Middle East Politics Fall 2007

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Middle East Politics Fall 2007
Paper #2
Due T Dec. 4 in class; presentations will be in class that day
Answer ALL of the following questions below in an 8-12 page paper. The paper should
be double-spaced, in 12-point font, and should be paginated. Do not write more than 12 pages,
as I will stop reading at the end of the twelfth page. Your paper will lose 5 points per day that it
is late UNLESS your dean contacts me to request that you receive an extension. Anything more
than a very small number of spelling or grammatical errors will result in points being deducted
from your final grade, so proofread carefully. You need to submit TWO copies of your paper –
one as an e-mail attachment to [email protected], and one hard copy. Your name should not
appear anywhere on the paper EXCEPT on a title page which should be THE FINAL PAGE of
the paper.
While in the post-2003 period the Kurdish areas of Iraq have largely been stable, over the
same period much of the rest of Iraq has been consumed by violence between Arab Sunnis and
Shi’a. As a result, it is now commonly argued in the West that these groups cannot live together
peacefully, and that the only hope for a stable Iraq is to decentralize power as much as possible
to geographic regions in which each of these groups will live as separately as possible from the
other group. This outcome seems particularly natural if it is also true - as is frequently suggested
- that there have been deep differences between Arab Sunnis and Shi’a since the formation of
Iraq in 1920 and that there is little evidence since that time of these groups cooperating.
However, polling data from 2003 and 2004 suggest that in the first years after Saddam
Hussein’s overthrow, most Iraqis did NOT prioritize their religion or sect as the most important
part of their identity, and most preferred a strong central state to a deeply decentralized,
federalized one. In Iraq in Fragments: The Occupation and Its Legacy, Eric Herring and Glen
Rangwala (p. 148) note that in summer 2003 polls indicated that only “29% of Iraqis believed it
important or very important that a leader should represent ‘my sect.’ A poll a year later found
that only 4.5% of Iraqis took as their most important consideration, in choosing a party to vote
for, that it should be from ‘my religious’ group……(while) 79.1% agreed in a March 2004 poll
that there should be ‘one unified Iraq with central government in Baghdad’ (as opposed to 18.6%
who thought there should be ‘a group of regional states’)…….and 64.2% in October 2004
responded that ‘strengthen(ing) central control over Iraq’s regions’ would most improve the
current situation in Iraq out of four constitutional options.” By the time of the December 2005
elections which elected the current Iraqi parliament, however, almost all Iraqi voters voted for
parties based on their ethnic/religious group, and in the last two years Arab Sunnis and Shi’a
have become increasingly dependent on armed militias made up of members of their religious
group to ensure their physical safety.
Toby Dodge argues that the predominance of sectarian politics (in which Arab Sunnis
gravitate toward Sunni parties and militias to represent and protect them, and Shi’a to Shi’a
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parties and militias) in Iraq today is due not to a supposed long history of Sunni and Shi’a
differences in Iraq but to the collapse of the Iraqi state after 2003. When state authority collapses,
he argues, people “look to whatever grouping, militia or identity offers them the best chance of
survival in times of profound uncertainty. If the groups who provide the necessary security and
resources are based on a sectarian identity, “then the struggle to survive, to gain a degree of
predictability for yourself and your family…. becomes obtainable primarily through the
increasingly militant deployment of ethnic or sectarian identity” (Toby Dodge, “State Collapse
and the Rise of Identity Politics,” in Iraq: Preventing a New Generation of Conflict, eds.
Bouillon, Malone, and Rowswell, 2007, pp. 26-7).
Your job in this paper is to assess, using readings and handouts we have covered in class
as well as the readings below, the credibility of the argument that the current high levels of
sectarian organization and violence a) do represent something new in Iraqi politics and b) are a
specific response to conditions after the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein government in 2003.
In doing so, you must answer EACH of the following UNDERLINED questions.
1) In looking back over the history of Iraqi politics from 1920 until the rise of the Ba’ath
Party in 1968, were Sunnis, Shi’a and Kurds always parts of different political groups
pursuing different political agendas? Make sure to include EACH of the following:

Did most political parties have members from all three groups, or were most
parties comprised solely of one or two of these groups?

Were most governments comprised mostly of one group, or were members of all
groups represented in proportion to their proportion of the Iraqi population?

Did members of these groups cooperate in or simultaneously pursue the same
goals in particular political activities? (examples here could be nationalist
uprisings or uprisings against the government, demonstrations, or other activities
intended to influence decisions made by political leaders or to change the
government itself.)
Note: In this section, make sure to make use of class lecture notes and handouts and class
readings in addition to the new readings assigned below.
2) Why SPECIFICALLY do Dodge and Herring and Rangwala think that Iraqis after 2003
became so closely tied to sectarian parties and dependent on sectarian militias?
3) Your last reading for this paper topic is selections from a blog called “Baghdad Burning”
written by a Sunni woman who was 24 years old in 2003 and who goes by the
pseudonym “Riverbend.” Does Riverbend think that Sunnis and Shi’a have always been
separate groups with separate identities throughout Iraqi history? Does she think they
have been since 2003? As a Sunni resident of Baghdad, does she seem afraid of Shi’a; if
so, which ones? Who does she think is responsible for the polarization and increasing
violence between Sunni and Shi’a since 2003?
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4) Several authors that you have read for this paper make the argument that a) in preSaddam Iraq in particular Arab Sunnis and Shi’a frequently cooperated and did not see
themselves as enemies, and b) it is the conditions of state collapse after 2003 that led
these groups to organize within sectarian parties and depend on sectarian militias. Do you
find this argument convincing? BE SPECIFIC.
The questions you need to answer in this paper cover a lot of ground; an entire book could be
written in answer to Question #1. Therefore in order for you to be able to answer the questions
within no more than 12 pages, it will be essential for you, BEFORE you start writing, to gather
all the evidence and then SUMMARIZE it into an ARGUMENT. For example, in answer to
Question #1 it will not be sufficient to throw in some examples of Shi’a-Sunni cooperation from
the 1920s and some examples of differences in the 1940s – you need to assess the evidence that
you find to make an argument in favor of a GENERAL trend but supported by SPECIFIC
evidence.
Sources (all of these are on ERes):

Reidar Visser, “Other People’s Maps,” Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2007

Sami Zubaida, “The Fragments Imagine the Nation: The Case of Iraq,” International
Journal of Middle East Studies, 2002, pp. 211-214

Eric Davis, “The Uses of Historical Memory,” Journal of Democracy, July 2005

Toby Dodge, “State Collapse and the Rise of Identity Politics,” in Iraq: Preventing a
New Generation of Conflict, eds. Markus Bouillon, David Malone, and Ben Rowswell,
(Lynne Rienner Press, 2007)

Iraq in Fragments: The Occupation and Its Legacy, Eric Herring and Glen Rangwala,
(Cornell University Press, 2006), pp. 127-136 and 140-160

Excerpts from “Baghdad Burning” blog, www.riverbendblog.blogspot.com
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