The Hissing Sectarian Snake: Sectarianism and the Making of State and Nation in Modern Iraq
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
The thesis contains sensitive material based on original interviews with senior state, political party and community leaders in Iraq. I am in the process of compiling a prospectus to submit the manuscript to publishers for publication. I also intend to publish a series of papers based on my thesis.
This thesis addresses the relationship between sectarianism and state-making and nation-building in Iraq. It argues that sectarianism has been an enduring feature of the state-making trajectory in Iraq due to the failure of the modern nation-state to resolve inherent tensions between primordial sectarian identities and concepts of unified statehood and uniform citizenry. After a theoretical excursus that recasts the notion of primordial identity as a socially constructed reality, I set out to explain the persistence of primordial sectarian affiliations in Iraq since the establishment of the modern nation-state in 1921. Looking at the primordial past showed that Sunni-Shicite interactions before the modern nation-state cultivated repositories of divergent collective memories and shaped dynamics of inclusion and exclusion favorable to the Sunni Arabs following the creation of Iraq. Drawing on primary and secondary sources and field interviews, this study proceeds to trace the accentuation of primordial sectarian solidarities despite the adoption of homogenizing policies in a deeply divided society along ethno-sectarian lines. It found that the uneven sectarian composition of the ruling elites nurtured feelings of political exclusion among marginalized sectarian groups, the Shicites before 2003 and the Sunnis in the post-2003 period, which hardened sectarian identities. The injection of hegemonic communal discourses into the educational curriculum was found to have provoked masked forms of resistance that contributed to the sharpening of sectarian consciousness. Hegemonic communal narratives embedded in the curriculum not only undermined the homogenizing utility of education but also implicated education in the accentuation of primordial sectarian identities. The study also found that, by camouflaging anti-Shicite sectarianism, the anti-Persian streak in the nation-state’s Pan-Arab ideology undermined Iraq’s national integration project. It explains that the slide from a totalizing Pan-Arab ideology in the pre-2003 period toward the atomistic impulse of the federalist debate in the post-2003 period is symptomatic of the ghettoization of identity in Iraq. This investigation of the interaction between primordial sectarian attachments and the trajectory of the making of the Iraqi nation-state is ensconced in the project of expanding the range and scope of social scientific applications of the nation-building and primordialism lines of analysis.
PhD in Politics