The Quest for Democracy: An Iraqi Perspective

Term Paper, 2005

16 Pages, Grade: 1,3

Free online reading


The 21st century saw the wind of democratization which has manifested itself in many countries by the holding of multiparty elections for the first time. In some parts of the world, however, there have been clear reversals for democracy as well as dramatic and massive violations of human rights. Nevertheless democracy remains a universally valid system of governance; one which needs to be backed up by constitutionally guaranteed rights. The promotion of genuine democracy and respect for human rights is not only a moral imperative; it is also the determining factor in building sustainable human development and lasting peace. Actions in support of democracy include; the right to participate in the establishment of governments through free and fair elections, make contribution to peace, security and the prevention of conflicts.

During the 1990s, states with no previous record of democracy could be “democratized” have now been forced to confront an uncomfortable empirical reality. Most of the states considered “in transition” to democracy less than one fifth, are moving directly in the right direction, as majority are stuck in between democracy and authoritarianism and are going nowhere. Democracy is apparently more difficult to engineer than previously thought (Liam and Stansfield 2004).

The focus of this paper shall be on Iraq and its objective is, “Can Democracy Be Achieved”? The suggested forms of post-Saddam Iraqi government can take would be similar to that of Afghanistan under Karzai. A consocialtional oligarchy theoretically will bring together leading figures from all the major ethnic, religious, tribal, geographic and functional groupings. It might not be a Pluralistic in a strict sense, but it includes all members from all works of life of the Iraqi society. It would represent its key elements, and the members could be expected to protect the most basic interests of their coreligionists and ethnic kin. Whether or not these groups truly represented the interests and aspirations of the Iraqi people would be largely irrelevant (Byman and Pollack 2003).

More so, in relation to Byman and Pollack, support for a representative government, absent tangible support for liberal political norms and values and without the foundation of a pluralistic civil society, neither sufficient nor staying power for democracy can take root. This reality was borne out of the pas generation in numerous countries where authoritarian regimes were displaced by newly democratic regimes (Patrick Basham 2004).

First, we shall unfold the paper by explaining some key concept; democracy and democratization which is imperative thereby highlighting some principles for democratic governments. Further more, we shall explore the Islamic principles of democracy and a platform for democratic governance since Iraq is an Islamic state to judge how Moslems perceive democracy is and ought to be.

This shall usher me into the second segment were we shall elaborate on Iraq under Saddam Hussein and highlighting the tussle with the Unites States.

Thirdly, we shall examine the possibilities or fight for democracy in Iraq, highlighting the US perspective of democracy, since the US is the main actor fighting for democracy in Iraq. Finally, a conclusion shall be drawn base on my argument.

As political scientist, we want to understand the meaning of democracy and to make judgement about it, perhaps improving it. In Greenberg (1996), the idea of democracy originated from ancient Greek. The meanings of democracy are demos meaning “the people” and Kratein meaning “to rule”. Therefore, democracy is rule of the people. They believe that democracy implied a tête a tête deliberations and decision making about public interest. Similar to it was Abraham Lincoln’s definition in his Gettysburg address “government of the people, by the people and for the people”. Crucial to this concept is the idea that it is the purpose of the government to serve its entire people.


Greenberg (1996) argues that a healthy democratic society must have popular sovereignty, political equality and political liberty.

Popular sovereignty engulfs the people being the ultimate source of public authority and the government does the people bidding.

In political equality the masses deliberate on issues on equal ground in which one person one voice.

Lastly, political liberty refers to basic freedom which is essential to the formation and expression of the popular will of the masses which is later transform into policy. These liberties include freedom of speech, press assembly and association.

In April (NDI 2004), the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Washington held a conference in Istanbul Turkey with Islamic delegates to come out with the platform for democratic governance in the Islamic world. They agreed on; “principles of Islamic culture and values include tolerance, justice and participation, together with peace” the platform states. These principles provide the basis for democratic governance and a more peaceful and prosperous world.

