Saturday, March 23, 2013

Dodge on Iraq

The Economist reviews a book on recent Iraqi history by Toby Dodge that tracks with what I said earlier in the week:
For a start, Mr Dodge puts quickly to rest the notion that Iraq’s unique ethnic and sectarian mix—about 60% Shia Muslim, 20% Sunni Muslim and 15% Kurdish, along with many smaller minorities—predestined the country to strife. He argues persuasively that the underlying cause of the bloodletting, which still continues on a reduced scale, was the collapse of the Iraqi state. This created the social stress and acceptance of violence that allowed what he calls “ethnic entrepreneurs”—political manipulators of sectarians fears—to flourish. It also took away the brakes and levers of government control.
The decline of the Iraqi state began in the 1990s, when UN sanctions against the Saddam Hussein regime reduced its capacity to deliver services, and when the Kurdish northern region slipped entirely from its control. Post-invasion, misguided American policies accelerated the rot. The Pentagon’s insistence on keeping troop numbers low left the occupiers too few men to stop the looting of 17 out of 23 ministries in the Iraqi capital. The order to disband the Iraqi army put 400,000 armed and jobless men onto Iraq’s streets, at the same time removing a potential counterforce to both internal criminality and meddling by Iraq’s neighbours. A vast purge of members of Saddam’s ubiquitous Baath party, combined with the empowerment of parvenu politicians who packed ministerial fiefs with loyalists under an American-endorsed system of sectarian spoils, further stripped state institutions of competence.

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