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Sectarian Relations in Arab Iraq: Competing Mythologies of People, History and State
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
To allow publication of the thesis
When considering sectarian relations in Iraq, we are invariably presented with images of either ecumenical harmony that reduce sectarian identity in Iraqi history to an historical side-note, or of perennial hatreds perpetually seeking an opportunity to manifest themselves in violence or separation. Neither view is satisfactory and both are based on reductions and generalisations that are perhaps inevitable when so complex a subject is reduced to a handful of paragraphs in broader Iraq-focussed works. The first step to understanding sectarian identity in Iraq is to treat it is a group identity rather than a religious or political identity. Secondly, to avoid generalisations and reductions, it is necessary to identify the drivers of sectarian relations and sectarian identity and to understand the social factors that animate sectarian identity (here considerations of class and geography are essential). Thirdly, the relationship between sectarian identity and national identity has been sorely misunderstood and commentators have tended to treat the two as mutually antagonistic forms of identity. Finally and perhaps most importantly, is the question of salience: there is no such thing as a fixed and perpetually salient identity. The theoretical arguments outlined in chapters 2 and 3 will be used in the remainder of the study to focus on two major turning points in Iraqi sectarian relations: the uprising in southern Iraq of March 1991 (and more importantly the contentious memory of the uprisings) and the fall of the Ba’ath in 2003. Chapters 4-6 deal with the events of 1991, the subsequent sanctions-era and the competing mythologies of the uprisings while chapters 7 and 8 examine the post-2003 era, the politicisation of sectarian identities and, perhaps consequently, the sectarian civil war of 2006-2007. With regards to sectarian relations, I would argue that no other episode in modern Iraqi history have had as polarised a memory as these two events.
PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies