Mary Dickinson Jensen September 29, 2012



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Mary Dickinson Jensen

September 29, 2012

PSC 395 Bashiriyeh

Iraq’s Democratic Path

The original incentives for the United States to invade in Iraq were being debated before the 2003 military action took place. Arguments over why the United States took action have ranged from greed over Iraqi oil to an attempt at creating a stable Middle East. It was not until after the war started that an academic debate concerning Iraq’s transition to democracy, post-US-invasion, began. This paper will argue that Iraq has undergone a democratic transition as a result of US invasion and will interpret this transition through the lens of international diffusion theory.

The cause for democratization in Iraq is the same as the cause for the US going to war in Iraq. Gareth Stansfield’s assessment of Iraq’s democratic transition points to two main causes for the United States to go to war in Iraq. He states that “The NSS (National Security Strategy) . . . was not purely about defeating potential enemies. It also envisaged the promotion of American values throughout the world” (Stansfield 134). This shows that the first cause for war was to effectively deal with threats before they came to fruition. The second cause Stansfield discusses is the American desire to spread its values or morals to non-democratic nations. A further cause for democratization in Iraq is the stake the US holds in Iraq having a successful transition from a dictatorship to democracy. Stansfield states that “Indeed, consistency of US policy direction in this regard has been sorely lacking, at least from an Iraqi perspective, and has instead been dictated more by the rapidly approaching US presidential elections, and the need to be seen as pursuing a successful policy of transition in Iraq” (Stansfield 149). Surface level successes in Iraq’s democratization process have been pushed by the US for domestic political gains. This has resulted in inconsistent democratic gains and a roller coaster pace for transition in Iraq. The United States has been the driving cause of democratization in Iraq, because the US has wanted to prevent perceived threats, spread American values, and push domestic political agendas.

Again, the history of Iraq’s democratic transition is synonymous with the history of the United States’ invasion of Iraq. Before the US invasion, Saddam Hussein’s Ba’th party ruled Iraq as a Sunni dictatorship. In 2003 the US invaded Iraq under the guise of preventative war and nation building (Bashiriyeh). The Bush administration’s plans for invasion in Iraq and promotion of democracy were invested in the removal of the Hussein dictatorship; however this plan backfired and resulted in further chaos between Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds (Stansfield 141). It was not until 2005 that the Iraqi people voted in favor of ratifying the constitution created by the Iraqi Constitution Drafting Committee (Bashiriyeh). Furthermore, the US did not end its occupation of Iraq until 2011 when the Obama administration was in power (Bashiriyeh). These three key events; the initial invasion in 2003, the constitutional referendum in 2005, and the exit of vast numbers of US troops in 2011; are both vital to the efforts of the war and the democratic progress in Iraq.

Iraq’s transition to democracy can be explained through the lens of international diffusion theory because this transition is the result of the United States’ current hegemonic status. Oliveira explains that “. . . democracies’ grouping in time and space suggest the occurrence of diffusion or of cross border dependencies that influence the development and persistence of political institutions” (Oliveira 173). This means a country can become more democratic through both physical and historical intimacy to democratic nations. In the case of Iraq, becoming a democracy was caused by the international influence the US has had during the late 20th and early 21st century. While it could be argued that democratic transition in Iraq would have occurred without intervention, the point is now irrelevant. An example of the US’s influence over Iraq can be seen when Stansfield writes, “. . . one of the first acts of the Americans upon entering Baghdad was to select an Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) according to ethnic and sectarian identity” (Stansfield 142). The United States not only had the power to invade Iraq, but to also select dictate the government that would rule the Iraqi people. The democratization of Iraq is an exemplary case of the international diffusion theory, because Iraq would have been unlikely to democratize as early as 2005 in a different international political climate.

While the passing of the Iraqi constitution began the transition to democracy, there are still many roadblocks to further democratization. The most substantial barrier to democratization is the lack of national unity felt by the different tribes and religious sects with in Iraq. Mohammed Ali Bapir explains that “ . . . the Iraqi people do not have the sense of belonging as a single nation, as long as members in a ‘nation is dependent on a feeling of belonging’ (Payne and Nassar, 2006: 10), in Iraq, for the most part this ‘feeling of belonging’ is weak or even absent” (Bapir 119). Many of Iraq’s problems stem from the lack of a single national Iraqi identity. The main identifications within Iraq are the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam as well as the Kurdish ethnic identity. The Kurds, who were the targets of inhuman atrocities by Hussein’s government, have been calling for an independent state (Stansfield 136). At the same time, the traditional rule of the Sunnis has been threatened by the Shia majority in Iraq, which has caused Sunni insurgencies and voting boycotts (Stansfield 136). Until Iraqis identify primarily by their nationality, there will continue to be conflicts between the different sets of identities. This provides the main barrier to continued democratization in Iraq.

Iraq’s democratic transition is a direct result of the United States pushing its values of democratization to the regions over which it has military influence. The history and process of the US war in Iraq is consistent with that of Iraq democratization. Despite the US’s efforts, national identity continues to restrain democratic transition. While America’s initial interest in Iraq is still debatable, this war has created Iraqi democracy.

Work Cited

Bashiriyeh, Hossein, Dr. "Democratization of Iraq." PSC/MES 395-M001: Democratization in the Muslim World. Syracuse University, Syracuse. 17 Oct. 2012. Lecture.

Bapir, Mohammed Ali. "Iraq: A Deeply Divided Polity and Challenges to Democracy-building." Information, Society and Justice 3.2 (2010): 117-25. Web.



Oliveira, Camila Martins. 2009. The Influence of International Factors in the Process of Democratization. Brazilianpolitcalsciencereview. 3(1) 172-179.

Stansfield, Gareth. "The Transition to Democracy in Iraq." Ed. John MacMillan. The Iraq War and Democratic Politics. Ed. Alex Danchev. Abingdon: Routledge, 2005. 134-59. Print.


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