Iraq: Elite fragmentation, Islam and democracy
Oil-rich Iraq is in the grip of long-term structural disorder. It is caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, it is embracing a type of pro-Western secular democratic transformation; on the other hand, its Islamic roots have played a determining role in shaping the psyche and behaviour of its people. The US push for democratisation under President George W. Bush (2001-2009) widened the arena not only for disgruntled supporters of Saddam Hussein and some of their co-Sunni activists, but also for the radical forces of political Islam, including alQaeda, to resist any outside imposition. Together with the governing elite’s fragmentation, national divisions, and regional power rivalry that have come to feature in Iraq’s geopolitical position, the US role has been instrumental in sharpening the struggle between the forces of pro-secular, pluralist political change and radical Islamist ideology in the remaking of Iraq. Meanwhile, in light of the popular pro-democracy grassroots uprisings – the ‘Arab Spring’ – that has engulfed many other Arab states in 2011, and the deeply troubled US-led mission to stabilise and democratise Afghanistan, the futility of attempting externally imposed democracy is clear.