Barriers to Political Transformation and Democracy in Iraq

An important topic in international politics today is if Iraq has the ability to politically succeed. Judging by their present democratic and military standing; Iraq seems to be headed in the wrong direction. The westernized view of political success or democracy is still in reach but Iraqi citizens must overcome a number of problems before it can be effectively achieved. Although a political transformation to a westernized style of democracy may never be fully accomplishable because of the differing culture and social norms, Iraqi citizens still must strive for their government to conquer these difficulties.

There are four main problems in Iraq that have proven to be roadblocks in their fight for democracy. Foremost, the ongoing feud between the Sunni, Shia and Kurdish peoples in various regions throughout the country has played a major role in the government’s ability to control Iraq. Another problem Iraq faces is the behavior of terrorist groups or organizations such as the infamous Al-Qaeda. These groups are causing constant chaos, which makes it harder difficult for political parties to attempt to rebuild any infrastructure that remains after the ruling of Sadam Hussein. Thirdly, the Iraqi population has never experienced a truly democratic political system. This contorts their perception of what a stable, autonomous government looks like. The expectations of these people stay the same because of their lack of experience with a democratic governing body. To the best of their knowledge, their knowledge, their next leader will be as corrupt as those who came before him. Lastly, the most crucial barrier to political transformation in Iraq is that the idea of Iraqi democracy being more of an international mandate rather than a national choice for the population of Iraq. Democracy can only be successful in countries or states that decide to act against their overpowering governments or political regimes. The transformation to democracy must be a common goal for the general population in order for it to flourish.

The main purpose of this paper is to examine the issues stated above, along with providing an analysis of how Iraq can politically transform themselves into a democratic nation. This process, however, will not be simple for Iraq. This is a concept that our violent neighboring nation, the United States of America, must begin to recognize. At point in their history they experienced trouble with political transformation. In the late 1700’s, the thirteen colonies of the eastern United States struggled to gain independence from Britain. After gaining independence there was a period of time where citizens were unhappy with the US government. Alike the Iraqis, they did not have the right to chose their own political leaders. Therefore, the United States of America should realize how complicated it can be to achieve complete freedom and democracy. They must be patient when it comes to intervening with the political transformation of Iraq. (Jones 1984)

The beginning stages for a country new to the idea of democracy may be unpredictable. These states have not developed concrete ideas of where they are going either ideologically, or politically. This makes it very difficult now to predict whether democracy will be successful in Iraq, or not. One of the major problems has been the extreme divisions between the various ethnicities living in Iraq. This will be a difficult barrier to overcome. A democratic government will need to make political decisions that will satisfy Shia, Sunni, Kurds and Arabs. That this is an existing problem for the Iraqi government can be seen in the chaos and civil conflicts that have been occurring between the various religious and political factions in Iraq since the 2005 elections. The current government is seen by many Iraqis as little more than puppet government controlled by the United States and its allies.

According to Day (2006), the primary difficulty in achieving national unity is finding the balance between local governmental power in the hands of tribal and religious groups and the central government. Day (2006) has analyzed the current situation in Iraq by looking at the case of Yemen. Yemen has gone from an authoritarian government to a democracy within the period of a few short years. The primary difference between the Yemenis and the Iraqis is that Yemen deposed its authoritarian government before a need arose for United Nations interference. In order for Iraq to undergo a successful political transformation to democracy, they must find this balance between regional/local political power and the power of the central Iraqi leadership.

Another issue that is effecting the development of a successful democracy in Iraq is what the Iraqis perceive as being unwanted interference from the United States in the development of their own individual style of democracy. No one wants a dictator like Saddam Hussein to gain power; however this is a decision that should be made by the Iraqi people. The United States has attempted to impose democracy based upon traditions that are foreign to Middle Eastern cultures. According to Day (2006), Middle Eastern ideas of how a democratic government should work are entirely different from how the West views democracy. Gaining control of their own nation and developing their own ideas of democracy will be a major hurdle for the people of Iraq to overcome.

