State Territorial Structuring in Iraq (1920-2020): The Impact of Group Identities, Ideas, Interests, and Foreign Influence

Title: State Territorial Structuring in Iraq (1920-2020): The Impact of Group Identities, Ideas, Interests, and Foreign Influence
Authors: Jaff, Rébar
Date: 2022-04-12
Embargo: 2027-04-12
Abstract: Since the creation of modern-day Iraq by the British Empire in 1920, the country’s state territorial structuring has been an ever-evolving source of political instability and conflict. Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian groups have been locked in a near constant struggle over questions of self-rule, shared rule, and secession. Consequently, the territorial model of federalism has never been far from political discussions, negotiations, and territorial disputes. Federalism was finally officially adopted in 2005, giving a new definition to Iraq’s territorial model. But while federalism seemed a natural means of managing Iraq’s long-standing ethno-sectarian divisions and was democratically ratified in a process that included most ethnic and sectarian groups, the model has failed to materialize, and territorial structure remains a major point of contention between the groups. The overarching aim of this dissertation is to shed light on two key questions. First, how have the dynamics between the major ethnic and sectarian groups of Iraq shaped the evolution of the country’s territorial structure from 1920 up to and beyond the federal constitution in 2005? Second, what can the trajectory of this evolution teach us about why federalism was adopted but has failed to materialize? I shall argue that Iraq’s territorial structuring over the past century has been systematically influenced by at least one of four “I”s: the groups’ ideas concerning territorial structuring, their conceptualizations of group identities, their definitions of group interests, and the influence of foreign actors. Focussing on the Shiite Arabs, the Sunni Arabs, and the Kurds, I will examine how these four factors have interacted to shape the territorial organization of Iraq over four key time periods: (i) the foundation of Iraq in 1920 to Saddam Hussein’s rise to the presidency in 1979, (ii) Saddam’s rule from 1979 to 2003, (iii) Saddam’s deposition in 2003 to the adoption of the federal constitution in 2005, and (iv) the post-constitutional period from 2005 to the present. I thus hope to explain how evolving inter-group dynamics over the past century have impacted the development of Iraq’s territorial structure, arguing that this sheds light on both the reference to federalism in the 2005 constitution and its subsequent failure to materialize. This dissertation thus demonstrates the powerful ways in which Iraq’s territorial structuring has been shaped by past trends in ethno-sectarian dynamics, putting us in a better position to understand the complexities of the country’s current territorial politics.
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