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World Politics

The internal causes of Iraqi political instability after 2003

Dzhanabi Yakub Sabikh

Postgraduate student, Department of Oriental Languages and Linguoculturology, Lobachevsky Nizhny Novgorod State University

603005, Russia, Nizhegorodskaya Oblast' oblast', g. Nizhnii Novgorod, ul. Ul'yanova, 37

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Abstract: This research topic is discussed in order to analyze the phenomenon of political instability in Iraq after 2003, in terms of the basic concept, origins and mechanisms of its resolution. There is a large variety of objects that can be researched. Firstly, the objective of subjectivity: It is linked to my, the researcher's, desire to discuss the phenomenon of political instability in Iraq after 2003 as part of my particular specialization in Iraqi affairs. Secondly, there are scientific objectives. I feel that there is insufficient research and analysis regarding this topic. Thirdly, impartial objectives: I seek to find effective resolutions to the political instability phenomenon, which has continued to have a negative impact on quality of life for Iraqis. The results of this research should be placed in the hands of political decision makers as it presents some feasible solutions that could help leaders choose the best path forward to resolve this phenomenon. Syllabus: The study was conducted on the basis of a systemic analytical approach based on inputs and outputs. Problem: The main concern of this work is the answer to the following questions: What led to political instability in Iraq after 2003? the novelty of the study lies in the fact that, they are aimed at the root of most of Iraq's problems. The study time frame is from 2003 to the present. The spatial framework of research is the country of Iraq.


internal causes, political instability, lrag, quota, sectarian, corruption, Constitution, political power, intenal disturbance, parties

Introduction: The phenomenon of political instability in Iraq after 2003 has proved to be one resulting from a multitude of origins and can be eliminated or at least mitigated through state plans and mechanisms. Political instability is the most common political phenomenon in developing countries. Undeniably, the concept of political instability is one the most vague and complex political concepts. Some may argue that the concept could be watered down to governmental instability, that is to say successive rapid changes in the nature of the governing body. Others may argue that it be expanded to encompass systemic instability, meaning rapid shifts in the systemic framework of the State from one form to another, for example: from a monarchy to a Republic or from military to civilian rule. . This concept may be further expanded on to encompass different images of political violence such as riots, demonstrations, unrest, political assassinations, civil wars and separatist movements (1)

Definition of instability:

According to Ibn Khaldun, political instability is the result of "cultural heterogeneity"(2) The inability of the system to effectively deal with the crises it is presented successfully and the lack of ability to deal with existing conflicts within a nations social structure in such a way that it can maintain them in a cycle of order and control, accompanied with the use of political violence on one hand, and its diminished legitimacy and efficiency on the other.(3.p,115) Johnson-Westevenson defines political instability as a situation in which the regime breakdowns the institutional framework and brings about violent solutions with the aim of submission to power and seeking to change people or politics or gain power through actions that go beyond the scope of legitimate channels for political change.(4.p,44) Others define political instability as the use of violence for political purposes and the use of unconstitutional approaches to conflict resolution by political entities and groups (5.p,40) Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, the Iraqi State has suffered from consecutive crises and failures along with the continued absence of political stability, which has negatively affected economic, security and community stability and has in turn contributed further to the country’s instability. Iraq is a diverse nation, which has created its own hurdles. There many who believe that the American occupation in its early years was the direct cause of political instability. Others believe that external forces and the intervention of neighboring States have been the immediate causes of the long-lasting instability in the Iraqi political system. But here I will address the internal causes that have led to political instability. The democratic experiment, which was a seed sown by the United States in Iraq after 2003, is a young one, and it will logically face violent opposition, especially since it has been sown between two militant Islamic regimes, one of which is a Sunni Islamic regime and the other a militant Shia Islamic regime. Ja'afari combined his political and legislative behavior by adopting the Iranian Fiqh state. Therefore, the stability of the Iraq means the stability of its political system and its democratic experiment for the region.(6)

The fundamental reasons behind Iraqi instability

Political reasons: The Iraqi political system was brought down after 2003 and, instead, a new democratic system based on the peaceful exchange of power, multiparty parties and adherence to the Constitution, was attempted. At that moment, the Iraqi political system was ready for action and stability, but on the ground the application of these constitutional texts was different from the writing on which it was based. The approach taken by the political system in Iraq through taking a decisive and less-than-democratic approach to the assumption of power among the political elite has had an overall negative impact on all of the regime’s foundations, its functionality and the manner through which it operates. The fact that the quota system distributed power on religious, national and sectarian lines made the system lacking in unity and harmony. The original purpose, to unify a diverse people, was completely overlooked and has arguably completely backfired. This system only provided an avenue in which inter-sectarian unrest would only be magnified and in no uncertain terms be mitigated. The dream of unified Iraq is effectively impossible, when the political system is designed in such a way that conflict is encouraged on such lines. Furthermore, the public office became a means of financial gain even if at the expense of the state, its institutions, and/or its stability. Simply put, there is no incentive for politicians to work together to unify an Iraqi state, which based on the system in place, is inherently incapable of unity.