Myerson (2006) has developed a model for predicting whether democracy will succeed. This model states that several factors influence the likelihood of democracy being successful for a country. First, the success of democracy is dependent upon how the people of a nation perceive their government. Democracy is also likely to fail when the government has the expectation that they will remain in power indefinitely. Myerson (2006) also states that democracy can do one of two things. It can succeed on the local level, and fail on the national level. Alternatively, a democratic government can be successful as a nation and yet experience corruption and dictatorial practices on a local level. For example, you could have a nation ruled by a corrupt president and yet have moral and ethical local leaders, or vice versa. This model does a great deal to explain the fact that the Iraq people have little trust in their government due to the corruption and cruelty of the Hussein regime. Therefore, they have little expectation of a fair and successful democratic government. They have never lived in a democracy where they are guaranteed certain basic civil and human rights. Nor, do the people of Iraq have an understanding of how a democratic government operates in comparison to the authoritarian regime they have lived under for nearly thirty years. This will make the transition to a democratic government difficult because first the Iraqi people need to be educated on the workings of a democratic government.

The various problems that Iraq will face as it works to become a more democratic nation have been a topic of great debate both in political and historical fields. According the Ramsay (2005) there are several issues that need to be looked at when discussing the potential success of a democratic Iraqi government. First, when the elections occurred in 2005 none of the parties who ran candidates for election had the majority vote. Second, the divisions within Iraqi society will continue to create difficulties when seeking to create a democratic government. Finally, whether the Iraqis like it or not, the international community will have a great deal to do with how the future government of Iraq is run. Ramsay (2005) also discusses the current state of civil war between the various factions of Iraqi society, and the growing influence of insurgent groups and terrorists in Iraq. This creates a problem for the new Democratic government of Iraq because if they cannot either find a way for all of these differing groups to reach an agreement, or find some other means of controlling the violence democracy in Iraq will not last for very long. There is one simple reason behind this, which is that people wish to feel safe. If the current government of Iraq cannot make its people feel safe there is no way it can possibly be successful.

The presence of US troop’s simple seems to incite this factional violence amongst Iraq’s different ethnic and religious groups. This can be seen simply by the fact that in areas where there is strong US troop presence there appears to be a much higher rate of violence. According to Ramsay (2005) one the reasons behind this factional violence has been the lack of understanding exhibited by the United States. The United States has failed to listen to what the people of Iraq truly want. According to Ramsay (2005), these wants include the restoration of national infrastructure, and economic security. Democracy is not an issue for the people of Iraq, jobs and food to feed their children with are the major issue. Another major roadblock to Iraq achieving true democracy has been the involvement of the United States and other nations in trying to determine the future of Iraq. Yes other countries should have a say over what happen in Iraq so that the crimes committed by the Hussein government do not happen again however, it is primarily the opinion of the Iraq people that should count in deciding the future course of their government. According to Chandrasekaran, (2006) one of the major issues that has occurred as a result of US involvement in Iraq is that none of the lessons the US military and political officials have learned through past efforts to impose democracy on another nation have been used when it comes to deciding policy in Iraq.

The lessons learned by US attempts to influence the development of democratic nations during the Cold War have all gone to waste with Iraq. One primary reason for this according to Chandrasekaran (2006) is that the senior official who had been involved in Cold War nation building were kept out of the loop when it came to policies surrounding the democratization of Iraq. These officials would have been able to point out mistakes in current US policy in Iraq and would have provided Bush with a powerful brain trust when it came to implementing ideas that would be successful in helping the Iraqis become a democratic nation. The other issued surrounding US involvement in Iraqi democratization has been the lack of communication between the Bush Government, military leaders in the field, and the Iraqi people themselves. If the US government had been listening to these two groups there would be nowhere near the level of violence that has existed in Iraq since the elections. Bellin (2004) discusses the US intervention in Iraq from a historical perspective. The one major comparison that has been made is between the US role in Iraq, and the role that they played in rebuilding Germany and Japan at the end of World War II. Bellin (2004) states that the situations are not at all comparable for one primary reason, Iraq unlike both Germany and Japan was not considered a powerful nation either politically or economically prior to US intervention. Another reason that the situations are not seen as being comparable is that both Japan and Germany were democratic nations before they became involved in World War II. Japan had been governed by Constitutional Monarchy for several decades, and after the fall of the German monarchy Germany was governed by the Weimar government. Iraq has never truly been a democratic society so in creating a democratic government one is truly starting from the ground up. This was not the case after World War II in either Germany or Japan. The Allies simply took previously existing laws, and governmental procedures, and re-instituted the prior democratic governments of both Japan and Germany. They did not need to start anew attempting to do what the United States had done in the 18th century. The United States would have done better to look at the lessons that were learned from attempted Cold War interventions in South America and Africa since the Third World Status of these nations would have been somewhat more comparable to the one they found upon entering Iraq.

