Iraq’s Sectarian Electoral System

Election worker empties ballots from a box during the 2009 provincial elections in Basra.

Election worker empties ballots from a box during the 2009 provincial elections in Basra. (Photo: New York Times)

The political scientist Maurice Duverger, in his classic work Political Parties, claimed that party systems and electoral systems in a democracy are “indissolubly linked” and “difficult to separate.” Together, these two systems determine the accuracy of political representation within a state. I have spent the last year studying political parties in Iraq and it is clear that the party system in Iraq created sectarian political representation. Therefore, according to Duverger’s statement, the electoral system in Iraq must also, in some way, contribute to that sectarian representation. In order to understand this relationship, it is useful to look back at the evolution of Iraq’s electoral system.

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Lessons Learned from Iraq Reconstruction

Last week I attended a panel discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace entitled “Lessons Learned from Iraq and How they Apply to North Africa.” The panel featured the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), Stuart Bowen, who discussed his office’s final publication, Learning from Iraq,” along with three other experts on the subject.The report, along with the corresponding panel, provided some answers to questions surrounding the Iraqi reconstruction project and raised questions about the future of stabilization and reconstruction operations.

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Democracy: Metis or Techne?

While doing research for an article on the U.S. and democratization in Iraq, I was recently led to James C. Scott’s book Seeing Like a State. In the final chapter, Scott explores two types of knowledge: metis, or practical knowledge, and techne, or technical knowledge. In keeping with my current research subject of democratization, I began to question how democracy fits into this dichotomy.

Below are my thoughts on this subject. It is a long read (my apologies) but it is a subject that I feel deserves a close look due to its direct implications with our adventure in Iraq and future policy.

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My Iraq

I don’t really know why I am writing this. In some ways it is ironic. Less than twelve hours ago I was complaining to two close friends about how tired I am of reading Iraq war reflections. Yet here I sit in front of my keyboard with a stack of pictures and a bottle of scotch. I have never really written or talked much about my time in Iraq. Not because I find it difficult but mostly because I never really thought I had anything of value to say. The stories that are published online or printed in newspapers and magazines are usually written by officers, senior enlisted men or policy makers who regale readers with strategic and tactical adventures. They relive important moments in the war or walk through the thought process that ended in some critical decision. My war always seemed different than that.

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Maliki’s Misplaced Fear


The flag of the Islamic State of Iraq. The group, linked to Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the March 8th attack on Syrian troops in Iraq. (Photo:

A few days ago the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), a Sunni militant group with links to Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the March 8th massacre of 48 Syrian and nine Iraqi soldiers in Iraq’s western province of Anbar. The attack targeted an Iraqi army convoy that was returning Syrian troops who crossed into Iraq to escape rebel fighters. Originally, the operation was attributed the Al-Nusra Front, a Sunni insurgent group in Syria that is also linked to Al-Qaeda and has been labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. government. The reality is that it doesn’t matter if the attack was carried out by Al-Qaeda’s Syrian or Iraqi front. What matters is that the attack is the most glaring sign to date that Syria’s civil war is spilling over into an Iraq that is struggling with increased sectarian tensions and fears of another civil war. Continue reading

A Semester in Review: The Microcosm of Iraqi Kurdistan

The semester ended and I sat pondering what I had learned over the past sixteen weeks. Do I know more about international politics in the Middle East than when I started? If so, what did I learn and how can I best summarize my new knowledge? These questions were running through my mind when I came across this analysis about Iraqi Kurdish relations with Iran and Turkey. The pieces suddenly came together when I realized that Iraqi Kurdistan is a good microcosm for my semester. The four trends which I found to be most significant in my study of international politics of the Middle East are all present within Iraqi Kurdistan: the lingering effects of colonialism; the struggle between politics, or realism, and identity, or constructivism; the impact of oil; and the involvement of outside actors. Continue reading

Democracy vs. Democratization (A Public Conciliation)

Yesterday, in class, we tackled one of the biggest questions of recent U.S. history. Why did the U.S. decide to invade Iraq in 2003? This question has been debated in all corners of the academic, public, and government worlds for almost a decade with many answers proposed. Some are unlikely, such as oil and corporate greed, some are plausible, such as security concerns and intelligence failures, and some are downright crazy, such as revenge for events in the 1990s and secret Israeli conspiracies. This subject is difficult for me, a veteran of the invasion, to approach because it is still difficult to separate my emotions from reason. Although I study Iraq extensively, both personally and academically, I purposely shy away from the above question. Continue reading