Exclusion and violence in post-2003 Iraq.

AuthorKuoti, Yasir
PositionSECURITY - Report

This paper examines the origins of political violence inlraq.lt argues that, in the wake of the democratic transition process in from 2004 to 2005, Iraqi exiles, who were chiefly Shiite Muslims and Kurds appointed by Paul Bremer, Iraq's U.S. civilian administrator, moved to write a constitution and set up a political system that deliberately marginalized minorities. Since then, the Sunni minority began and continues to engage in or support violence against the state. It suggests that violence and instability in Iraq are to be understood in terms of local contexts of meaning, notably the nature of struggle for political power.


Violence in post-2003 Iraq has many facets, including political and ideological. In what follows, I focus on one of these facets: political. I make two points: First, the manner by which the Iraqi constitution was created, written, and adopted influenced minorities to rationalize violence against the government and its base of support. Second, this logic to use violence is best understood in the context of local power struggles between the rising rule of the Shiite majority and the declining rule of the Sunni minority. Today, sectarian tensions are an integral aspect of the conflict in Iraq.

Many scholars have acknowledged that the United States mishandled the democratic transition in the 2003 Iraq War, but there is considerable debate regarding the reasons for Iraq's chronic instability. (1) Some policy analysts put forth the conventional analysis that considers the ongoing instability in Iraq as a natural outcome of the democratic process. (2) Others consider the source of instability to be the legacy of Saddam Hussein's authoritarian regime. (3)

While these are certainly enabling factors, the dynamics between group exclusion from the political process, lack of political competition, and the discriminatory Iraqi constitution are the principle sources of Iraq's instability. Specific provisions in the Iraqi constitution excluded groups of people, namely Sunnis, which created incentives to use violence as a means to obtain power. This approach is useful, because it analyzes the Iraqi situation on its own merits. The arguments of democratization and inherited legacies as sources of violence in Iraq are too vague for analyzing its origins. This analysis comes from my native understanding of and experience in Iraq. My research method is one of observation while living in Iraq from 2003 to 2006, which provided first-hand experience in Iraqi politics.

Although violence in Iraq has sectarian dimensions, it took on a new and unique character after the 2004-2005 period when the constitution was created and adopted. In response to a perceived unjust political arrangement in the Iraqi constitution, Sunni elites in 2004 adopted a new strategy to subvert the Iraqi government. This decision to use violence also took into account the developing security environment. In other words, Sunni decision makers and elites were cognizant that they would need to partner with other Sunni affiliated extremist groups (such as Ansar al-Islam in northern Iraq and al-Qaeda) in order to effectively disrupt the government of Iraq.

This paper first defines central concepts before providing a background on political developments in Iraq. It then gives an overview of recent elections in Iraq as well as the writing of the Iraqi constitution. Finally, it expands upon the origins of violence and instability in Iraq.


A political system is the arrangements through which power is allotted. The political system of Iraq is a confessional democracy, based on Arend Lijphart's consociational model. (4) It is a system by which social groups share and exercise power; the larger the group, the larger representation it receives. Violence refers to politically motivated aggression by a group against others. In Iraq, violence is largely carried out or supported by the Sunni minority against the Shiite-led government and its base of supporters. Finally, a constitution is a set of rules, laws, procedures, practices, and principles in a country. (5)


The 2003 Iraq War was the outgrowth of the First Gulf War in 1990, which itself was an extension of Iraq-Iran War in 1980-1988. Having been burdened with some 40 billion dollars of debt from this latter adventure, Saddam Hussein's Iraq annexed Kuwait in August 1990 in order to access rich oil fields. This move brought about international outrage.

The Gulf War and the failures of Iraq to comply with United Nations disarmament measures hastened the 2003 Iraq War. By April of 2003, coalition forces began to realize that the invasion was the easiest part of the occupation, having faced no significant opposition. Lack of post-conflict planning by the Bush administration led to alarming levels of looting, disorder, and lawlessness. (6) In May 2003, Paul Bremer, appointed by the Bush administration to oversee Iraq's affairs until a national government was formed, issued two decisions: one outlawed the Baath party, and another dissolved the ministries of defense and interior, sending home millions from the security sector. (7) Having occupied high ranks within Saddam's regime, Sunnis saw "debaathification" as an intentional effort to retaliate against them. (8) This directly hindered the newborn democracy. Sunnis did not react violently at first, rationalizing that the upcoming constitution and government would right wrongs. During this time,

Iraq was relatively stable, discounting the attacks against coalition forces carried out by some of Saddam's loyalists. Civilian deaths were mainly the product of collateral damages and some careless shootings by coalition forces.

On 28 June 2004, Bremer installed a government led by the moderate Shiite Ayad Allawi. His government inherited several serious security challenges, notably the...

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