The collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago signalled the end of the Cold War, the defeat of totalitarianism and the success of the liberal democratic order, which led to the famous ‘end of history’ argument by Fukuyama. It was the triumph of the West, a victory for liberal capitalist democracies and the total exhaustion of any viable alternative systems.
Democracy was declared to be the best form of governance. Fukuyama called it ‘the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government’. History was the process by which liberal institutions –representative government, free markets and consumerist culture – would become universal. Liberal capitalist democracy was declared the only system that allowed people to thrive in an increasingly globalised world, while the advance of laissez-faire economics would guarantee a future of free, democratic states, living in peace and contentment.
The 21st century saw the creation of new democracies through war in Afghanistan and Iraq, or through a series of popular revolts – the so-called Arab Spring. Iraq held its first parliamentary elections in December 2005, while the country was still under American and British occupation. This year it will hold its fifth. Yet Iraq’s elections have been marred by violence, fraud and protests from the start. On 22 December 2005, Sunni and Shiite factions demanded that an international body review election fraud complaints, and threatened to boycott the new legislature. Large demonstrations broke out. Protesters said that the elections were rigged in favour of the main religious Shiite coalition. As many as 20,000 people demonstrated in Baghdad and over 2,000 people demonstrated in Mosul, accusing Iran of involvement in the election. The results were followed by car bombings and attacks on US and Iraqi officials.
Four Iraqi Prime Ministers have come to power since then, and three heads of state. None of them managed to satisfy the rightful demands of the Iraqi people: to end corruption, to increase living standards, to create jobs and opportunities for an increasing number of young and educated people, as well as to provide security.
Iraq’s devastation was not unpredictable. The neoliberal democratic system that was imposed on the country could not have produced a ‘Western-style democracy’, or the outcomes expected in a developed nation. Between 2003 and 2021 the only constants have been communal violence, terrorism, poverty, weapons proliferation, crime, political instability, social breakdown, riots, disorder and economic failure. In Iraq we observe the lack of basic security that exists in ‘zones of instability’, where Iraq, after 16 years of ‘reconstruction’, remains.
As in all weak states, the security threats facing the Iraqi population originate primarily from internal, domestic sources. In such states, the more the ruling elites try to establish effective state rule, the more they provoke insurgency. Despite it being declared a democracy, Iraq lacks regime security. As the next parliamentary elections are set for October, Iraq in 2021 is still a state afflicted by poverty, injustice, the trauma of great loss of life and daily fear. Iraqis still suffer from a sense of powerlessness, defeat and humiliation, within their democracy. Since the start of the year, 349 civilians have been killed, including 28 children. Iraq Body Count has now documented over 208,800 civilian deaths since 2003, most of them (168,300) since Iraq became a democracy in 2005.
Far from reaching ‘the end of history’, the pursuit of neoliberal transformation by successive Iraqi governments has produced a dystopian economy and a failed state. Protesters carrying the Iraqi flag are demanding a country free of rule by small corrupt elites that maintain their power through patronage and sectarian identity; they are demanding a government that will provide security to all citizens; they demand an end to foreign interference.18 years after ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’, Iraq is officially at peace, a democracy and has officially been liberated. Yet the lines between war and peace, tyranny and democracy, captivity and liberation, remain blurred.
A tyranny is a cruel and oppressive government or rule, with unrestrained exercise of power and undue severity or harshness. Iraqi democracy has all the characteristics of a tyranny. Since 2005 thousands have been arrested, imprisoned and tortured by the regime. Protesters have been shot at and killed, any insurgency is met with shelling that kills insurgents as well as civilians, while political opponents have been persecuted. Democratically elected governments in Iraq, supported by the Coalition, have so far killed over 4,000 Iraqi civilians. They have also allowed the killing of thousands more by Coalition forces, Turkish forces and Iranian militia.
The Iraqis, the ‘liberated’ nation George W. Bush and Tony Blair envisaged moving towards democracy and living in freedom, are captives of their own leaders, of their fragmented society and of the legacy left by American and British forces. But mostly, it is the interests that are being fought on Iraqi soil that hold the population captive.
There were fault lines in Iraq before 2003. The state was weak economically, after years of wars and economic sanctions; it was weak politically, with an unpopular dictator, at home and abroad; it was fragmented societally, clearly divided into Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. In the 18 years since, the fault lines were to widen so much that they reached the size of trenches. In 2021, Iraq remains unclear, undefined and deeply insecure, caught up in a perpetual war.
Lily Hamourtziadou is Senior Lecturer in Criminology with Security Studies and Deputy Course Director at Birmingham City University, and Principal Researcher of Iraq Body Count, which maintains the largest public database of violent civilian deaths.
Body Count: The War on Terror and Civilian Deaths in Iraq by Lily Hamourtziadou is available on the Bristol University Press website. Order here for £19.99.
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