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Iraq at the crossroads: state and society in the shadow of regime change

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A US-led assault on Iraq will have unpredictable and possibly profound effects on Iraqi society. Moreover, those effects will vary with the objectives and strategy adopted by the US and its allies as well as by the pace and scope of the collapse of Iraqi resistance. Further, the reach of Washington’s post-war objectives has not yet been settled. Given these multiple sources of uncertainty, understanding the relationship between Iraqi society and the Iraqi state after three decades of Ba’ath rule is all the more crucial to the success of post-war efforts to reconstruct the country and reconstitute its political system. Yet that relationship is poorly understood in the West. The Iraq of today cannot easily be mapped on to a neat diagramme of sect, tribe, or party. The rentier structure of the state economy, the regime’s manipulation of group identity to control the population, the emergence of a shadow state that distributes public goods to advance regime interests, and pervasive violence have transformed Iraq’s socio-political landscape into dangerous and unfamiliar ground for intervention. These essays delineate the options now being debated in Washington and provide up-to-date assessments of how Iraqi state and society will respond to the impact of war and the removal of a deeply-rooted authoritarian regime.

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