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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2009, Vol.1 No.1 .

Iraq: People, History, Politics
Gareth Stansfield.

(Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007), pp. 262. ISBN-13: 978-07456-3226-1 (hb); ISBN-13: 978-07456-32227-8 (pb)

Gareth Stansfield?s Iraq: People, History, Politics is a meticulously researched work which sets out to explain how the United States-led Coalition Forces are ?struggling to cope with the post-invasion dynamics? of the conflict since 2003 (p. 2). Stansfield argues that the presence of Coalition Forces has played a significant part in creating an unstable political system under which a plethora of tribal, ethnic and religious forces have flourished.

Stansfield conceptualizes Iraq?s historical and political development under four broad thematic questions. First he asks: was Iraq an ?artificial? state? In his response Stansfield traces the artificiality debate back to the days when the League of Nations assigned the mandate over Iraq to the British after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Although he acknowledges that all states are artificial to an extent, he argues that Iraq remains unique in that its integrative association with imperialism continues to shape its political culture (p. 193). While Iraq became the first League of Nations mandated state to gain full independence in October 1932 (p. 49) the state was never built on sure foundations and its colonial legacy made it a deeply volatile creation. Despite its rich and somewhat turbulent history (p. 10), the significant problems now facing Iraq have a much recent gestation, suggests Stansfield, almost certainly dating back to Iraqi?s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the ?First Gulf War? (p. 128).

The second thematic question addressed by Stansfield is Iraq?s ?national identity?. Saddam Hussein?s Ba?thist regime, from his consolidation of power in 1979 until his eventual removal in 2003, rested upon the constant manipulation of a myriad of tribal, ethnic and national identities. Yet, as Stansfield points out, ?Saddam?s trusted circle remained firmly rooted among various tribes and communities almost always Arab in ethnicity and nearly always Sunni in sectarian allegiance? (p. 197). Third, Stansfield considers the ?dictator debate?, in which he investigates just how the military infected Iraq?s body politic. Iraq was the first ?post-World War I? Middle Eastern state to experience a military coup, which came in 1936 (p. 78) and continued to give the state its bayonet-cushioned autocratic complexion until Saddam was overthrown. Lastly, Stansfield considers the competing debates on ?state-building and democratization? in post-Saddam Iraq, concluding that ?the new rules are those of communalization, identity-based politics, chauvinism, religious exclusivism and ethnically-based nationalism? (p. 204). In detailing the root causes of violence Stansfield reaches the rather depressing conclusion that ?Quite simply, Iraq as it was cannot be reconstructed as the parts which were used to assemble it in the first place are no more? (p. 194).

Stansfield?s book is an excellent beginner?s guide to recent developments in one of the world?s most troubled hotspots. Moreover, it is written with a firm and even-handed grasp of the complexity of Iraq?s society and politics. It provides an illuminating insight into the important debates permeating the academic literature on Iraq, the so-called 'war on terrorism', as well as Islamist fundamentalism. The book will be of benefit to students and scholars undertaking a course of study on the Middle East in particular and/or in the much broader field of international relations in genera

Dr. Aaron Edwards, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

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