Security reasons: It is known that work in the political field needs a safe environment to flourish, since this environment will be the playing field in which candidates for the elections present their political agendas. Political actors should be without pressure, fear of repercussion (other than in the voting booth), and they should try to convince their constituents of their ability to lead, their personal qualities, and that they can address their constituents’ needs. The voter should likewise be able to go freely and peacefully to the polling stations. On the opposite side, meaning, the absence of a safe environment and a presence of imminent danger and threat to political life, the candidates will not be able to freely present their agendas and political stances. Similarly, the citizen would not be able to exchange and maneuver between the options available to him and choose the most appropriate candidate according to their needs.

Economic: Iraq's dependence on oil has had a major impact on the political outcome and economic growth. Over the past two decades, and in the face of fluctuations in oil prices, the oil and gas sector in Iraq has reached the entire value of oil exports. Iraq depends on oil revenues for more than 90% of its budget. Iraq's oil wealth has undermined its competitiveness and ultimately reduced government revenues, such as on tax and other revenues, which lie as the foundation of successful state building endeavors. As a result, the administrative capacity of Iraq declined, and its institutions were unable to respond to developments in Iraq (7). In addition, political instability, reliance oil revenues, and a high discount rate for banks providing loans to the Iraqi government have led to the maximization of rentier revenues and the emergence of an incentive system in which decision makers tend to adopt a large discount for future returns. Political instability undermines the long-term credibility of government commitments and generates a strong sense of insecurity within the ruling elite, which is thus reflected in their preference for the political status quo.

Cultural reasons: Democracy presents itself through a state of order and the constitution. The constitution reflects the environment of diversity among State institutions and it also reflects the culture and civilization of the people of Iraq. One of the elements for the prosperity of democratic institutions is the intellectual and cultural content of a democratic society. Without the establishment of a pluralist political culture and respect for Privacy a democracy may become dysfunctional. Ensuring the implementation of the constitution in separating religion from politics is also an essential step. The political and economic system in Iraq will not flourish if its constitution and democracy are unable to embody these essential values and theoretical perceptions of some Iraqi politicians may indicate a good understanding of this equation, but such an understanding cannot be meaningful or credible without concrete steps in the framework to address this matter. It is not available to the average Iraqi, and on this basis, many Iraqis did not vote for this system and as a result many Iraqi’s feel disengaged with the current constitution and political system which in turn perpetuates its own failure. Clearly, and on the other hand, the political elite in many cases considered it a means of collecting personal gains even if they are at the expense of the nation and the people, which serves to further degrade the confidence of the Iraqi people (8).

Corruption: Despite all government efforts to combat corruption, Iraq none-the-less ranks among the most corrupt countries in the world according to the Transparency International report which was issued in January of 2019. It ranked sixth in the Arab world and 13th in the world as whole; ahead of countries such as Venezuela and Burundi (9). The question then of course is: how can the Iraqi people be expected to have faith in and maintain a political structure when it in turn does not fulfil its obligations to them? Clearly something must be done about corruption, if stability in Iraq is to be achieved.

Proposed solutions:

The abolition of quotas: The quota system must unequivocally be removed, the process of which still presents a serious challenge for any new government’s agenda, resulting mainly from the insistence for the status quo from political parties and organizations that stand to benefit from the quota system’s inadequacies. At present, as well as the problem of quotas (and its resulting marginalization and exclusion of competencies), the Iraqi states has been experiencing brain drain and internal wars between the factions within. The Iraqi state has been facing waves of religious militancy that have thrived in and become more intricate due to the quota system, which has resulted in a failed system, and has, in some aspects, manifested in the form of the emergences of violent groups. These detriments to the establishment of greater Iraqi security and political stability are assuredly something that any new government will have to face at some point or another (10).

