POMED Notes: “Iraq: From War to a New Authoritarianism”
On Tuesday, January 29, 2013, The International Institute for Strategic Studies hosted a book launch for the IISS Consulting Senior Fellow on the Middle East Toby Dodge, with Steven Simon, Executive Director of IISS-US, as moderator. Dodge’s new book, “Iraq: From War to a New Authoritarianism,” follows Iraq’s path from the 2003 invasion to its present political system, which Dodge suggests bears a strong resemblance to the authoritarian regime that preceded it.
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During his remarks, Dodge stressed that the Iraqi civil war’s most significant consequences were the rebuilding of the Iraqi army, the destruction of Iraqi civil society, and the destruction of the state’s ability to provide basic civil services. Dodge argued that the Iraqi army is “by far the most coherent and strongest military force” in the country, and accords “massive power” to whoever controls it. The Iraqi state, meanwhile, has become a rentier state, discredited domestically by its inability to provision basic social services, like electricity, to the populace.
This environment, Dodge argues, has fostered the “new authoritarianism” of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The December 20, 2012 raid on the home of Iraqi Finance Minister, Rafie al-Esawi, which resulted in the arrest of five of his bodyguards, is the latest sign of Maliki’s quest to centralize his power
According to Dodge, Maliki has founded a “shadow state” with himself at its center. To do so, he developed a group of loyal functionaries (“Malikiyun”), and placed them in a position of influence that allowed them to bypass parliament by interacting directly with top civil servants and military officials. In doing so, Maliki cemented his control over the army, Special Forces, and intelligence services. Maliki has also used the “increasingly pliable” judiciary to weaken the systems of government oversight. Dodge added that, within the Iraqi state today, torture is “endemic” in the prison system, and the level of corruption is potentially worse than it was under Saddam Hussein. Thus, Dodge concluded that the Western intervention in Iraq “didn’t change the essential dynamics of the Iraqi state.”
During the Q&A, the question of whether the “new authoritarianism” stems from Maliki or from the nature of the Iraqi political system was raised. Dodge stated that he believes that, given the rentierism, size of the armed forces, and fractured nature of civil society within Iraq, any leader would try to do what Maliki has done. “Maliki is a symptom, not a cause,” Dodge said. Dodge also addressed the issue of Iran’s influence over the Iraqi political system, saying he believed that Iran did not originally support Maliki, but after al-Iraqiya’s strong showing in the 2010 parliamentary elections, Iran “put everything behind” keeping Maliki in power. Dodge added that he believes Iran’s support for Maliki in 2010 “gave them the power to shape negotiations,” and, as a result, “Iran’s role in Iraq is increasing.” Dodge also asserted that, thanks to the changes Maliki has made to the political system, there are no viable challengers for him. “Elections will probably happen, but the outcome won’t be in doubt,” he said.