The Iraqi Statehood within the Analysis of the Institutional Framework, Power, Violence, and the Creation of Identity

  • The Concepts of Power and Violence

The new structure of power in the Arab state was an attempt to replicate the Western modern state. Although Western concepts (like social welfare and nation) were adopted by many Arab states (like Iraq), certain sociopolitical conditions prevented them from progressing to establish that model of statehood. This chapter investigates these sociopolitical conditions by studying the concept of power, violence, and identity-creation. The case of Iraq presented two types of violence. The first one could be seen in Saddam’s regime through its consolidation of power. The second one represents extra-statist violence, which functioned to achieve factional interests. Both types of violence do not support the ideas of modern citizenship, the general will, and the application of human rights.

Weber defines the state as “political association [with] leadership,’’  but leadership, in order to establish its means of power, needs to apply “sociologically […] the use of physical force.” Weber cites Trotsky, who presents the state as an entity that depends essentially on the force. Through force, the state must develop its supremacy preponderant to any other power in society, despite the attempts of tribes and sects to share or affect its power. For instance, according to Weber, one of the state features is owning “territory.” Owning a territory supposes the means of power necessary to administrate that territory, independent of sectarian or tribal bias. Otherwise, the territory may be divided based on different extra-state political desires to control it.

Saddam misused violence and the consequences of this misuse appeared in two periods. The first period reflects the violations against human rights that he did, the alienated citizenship that he brought, and the denial of freewill that he created while oppressing the society. The second period is when Shiites and oppressed groups responded to the fall of his regime. More specifically, oppressing non-Baathists justified oppressing the Baathists and Sunnis later. A pattern of oppression developed and put the Sunnis in the need to use violence to reject the fall of the previous regime and to protect themselves from the Shiite regime. Specifically, Sunnis – as a sect – created ISIS and groups of extra-state fighters to express their rejection of the new situation. Consequently, there are two forms of violence: Saddam’s institutional violence and the extra-state’s violence. Investigating these types of violence questions the types of power that these forms of violence created. It also questions how violence identifies the character of the subject (those who used violence) and the character of the object (those who suffered violence).

The use of institutional violence creates obedience. And that obedience can be a leading point in the creation of power. For example, Saddam’s use of violence created obedience to legitimize the Baathist ascendancy. However, one of the mistakes related to this obedience was his failure to protect human rights. Additionally, one may notice that Weber’s conceptualization of the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence is more relevant to the era of the post-Saddamist regime because that is what has been missing. In this era, the absence of that obedience happens because of the presence of non-state armed groups. This lack of obedience happens because the state fails to monopolize the legitimate use of violence. Regarding the post-Saddamist era, Respondent 3 says that armed groups, such as “Popular Mobilization Forces” will not allow institutional success as long as they control tools of violence and can prevent the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

Weber explains this lack of obedience and of dominating society through the relationship between “legality” and “hope-fear.” The citizen either hopes to get an award or fears punishment by those who own power. This duality of hope and fear, if explained in connection to the institutional dimension of the Arab statehood project, derives the connection between identity and the material use of violence. This duality of fear and hope paves the way to consider the link between obedience, the state’s dominant character, and identity-creation. 

  • The Institutional Power’s Impact on Identity-Creation 

 Identity indicates who rules and who is ruled. This identification of the subject and the object applies to the Baathists’ attempts to use institutional power to support their ideas and interests. These attempts imposed a factional identity on state institutions. One may claim that using institutional power perhaps turns the main factors of identity into facts. The significant issue in this respect is when access to political power establishes distinct identities for the self and for the other through institutional violence. This circumstance is often visible in the Saddamist era when the institutional power functioned powerfully in violating human rights and creating different identities for the non-Baathists.  

