Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

USIP hosts panel on Iraqi identity politics

On October 17th the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) hosted a panel on the topic of identity politics in Iraq. Speakers included Eric Davis, Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University; Reidar Vissar, Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs; Phebe Marr, Former Senior Fellow at USIP; Michel Rubin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; and Nabil Al-Tikriti, Assistant Professor at the University of Mary Washington.

A primary point of emphasis throughout the meeting was the historical roots of Iraqi nationalism, which the speakers generally maintained, run deeper than are often portrayed. Additionally, Iraqi nationalism among the populace was characterized as being underestimated by both the media and the US government, while sectarianism has been exaggerated. Indeed, Davis noted that recent polls such as the World Values Surveys, have revealed a trend away from sectarian thinking amongst Iraqis and have indicated that there is a significant desire for a strong central state. According to Al-Tikriti, this nationalistic sentiment is especially prominent amongst urban and middle class citizens.

The current state of sectarianism in Iraq, according to Davis, has been facilitated not so much by sectarian differences, but more so by the “opportunity structures” created by the collapse of the government infrastructure. Davis also argued that sectarian groups use religion as a cover for crime, as they co-opt religious symbols to further their political agendas. Similarly, Marr explained that Iraqi sectarian identity is driven by politics and political leaders and is not “primordial”, as new political leaders are calling attention to different myths and narratives in an effort to emphasize sectarian identity. Rubin furthered this by arguing that politicians, due to the nature of the election system currently in place, benefit from emphasizing ethnic differences and playing the “populous card”.

The speakers, in addressing the crucial concerns that should be prioritized in Iraq, called attention to different issues. Marr stressed that Iraq needs to attempt to foster cross-ethnic cooperation by tackling important matters across sectarian lines. Marr also argued that economic development, human rights, and the environment should be prioritized. Rubin on the other hand, emphasized the need to focus on the rule of law in the nation and indicated that improvements need to be made to the Iraqi police force, as it is not embedded with US troops like Iraqi security forces are. Al-Tikriti sided with Rubin, and asserted that enhancing security in the country is critical and should be given priority over economic development.


Post a Comment

<< Home