Enforcing Central Authority: Nuri al-Maliki and the Tradition of Iraq's Authoritarian State

Enforcing Central Authority: Nuri al-Maliki and the Tradition of Iraq's Authoritarian State

Hauke Feickert (Center for Near- and Middle Eastern Studies (CNMS), Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9675-4.ch012
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This article brings together historical and political research in order to give an account of Iraq's recurring authoritarianism. Focusing on the agency of three distinct state elites, it will compare how these networks used cooptation and coercion to dominate their respective political arena. As a part of this, structural aspects like the allurement of the centralized state economic and the aspect of Western assistance in the (re)building of a central authority will join the analysis. However, the article will be primarily concerned with Iraqi politicians, their authorship of authoritarianism, their efforts to build a “modern” nation and their attempts to overrule dissent. The main interest of this inquiry is for the present and recent past: As Iraq has shaken off the oppression of 35 years of dictatorship, the new democratic system has shown to be extremely susceptible for a renewal of the authoritarian tradition.
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The article will use the classical definition of authoritarianism by Juan Linz to review the rule of the three elitist social groups who shaped Iraq in the 20th century (Linz 2000). Drawing on Linz, the article will discuss their claims for legitimacy and analyze their amount of popular support. It will then view the disconnect of the regimes with society and their efforts to control the population. In this part, the weakening of legal and institutional power as well as the recourse to violence will be examined. In the final conclusion, the recurrence of elitist rule and of claims for modernization as well as the persistent significance of cooptation and coercion will be juxtaposed to explain authoritarian instability in Iraq.

Key Terms in this Chapter

State-Structure: This term refers to the organizational form of the state, i.e. the distribution of power among agencies, the working of these agencies, and the underlying self-perception influencing the exchange between these agencies as well as between the government and society at large.

Centralism: This describes a state structure which defers most of the decision-making to the central government and forces cities and provinces to send most of their revenues to the capital, where (political and economic) means are redistributed.

Da’awa Malikiyoon: The Da’awa party (i.e. the party of Islamic Calling) was founded in the 1960ies as an Islamic movement to challenge the rise of communism and secularism in Iraq. Like many middle class Shi’ites from the countryside, Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s future prime minister, was attracted to its conservative message. Radicalized by state repression, Maliki helped to organize the party’s militant resistance, thus gaining a network of followers. These associates, who mostly originated from a similar social background, became to be known as the Malikiyoon.

Democratization: This is understood as a process in which authority is gradually handed over from an authoritarian regime to representatives of the whole population. Political pluralism is granted and the government’s power is reduced by law. Eventually the people gain the right to elect a government and to engage in peaceful opposition.

Hashemite Monarchy: This family still rules in contemporary Jordan and once ruled Syria, Iraq, and the Hejaz province (Mekka and Medina). Its ancestry includes the great-grandfather of the prophet Muhammad. This lineage is valued by Sunni and Shi’a Muslims alike.

Tikriti Ba’ath: The inhabitants of the Iraqi city of Tikrit are referred to as Tikriti. As Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, originated from this area and used his influence to bring relatives or plain residents of his home-town into positions of authority, either within the ruling party (Ba’ath, i.e. the party of Arabic Renaissance) or the state bureaucracy, his regime came to be known by this term.

Power Elite: The term is closely linked to C Wright Mills, who used it for describing the personal bonds and combined social influence of political and economic leaders.

Authoritarianism: Juan Linz defined authoritarian power as a system in which political pluralism is constrained, a state of emergency is evoked to gain legitimacy, political participation is controlled, and the government’s rights are ill defined.

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