rest of the country but were instead bolstered and strengthened.

Such decisions, of uneven policy and politics within Iraq itself – to shape and reshape Iraq in an image of US interests – is of course a political one and US presence and actions in the country should always be treated as such.

What we have in Iraq (outside the KRI) is de-development and the absence of a governing state – which was forcibly collapsed in 2003 and now, after all these years, we have a situation that can only be best identified as the era of the impossibility of development.

This is not a situation of top-down or bottom-up development or relatively minor issues about whats popular on media. It is first and foremost about the inability of the state to enact any effective reforms or local and national programmes.

Under Iraq’s current political system, there can be no development, meaning such things as state investment and improvements to its infrastructure and more broadly a state that cares and is responsive to the demands of its people and is able to protect the interests of the country is glaringly absent. The state was forcibly collapsed in 2003 and has not been rebuilt in an effective way so that it is able to govern through its institutions.

What has emerged in Iraq is the fragmentation of power through Muhasasa – the convention whereby entire Ministries and state institutions (and money and power) are allocated as electoral windfalls. One Ministry to you, and another for me – that is the type of language and discourse that dominates Iraq today, not development or governance.

This system imposed on Iraq by the US and its cronies and allies was designed to ensure that Iraq would always be weak and fractured. Imagine that the US  – which bears much responsibility for Iraq’s collapse and misery -developed the country’s political system as an extension of its occupation politics from 2003 and to ensure that Iraq will no longer threaten US interests.

Muhasasa was designed to fragment the Iraqi state, which is designed to appease political groups (especially those carefully chosen by the US even prior to 2003). Under this system, there can be no development by which I mean state development of health facilities, schools and more broadly, reforms, legislation, regulation and an economy that serves people rather than one that is basically a place for merely spending oil-derived salaries, which is what it is now.

There is a state of course, but that state now is so fractured that renders its institutions weak and inoperative. They are designed to serve the interests of political groups rather than the general population. They were captured by political parties who legitimised themselves through elections but whose fortunes and access to the state is not derived from the electorate but from political quotas.

It is no wonder that the US collapsed Iraq’s security forces in 2003 which were after 2003 rebuilt according to Muhasasa, and which eventually collapsed in 2014 with the onslaught from the Islamic State. The US built a state institution like the Army based on political quotas not on the basis of merit but on political party cronyism and appeasement of those groups.

Iraq today is a playground for Turkey, Iran, the US of course, and many, many other countries who play their geo-related games, to try to shape Iraq itself but more widely the Middle East.

Iraq’s sovereignty – violated by the US for decades is now violated by all those others who play out their interests in the country.

The system is not working and Iraq faces massive challenges in the near future, not least those of the economy. The legacies of the US Occupation and its US interference in Iraq’s affairs continue to cause so much damage to its stability.

We should not fool ourselves – there is an ongoing crisis in Iraq and one pertaining to the state and the structures of power and not just of its day to day politics.

The US achieved its goal of destroying Iraq. It cost hundreds of thousands of lives, deaths and displaced, injured, and traumatized millions – those are the outcomes of US policy towards Iraq.

Now it has been nearly 18 years – a generation – and Iraq continues to be in a desperate situation. Not everyone is made equal of course and not everyone has benefited from post-2003 Iraq’s changes. New classes and groups have now situated their entire existence based around Muhasasa and the capture and pillaging of Iraq’s wealth and they will make sure they continue to benefit from the state’s largesse.

The youth, however, most of whom make up Iraq’s population, are in dire straits – without jobs and education and find themselves excluded from the state’s wealth.

There have been no real reforms in Iraq since 2003. How can there be in a situation of state and power related dysfunctionalism.

It is perhaps how the US wanted Iraq which continues, along with regional actors, to shape its politics and trajectory and which ultimately nixed any notion of Iraqi self-determination.


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

One comment

  1. Well said truth in a nutshell and though you have alluded but not named them what deeply, sadly undermines hope for change is the collusion of major international development organisations like the EU and UN in the corruption and mismanagement in blatant and hypocritical violation of umpteen expert study and 5* hotel born guidelines (SDG’s per ex) time and again.

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