Constitutional instruments: The functionality of the constitution is of the utmost importance and its dysfunction is at the core of many of Iraq’s failures. (11) The first thing that Iraq needs is to rewrite the constitution, irrespective of the size of its role in Iraq’s political ruin, as it was written without the will and real popular support of the people, and furthermore provided legitimacy for political corruption and special privileges for politicians. Another issue is how it dealt with the Kurdish region with its consideration as an entity independent from the geography of Iraq. On the judiciary side we can observe its dysfunction with the Iraqi judiciary which allows the life-long appointments of judges, basically placing all the keys to the judiciary in the judge’s hand. It is then logical that such judges became the best example for the perversion of authority and the guardian of governmental corruption. In order to mend the constitution in a proper way, we need a body of intellectuals and law experts to write the constitution with representation from various parts of society. It’s important that they have abundant knowledge of the history of Iraq; its components, traditions and social heritage, because one word can carry a heavy weight. Importantly, the constitution should be written in a constructive manner with the interest of the Iraqi people at heart. It should then be voted into power through a popular referendum with the ability for the average citizen to accept or reject aspects as they see fit (12).

Economic mechanisms: Iraq, which is almost completely dependent on a single depleted resource, that being oil. Iraq needs new sources of income, that is to say, its economy must be diversified, not just based just on natural resources, because oil, as with all natural resources, is a commodity subject to market fluctuations and global political posturing. The price of oil is also highly dependent on the economic situation in different countries of the world, and therefore it is an insecure and unstable resource that poses a threat to the country and its stability. We can observe this in the crisis that resulted from the drop in oil prices after 2015 or resulting from the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. In order for Iraq to protect itself from this, it must support the national industrial sector and provide it with all it needs to thrive, enact regulations and laws that guarantee the market safety and protection for local production, as well as support for the agricultural sector. The improvement of the agricultural sector should be done with the aim of achieving self-sufficiency for the country and growing its economy to the point of being a net exporter. Also, this should provide political stability in the long run (13.p,4).

Cultural mechanisms: Any political behavior is the result of its associated socio-political culture, and, from the outputs of this culture, behavior is formed. It can widely be agreed that the political system is the fruit of its environment, influenced and affected by it, positively or negatively. The environment in which the system operates is a means of reforming all institutions, systems and sectors of a nation’s society. Reformation of the environment surrounding the system is done through spreading national and political awareness, and urging citizens to cooperate with the political system that is representative of them. Iraq is in dire need of this awareness, as the country suffers from a quasi-societal inability to produce an elite political, economic, and even religious and cultural actor (14)

Security mechanisms: As mentioned earlier, security is necessary for the stability of any country and there can be no normal life without it. Since 2003, in the wake of the change Iraq’s political system, security suffers from a very important dilemma. Iraq stands to lose a lot of its security following the withdrawal of American forces; these security forces, which effectively acted as a crutch to prop up the failing Iraqi political system. Security is the arena that allows everyone the right to exercise his or her role in the political community without fear. Security is essential for the average citizen to participate in political discourse along with any other member of society, whether they are members of parliament or a member of the artistic cultural elite. It is essential that all Iraqis be able to participate securely in the political process and steps must be taken to improve it from within (15).

Conclusions Based on the Research

Political stability has many implications, all of which relate to the presence of a state of orderliness in the course of affairs in any country; first and foremost, according to prior planning by the political system. As for political instability, on the contrary, it indicates that things are going in a way that contradicts the structure what was planned by the political system, and therefore its consequences cannot be calculated and often work against the establishment.

There are many explanations behind the phenomenon of political instability in Iraq after 2003, which are divided into: internal: political, constitutional, economic, cultural, and social. And external: regional and international. However, the internal causes are the foundation, and without them an external factor would not have found an opportunity to intervene in internal Iraqi affairs.

There are also multiple devices that could be resorted to in order to establish the foundations of political stability in Iraq and they correspond to the causes or motives of instability. They can also be divided into internal and external devices.


There are some recommendations that may be presented at the end of this research: Firstly: Reformation of the political system. It is important for the Iraqi political environment to grow. It is necessary to leave behind the method of quotas in managing the country, and move towards the method used in democratic countries, i.e. election on the basis of competence and experience, and entitlement without deflecting to identity politics. Secondly: Reformation of the general conditions in the country. It is imperative for the Iraqi government to draw up general policies that lead to comprehensive reform in economic, social, security and cultural spheres, since reforming the environment in which the political system operates will inevitably reflect positively on its stability. Thirdly: The foreign policy of Iraq is not isolated from its regional surroundings, nor from the international world stage, so Iraq must have an effective foreign policy that can make the two environments work in the interests of the country, or at least stop interference in internal affairs.

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