Political Culture: Failure of Democracy in Iraq

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Topic: Politics & Government
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After the removal of Saddam Hussein as the leader of Iraq, Western strategists had calculated that with American help, democracy would spread quickly in Iraq and would lead to a stable democratic country. However, these predictions have gone horribly wrong, pointing to a certain lack of understanding of Middle Eastern culture and history. This essay explains why the concepts of democracy would be extremely difficult to establish in Iraq.

The essay first explains the dynamics of the ethnic composition of Iraq and how the cultural characteristics of Mideast societies make it difficult for them to adopt Western concepts such as democracy.

The essay then explains the importance of understanding the age-old differences between the Shias and the Sunnis and how these are irreconcilable and thus must be factored to understand the difficulties in establishing democracy in Iraq. The social divide and quest for Independence by the third group, the Kurds, become another factor.

The Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs is yet another factor which is then explained.

The essay concludes by stating that cultural factor that pays more importance to tribal loyalties than to national loyalties, no democratic precedent throughout Iraq’s history, the irreconcilable socio-religious-ideological divide between the Shias, Sunnis and the Kurds and the interference of Iran will preclude the formation of western-style democracy in Iraq. The author of this essay opines that it would best to leave it to the Iraqis to determine for themselves which form of the political system to adopt.

Failure of Democracy in Iraq

After the removal of Saddam Hussein as the leader of Iraq, Western strategists had calculated that with American help, democracy would spread quickly in Iraq and would lead to a stable democratic country. However, these predictions have gone horribly wrong, pointing to a certain lack of understanding of Middle Eastern culture and history. This essay explains why the concepts of democracy would be extremely difficult to establish in Iraq.

Iraq, a Muslim dominated country located in the Middle East between Iran and Kuwait, has always had a tumultuous past. Originally part of the Ottoman Empire, this country of 23 million, consists of a majority of Shia Muslims(60-65%), followed by Sunni Muslims (32-37%), the Kurds (15-20%) and a sprinkling of Christians and lesser sects (CIA World Fact Book 1).

Since its Independence, the country has been dominated by the Baathist party, a Sunni dominated grouping, which ruled with an iron hand over the majority Shia population. Iraq had never been a democratic country. In fact, other than one aberration, Turkey, all Islamic states, without exception, have some form of monarchy or religious clergy as the dominant political entities.

In the Middle East and West Asia, political identities tend “to be drawn instead either from one’s religious affiliation or one’s local kin group—be it the tribe, clan, village, neighborhood, sect, region, or professional association” (Friedman 98).

This has been the norm for centuries, which cannot be replaced with modern ideologies such as democracy in a short span of time. Thus a cultural mismatch is the first important factor that prevents the spread of democracy.

The conservative Sunni sect, who are a majority in the world, believe that Mohammed was the last Prophet and that his word was the final authority, while the Shias believe that the descendants of Mohammed called Imams had the religious authority to interpret Islam on behalf of Prophet Mohammed.

The Shia-Sunni divide thus is rooted in an ancient past where the differences are basically ideological and can never be reconciled. The Kurds, a different social minority who are located in the northwest part, want Independence and are despised by both Shias and Sunnis. Thus a socio-religious divide is the second factor obstructing the formation of democracy.

The removal of Saddam Hussein and the ‘debaathifcation’ process handed Iran a strategic advantage without even firing a shot. Iran realizing the trouble that the US was facing has upped its support to the Shia rebel groups in Iraq who are at odds with the US armed forces. This is the third important factor that will not allow democracy to spread in Iraq.

Thus it can be concluded that cultural factor that pays more importance to tribal loyalties than to national loyalties, no democratic precedent throughout Iraq’s history, the irreconcilable socio-religious-ideological divide between the Shias, Sunnis and the Kurds and the interference of Iran will preclude the formation of western-style democracy in Iraq.

The author of this essay opines that it would best to leave it to the Iraqis to determine for themselves which form of the political system to adopt.

Works Cited

CIA World Fact Book. Iraq. 2009.

Friedman, Thomas L. “Hama Rules.” Friedman, Thomas L. From Beirut to Jerusalem. Sydney: Anchor Books Doubleday, 1995. 73-105.