MERI Forum 2018: P2: State Building and Nation Building in Iraq

Panel – 2: State Building and Nation Building in Iraq

  • Yahya Al-Kubaisi, Advisor, Iraqi Centre for Strategic Studies, Amman
  • Adnan Al-Zurfi, Member of Iraqi Parliament
  • Jafar Eminki, Politburo Member, Kurdistan Democratic Party
  • Lukman Fayli, Former Iraqi Ambassador to Japan and the USA
  • Talib M. Karim, Deputy Chair, Al-Rafidian Centre, Al-Najaf (Chair)

Dr Talib Karim introduced the session which was focused on the role of political leaders and parties in promoting the rule-of-law and institutionalization, enforcing the constitution and complementing it with required legislations. These desparately needed in order to address the country’s major challenges, institutionalizing dialogue between Iraqi communities and promoting reconciliation and stability. Meanwhile the panelists were asked to discuss the repercussions of sectarianism on the process of state building and nation building in Iraq.

Yahya Al-Kubaisi denoted that Iraq’s problems started from the day it was created by colonial powers, as force was used to build a nation-state. In Europe nation-building predates or runs in parallel with state-building, but in the artificial country called Iraq they run in opposite directions.  Kubaisi further clarified that in pre-2003 period Iraq was ruled by Sunnis when force and education were utilized to impose a Sunni Arab identity on the country. A singular vision was promoted that was not acceptable by other segments of the Iraqi society, including Shiites, Kurds, Turkmen, Christians and others. After 2003 the only change that has occurred is that Shiite identity has replaced the Sunni one.  The problem of promoting a singular vision is that their promoters would not accept any vision contrary to theirs. Chauvinistic reactions to Kurdistan referendum prove this fact.

Al-Kubaisi further argued that even attempts at nation building through using democratic principles in the 2005 constitution have not been successful, as voting in Parliament is based on sectarianism and sectarian majority monopolizes the decision-making and legislation processes. The way forward to deal with the current nation- and state-building crisis, in al-Kubaisi’s view, is to accept that Iraq is a pluralistic society that needs to be ruled in a pluralistic manner.  A nation state must be based on a political identity that is acceptable and recognized by all, and the idea of establishing a singular nation must not be reflected in the state-building process.

While agreeing with al-Kubaisi that in the pre-2003 period there was an attempt by Sunni elite to create a Sunni identity for Iraq, Adnan Al-Zurfi disagreed with him in that Shiites are attempting to create a Shiite identity for the new Iraq.  Al-Zurfi referred to the opposition of the Shiites religious leaders to following such a strategy and quoted Ayatollah Sistani advising Ibrahim Ja’fari, Iraqi Prime Minister at the time, to avoid forming the Cabinet without Sunni participation, and not to “repeat historical mistakes. Al-Zurfi emphasised that the Shiites have not attempted to change the national school curricula to impose their sect or doctrine.

Al-Zurfi also complained that parliamentarians and government officials act as though they represent their sect in the Parliament and advocated that Kurdish representatives must represent people from all over Iraq and vice versa.

Jafar Eminki reiterated that when state-building process precedes the nation-building the outcome will always be problematic. He asserted that the Iraqi state was a failure from the beginning, because it did not have the institutions and mechanisms needed for creating a civil, democratic nation. Even both permanent Iraqi constitutions were written under occupation, one under British colonialism and the other one under American occupation. Violence and weapons of mass destruction were used against Kurds under both constitutions.

In Eminki’s words, the question is “are Iraqis incapable of writing a national constitution by themselves?” His own answer was that the Iraqis’ free-will has been taken away and they are prisoners of religion, ethnicity and social environments which are unsuitable for establishing a civil society and a civil state. Furthermore, he stated that the state should be there to serve its citizens, but in Iraq, so far there exists people (Kurdish people, Shiite people, Sunni people, etc) but no civil democratic nation.

Lukman Faily started with the question. “We had a British state with an Iraqi cover and an American state with an Iraqi cover, the question is can we have an Iraqi state with an Iraqi cover?” He later problematized the concepts of Iraqi nation and Iraqi state and further clarified that in the whole Middle East the concepts of state, nation and even citizens are not clear. There is a clear overlap or mix ups between Islamic nation or Arab nation, vs specific state’s nation. In Faily’s view, now the search must be for stability factors and for a generational solution as opposed to an urgent immediate solution.

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