Dominating violence on behalf of the state’s institutions by one sect or tribe provides a ground to isolate other sects or tribes from participation in political power. This isolation, which is produced by the power of using the state’s institutions, brings to the isolated sects or tribes the victim’s personality and mentality. A constructive deformation happens to the dominator of the state institutions’ identity and the victim’s identity. The institutional element of statehood also gets confusingly explained in a situation where sectarian or tribal actors use the state as an object to impose their political ascendancy. The victim’s mentality elucidates what Respondent 1 said about the tendency to take revenge.

Identity within the context of studying sectarianism and tribalism may reveal how the institutional power functions to impose their ruling character that got developed after benefiting the self from the state’s power. At the same time, all sectarian or tribal attempts to present reality based on their doctrinal discourses may export the distortion of the identity imagination into the operation of the state’s institutional power, which then complicates the attempt to explain certain sectarian or tribal actions. In Iraq, it was the same case when “non-state actors” tried to set their rule based on their self-defining agenda and tried to “produce new spatial forms of political ordering.” Furthermore, the US’s attempts confused that circumstance by promoting “sectarian balancing” between the sects in Iraq, which endeavored to minimize the state’s power and resulted in dividing the state’s power between the sects. Moreover, it becomes more difficult to differentiate between violating the laws from enforcing them. This is the case when a sect creates a personal status law based on sectarian standards. It mainly gets complicated to differentiate whether this law must be obeyed, or people need to reject it. Yet, it is a legitimate law originating, however, from using the institutional apparatuses of the state for a sectarian purpose.

  • Deviation of Statehood: The Example of Social Categorization and Self-Categorization using State’s Institutions

The deviation of statehood in this context means the deviation from its modern general purposes, such as protecting human rights and administrating society. People’s allegiance is the source of Rousseau’s idea of the general will, which refers to the necessary allegiance for establishing modern statehood. If the state lacks that part, then the statehood would function on a factional motivation; there would be a lacked allegiance from the people to the state. In the case of Iraq, allegiance refers to the “collective self” of the faction. This faction-based self leads to creating “social categorization.” This categorization gets more effective than any other categorization when it develops through the use of the state’s institutional apparatuses. So, this process can contain – through institutional power – the factional self-identification and the social categorization of others, such as defining others as non-Sunnis or non-Baathists.

Defining individuals by factional standards through social categorization suppresses everyone’s self-conceptualization. Thus, individuals become “prototype[d]” with specific “attributes of their group.” Moreover, the “self-categorization” creates to the self a similar impact of social categorization that explains the process of categorizing others. Since categorizing others views them with a specific character, the same applies to categorizing the self; what differentiates this self-categorization is its creation through “the in-group prototype.” This appears in Iraq when people began to define themselves through groups based on sectarian and political attributes. 

The state’s institutional weakness (this condition applies to the post-Saddamist era) is a motivation that pushes individuals to define themselves through groups since the state cannot prevent this method of social categorization. This situation gets clear after the Baathists suppressed the Shiites by using the state apparatuses as a lawful suppression. This suppression made the Shiites project the self in the image of the victim and the Baathists in the image of the aggressor, which developed into the use of violence by the Sunnis to defend themselves later. The doer of the violations will also need to categorize the self. This self-categorization may justify the suppression of others and leads to imagining the self as a savior. One point to conclude from that, there were the Shiites, who identified themselves as victims and categorized the Baathists as the oppressors. However, because Baathists defined themselves at that time of their governance as Sunnis, Shiites categorized Sunnis as oppressors as Baathists were.

  • The Power of the Institutional Dimension to Determine the Social Status of the Extra-State Groups and the State Decay

The arguments that the problems of human rights violations are determined by the state’s institutional power or the state’s institutional insufficiency are presented in the experience of engagement with human rights in Iraq. This relates to the problem of belonging because, in a society where social or political conflicts are active, people always look for a group of power to belong to, specifically when the state misuses the institutional power or when institutionally weak. Institutional power grants its dominators the right to create identity. Concerning that, there are two types of identification: the self-identification or the social categorization of others, and both appeared in this chapter based on either the institutional abilities, such as the case in the Baathist era, or in the post-Saddamist era when the state became institutionally weak and subject to factional struggle.