Iraq’s Sectarian Relapse: Lessons of the “Shia House”
12 September 2023
After the U.S. invasion and the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, Iraqi politics coalesced around the identity groupings of the exile opposition: Shia Arabs, Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and smaller minority groups. As factions competed for power during the following two decades, rivals in each community never even tried to distinguish themselves by politics or ideology. Nor did any significant faction successfully reach across identity divides to recruit leaders or constituencies from other communities.Iraqis have repeatedly tried to challenge sectarian modes of power, but sectarian factions have successfully defended a system in which identity trumps all other axes of political affiliation. What’s good for sectarian factions is not the same as what’s good for a population that lives in mixed communities whose security and livelihoods depend on national stability. The persistent sectarianism of Iraq’s political factions contrasts with the apparent preferences of many Iraqis, perhaps a plurality, who want effective services and security on a national, not communal basis.