According to Straddiotto (2004), the success of democracy may not be inevitable in Iraq for several reasons. First, Iraq does not have the type of economy necessary for building a democracy upon. They have no centralized systems for tax collection, education or social welfare .The second reason is the creating democracies through the use of military intervention rarely succeed. Democracy has to be a way of government that the people of Iraq desire without any foreign influence on the decision making process. This use of forced democratization was frequently used by the United States during the Cold War especially when it came to both South American and African nations. Up to this point, this has never succeeded but clearly, the United States has into learned from past history. The people of Iraq need to be able to see democracy as a safe and viable alternative to dictatorship if it is going to succeed at all. According to Stradiotto (2004), the collapse of the Hussein government was not necessarily the will of the Iraqi people. Although they may have been oppressed under the Hussein government much like the Germans under Hitler, they had security and safety for their families. Freedom was no minor price to pay to keep families safe and fed.

III: Discussion

The thesis that democracy will be hard to achieve in Iraq is supported by the literature. Many of the articles that have been reviewed for this paper indicated similar problems with the success of democracy in Iraq. The primary is seen throughout the literature as the internal divisions within Iraqi society. These divisions make it difficult for the central government of Iraq to make decisions based upon what is best for all of the Iraqi people when none of the different factions in the government can agree upon what that is. One possible solution has been offered by many of the authors in the literature review. This suggestion is regional government somewhat similar to the United States where each region or province has the power to make decisions for the people of that area as long as it does not violate national laws and policies. Another major roadblock indicated by the literature was the issue of the current civil unrest in Iraq. The article by Ramsay (2005) indicated that the division between the Iraqi people was so great that it was likely the country would experience a state of Civil War. The government of Iraq seems completely incapable of dealing with the divisiveness within its own ranks to the extent that much of the countries remaining infrastructure have been destroyed, and public services have all but been suspended. This situation has made it highly unlikely that the people of Iraq will develop any trust whatsoever in the current government.

One of the main things that have also been perceived as a roadblock to the success of democracy in Iraq is the lack of experience that Iraqis have with even the most basic concepts of democracy. They have never lived under a democracy, and information that you read in a book, or hear from someone else is simple not the same as having the experience of living in a democratic society. Many have compared the situation in Iraq to that of Germany and Japan after World War II however, Bellin (2004) points out that the situation is nowhere near close because of the Iraqi lack of experience with the concept of democracy. The final major issue that was discussed in the literature was the continuing presence of the US in the region. The US presence seems to be exacerbating the problems between the different religious and ethnic groups of Iraq as well inciting further insurgency. Because of the US presence in the region, several terrorist groups from outside Iraq have also seen fit to send contingents into the country to incite violence, and try to depose the current government. This has created difficulties in that rather than blaming the terrorist groups, and the insurgents the people of Iraq are blaming the new government and the US troops.

There are several possible futures for democracy in Iraq at this point. According to Day (2006) Iraq could follow the same path followed by Yemen. Yemen went through over 10 years of civil war, riots, and insurgency before they finally found a form of democracy that worked for their nation. Another possibility is that things will calm down in Iraq once the United States no longer has a presence in the region. The final possibility is that democracy will fail, and another strong-arm dictator like Saddam Hussein will take over. Whatever the outcome one thing is certain, the future of Iraq lies in the hands of the Iraqi people. If Iraq can manage to overcome the roadblocks that lay in its path it can have a brilliant future. A successful democracy could take Iraq from a nation that exists on the fringes of Middle Eastern politics to a true political power. It will take the Iraqis a great deal of work in order to accomplish this. They are living in a land where several years of war, and an economic embargo that lasted a decade have destroyed what little national infrastructure existed under the rule of Saddam Hussein. They must build many things including their public education and social welfare from the ground up. Iraq must also contend with being closely supervised by the international community. It is inevitable that international power brokers such as the United States, and Great Britain will attempt to decide the future of Iraq with little or no input from the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people must take charge of their own destiny, and encourage political transformation to a democratic government that fits the ethnic, social, cultural and religious needs of the population of Iraq. It is inevitable that religion is going to play some type of political role in Iraq’s government because in the Middle East there seems to be little difference between religion and politics.. In conclusion, the fate of Iraq’s political transformation will only be decided by those people that will have to live with that decision in the future, namely the Iraqi people.



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Ramsay, Allan. 2005. “A DEMOCRATIC IRAQ?” Contemporary Review, 04, pp. 198 (https:/


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