Iraq After America

Review of Iraq After America: Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance, by Joel Rayburn (2014)

I first found out about this book from Musings on Iraq's website, where the generally positive reviews made me read it. In conjunction with other sources, this book is a good read for understanding the political situation of Iraq from 2003-2012. The thrust of the book is that the fracturing of Iraq was complementary, the US's erratic and sporadic involvement within Iraq, the consistent Iranian pressure, combined with fundamental sectarian tendencies lead Iraq to where it is today. It's a convincing thesis, although my main issue is how rooted in primordialism this book is.

Rayburn begins with a historical background of the Dawa, Nuri Maliki's party, and the formations of Shia political movements. He also provides useful details on Maliki, I didn't realize then-US Ambassador Khalilzad was responsible for moving Maliki from a mid-level Dawa functionary to a position of power. Rayburn then goes on to describe the issues that lead to the sahwa (awakening) movement, and how for a brief period between 2006-2008, sectarian violence was curtailed. He then goes onto describe how the sectarian situation calcified, with the head judge of the Supreme Court Medhat al-Mahmoud's rulings in the 2009 elections was responsible for the hollowing out of the Sunni center, leading to the (re)emergence of the Islamic state.

This is a good book for raw historical facts. It draws upon a wide range of resources to explain the Christians, the Shia, the Sunni, the Kurdish, and the Turkoment. It's weakest, however, when it attempts to lean into primordialist tendencies, such as stating "When power changed hands, Mosulawis would not accept the new order". Statements like this imply that these identities must be held to be temporally homogeneous, that there's some greater Mosulawi identity to harken back to. Unsupported, statements like these tend to reduce the Mosulawis to actors following the script of history and reduce their agency.

Overall, I liked the book. It provided good background information, and alongside the works of people like Toby Dodge and Fanar Haddad, this book builds the skeleton of post-2003 Iraqi politics.

My notes are at:

Posted: 2020-05-31
Filed Under: books, iraq