Iraqis and those who study Iraq have been trying to answer the questions of what is Iraq and who is an Iraqi since the creation of the modern state under mandate in 1921. How you answer the questions usually depends on where you sit. For Western scholars, students of empires, and Iraqis who are Sunni Arabs, the answer is usually a linear description of political history and economic development, descriptions of who ruled, and dated by wars, coups, revolutions, and repression. For Iraqis, both Sunni and Shiʿi Arabs, their history is more complicated, involving ancient kingdoms and empires, the coming of Islam, the glorious and not-so-glorious centuries of defeat and decay, and the rise of modernism in politics, culture and society that came beginning in the late nineteenth century. The last produced the Arab revolts of 1916 and 1920, the invention of new Iraqi identities under King Faisal and Saddam Hussein, and the Shiʿi Awakening that emerged in the 1960s. It is a broad and inclusive view that looks to incorporate the diverse ethnicities and religious sects that have been Iraq and Mesopotamia for thousands of years. And finally, there are the newer revisionist histories especially by Kurdish and Shiʿi scholars ascribing exceptional characteristics to their interpretations of the story along sectarian and ethnic lines.
This study will focus on recent scholarship on Iraq—books published in the last 2–3 years—that examine efforts at state building and identity creation in Iraq and the failures to incorporate sectarianism and ethnicity in their solutions. The authors—Dina Rizk Khoury and Sherko Kirmanj—each tell the history well but draw different conclusions. Their conclusions point the way to Iraq’s current crises. Given the current civil wars in Iraq—the battles between Arabs and Kurds for control of territory, oil wealth, and power, and the sectarian “crusade” by the Sunni Arabs of Iraq and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (also known as ISIS, ISIL, or the Islamic State) against everyone not their kind of Sunni, the future appears uncertain at best.
In1920the Sunni celebration of maulud marking the birth of the Prophet coincided with Shiʿi commemoration of ʿAshura when the martyrdom of Imam Hussein at the hands of the new Umayyad dynasty in battle near Karbala ended the first civil war in Islam. Sunni and Shiʿi Arabs held joint ceremonies their mosques symbolizing the brief moment of political consensus. The senior cleric issuing the fatwa authorizing rebellion against the British was Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi al-Shirazi. See Ali Allawi King Faisal I (New Haven: Yale University Press 2014) p. 358.
ʿAli ʿAllawiThe Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War Losing the Peace (New Haven: Yale University Press2007).