Chanting “We want a country,” the youth-led protesters of Iraq are demanding nothing less than a new country as the uprising goes beyond narrowly defined political demands concerning electoral politics and legal reforms.
The Bush Administration’s exploitation of Iraqi state archives for atrocity material to justify its failing 2003 invasion of Iraq was based on precedent. The genealogy of exploiting Iraqi archives for political ends serves as a warning for how the self-evidently virtuous notion of human rights can be used to justify war.
Sarah Parkinson describes the growing popularity of extreme research—scholarly research conducted in crises zones amongst conflict-affected populations in the Middle East and North Africa—and shows how this research is a mode of intervention that can impose serious harm on individuals, communities, local partner universities and even humanitarian program staff.
Omar Dewachi traces the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria in war-related wounds—which US military doctors labelled Iraqibacter—to the biological legacy of decades of sanctions, war and intervention in Iraq, and how antibiotic resistance is increasingly being found in other militarized intervention zones in the region.
The removal of the ISIS files from Iraq is only the latest episode in a long history of seizures of Iraqi archives and artifacts by Europeans and Americans. Rather than dismiss Iraqi critics as unreasonable, everyone with a stake in the study of Iraq—including all journalists, historians, and archivists—must reckon with the enduring legacies of two centuries of Western removal of Iraqi heritage.
I have been conducting research in Iraq—in Basra and the outskirts of Tikrit—for roughly the last six months. Since Donald Trump’s election as US president in November 2016, when someone discovers that I live and work in the US, I am usually asked, “That friend of yours [Trump], what’s wrong with him?” Regardless of a person’s politics and where one falls (or not) on the spectrum of confessional and sectarian identities in Iraq, the general consensus currently seems to be that President Trump is, at the very least, a bit odd as a person and, more importantly, as president.
Yifat Susskind is executive director of MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization based in New York. Jillian Schwedler spoke with her on October 28, 2015, the week after Yanar Mohammed, head of MADRE’s partner group the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), testified before the UN Security Council about women’s vital role in sustainable peacebuilding and about the task of sheltering women fleeing sexual violence, including from areas controlled by ISIS.
What are the basic challenges for your work in Iraq, where the state does not fully function?
Regional responses to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, have varied depending on regime perceptions of threat, not only from ISIS itself, but also from other potential rivals, challengers or enemies. Despite the jihadi group’s extensive use of violence in Syria and Iraq and its claims of responsibility for bombings and attacks in Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen—as well as France in mid-November—it was not necessarily the top security priority for any of these states.
In 2006, 30,000 Iraqis arrived in Syria every month, seeking and receiving safe haven from US occupation and sectarian warfare as kidnappings, death threats, and bombings by air and land engulfed Baghdad and the southern governorates of Iraq. By 2011, an estimated 1-2 million Iraqis had fled to neighboring countries.
At first glance, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) seems to have come out ahead from the takeover of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Taking advantage of the power vacuum left by the flight of the Iraqi security forces from Mosul and its environs, the autonomous Kurdish authority has sent its peshmerga fighters into large swathes of northern Iraq, most notably Kirkuk and its oilfields. These gains have given the KRG new forms of leverage with Baghdad in negotiating Kurdish nationalist demands. They also have triggered expectations of Kurdish statehood among the Kurdish population of Iraq, a long-sought goal that could be bankrolled by large-scale, independent Kurdish oil exports.
What is happening in Iraq is a catastrophe, but not a sudden one. The violence in Iraq has been worsening steadily over the last few years. And more to the point, today’s crisis is the consequence of failed policies and failed politics — national, regional and international — years and even decades in the making.
No understanding of today’s Iraq is complete without the background of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and ensuing Gulf war, and the 13 years of UN economic sanctions, all of which set the stage for the additional disasters that would befall Iraq with the US-led invasion of 2003.
On the sidelines of the catastrophic failure of the Iraqi army to hold back the militias of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (or ISIS, as it is usually known), and the fall of Mosul to that group, a debate is taking place in the United States about whether this turn of events is yet another black mark in the massive ledger of retired Gen. David Petraeus. As Anne Barnard of the New York Times tweeted, “Remember the ‘Mosul miracle’ under Petraeus?”
In the 1950s, the People’s Republic of China began to host a small community of Arab scholars and journalists, recruited mostly through “revolutionary” channels like the FLN, the PLO, and the Iraqi and Sudanese Communist Parties. These experts were brought to China with the explicit purpose of editing and translating texts, as well as providing Arabic-language instruction at Chinese media, propaganda and educational institutions. This select group included a number of writers and intellectuals, such as Kadhim al-Samawi, Hanna Mina, Sheikh Jalal al-Hanafi and Hadi al-‘Alawi, the last of whom left the deepest mark on twentieth-century Arab intellectual life.
A few years ago, I began work on a crime novel set in Iraq. I borrowed the name of a real-life person, Muhsin Khadr al-Khafaji, as a writing prompt. Taking this man’s name seemed like nothing since my character was entirely fictitious and all resemblances purely coincidental.
Sinan Antoon, Ya Maryam (Beirut/Baghdad: Dar al-Jamal, 2012).
Media coverage in the West can overstate the degree to which Christians are “disappearing” from the Middle East. But one place where such characterizations have merit is Iraq. In the years since the 2003 invasion led by the United States, at least half of Iraq’s Christians have fled the country to escape the violence of war, occupation and insurgency, as well as a campaign of intimidation, forced expulsion and sectarian cleansing carried out by militias and criminal gangs. Numerous others have been internally displaced.
Jamal is not yet a teenager. His school closed in 2011, soon after the Syrian revolution turned into an armed conflict, and his father found him a factory job. One day in 2012 as he returned from work there was a battle going on in the main street near his home. Jamal immediately started carrying wounded children smaller than he is to shelter in a mosque. Then Syrian army reinforcements arrived, clearing the streets with gunfire and hitting Jamal in the spine. The youngsters who took him to the hospital advised him to say that “terrorists” had caused his injury. But Jamal did not want to lie — he told the doctors that a soldier had fired the bullet. The doctors told him to shut up and say it was the terrorists. But they treated him anyway.
Joseph Sassoon, Saddam Hussein’s Ba‘th Party: Inside an Authoritarian Regime (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Since the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the difficulties of writing about the exercise of power inside authoritarian Arab regimes have been well known. The regimes’ inner workings existed, and to some extent continue to exist, in a black box, with few clues as to what records they kept, if indeed they kept very many at all. Hence we are doubly fortunate in Joseph Sassoon’s new volume — first, in the treasure trove of Baath Party documents “liberated” from Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein and second, in Sassoon’s careful and judicious review.