More so, an Islamist is anyone who believes that the Koran and the Hadith (traditions of the Prophet’s life, actions, and words). This definition embraces radical and moderate, violent and peaceful, traditional and modern, democratic and antidemocratic. From a theoretical perspective, the debate about Islam and democracy is most passionate as scholars examine it as not compatible with democracy.

The essence of this radical argument rests on the divine source of Islamic law. “If God has revealed clear principles of what is to be encouraged and what is to be proscribed, then human desire and man-made law have no place in tampering with these prescriptions and prohibitions”. For instance, if Islam has clearly banned the consumption of alcohol, then no democratic leader or elected parliament has the right to decide that beer is acceptable in an Islamic state. Because the state has the primary role in shaping human society, it is imperative that the state be based strictly on Islamic principles to mold an Islamic society, informed first and foremost by religion (Graham Fuller 2004).


From Los Angeles Times (2003) Hussein began his political career in the Baath Socialist party, whose ideology was rooted in socialism and Arab nationalism. After several years of military juntas failed to an Iraqi government, his party took control in 1968. Saddam operated a powerful figure behind President Ahmad Hassan Bakr.

Liam and Stansfield (2004) explored the rise and fall of the “strong man” Saddam to power. Saddam came to power in 1979 when Bakr in a speech said ill health no longer allows him to carry the burden of office. He turned over the command of power to comrade Saddam Hussein, the “faithful struggler” and “brilliant leader”. Faithful and brilliant leader were not only two of many titles that accrued to Saddam as a consequence of his promotion. He became president, prime minister, commander –in-chief, secretary general of the Baath party and chairman of RCC.

He appointed Sadun Hammadi as prime minister in his cabinet but power was centralized in his hands and Tikritis Sunni elites.

In the 1990s, Saddam deployed governing strategies which placed flirtation with political liberalization and his continued insistence on playing the Islamic card. His “democratic experience” was brief and unconvincing. The experience was to embody freedom of speech, constitutional reforms and political pluralism. In this light, Iraqi newspaper were to set a page for letters of complaint from the reader at the head of which was a statement from Saddam, in which he encouraged people to “write what they like with out fear”. Further more, observers were called to witness the parliamentary elections of 1989 in which the Baath party lose.

The words “Allah Akbar” meaning God is great were officially stitched on the Iraqi flag. Saddam awarded himself honorific titles’ including leader of all Muslims and worse of it was in October when he announced that Prophet Mohammed appeared to him in dreams to offer him advice.

Islamic punishment was incorporated into the penal code by decree such as amputation of the right hand for theft and decapitation for brothel owners. The sale of alcohol was prohibited in the Shia Shrine cities of Najaf and Kabala, and restaurants in the capital city.

The socialist achievement of free educational system, a quality health care education system, a state –driven economy presided over by a well paid generally honest, competent civil service had been destroyed.

He created a 30,000 strong Special Republican Council to protect him from any coup, along with the Special Security Organisation. Members of these groups come from Saddam’s tribe and the Tikritis region.

Over the period from 1988-2003, Saddam manage to destroy almost all of the successive achievement of the preceding 20 years as he inflicted incalculable damage on social, economic and political integrity of Iraq. The eight years conflict with Iran was too expensive for Iraq, as they incurred massive debs to sustain war as it debt stood at 25-35$ billion from the West and Japan, from the Soviet Union, $10 billion and from the Gulf state $ 50 -$55 billion. It total debt was close to $100 billion.

In a speech after he cease fire of the operation Desert Storm was announced, Bush called on the Iraqi’s to force Saddam to step aside. This statement called for a coup which seems to be supported by the US military forces.

In March 19 2003, the deadline given by the Bush administration for Saddam to leave Iraq expired. The campaign to removed Saddam named “Operation Iraq freedom” began. The events of 9/11 demonstrated in painfully stark that the Middle East had become a swamp of anti- American sentiment, and that the American mainland was no longer immune to the effects. Rather than address the immediate causes, the broad outlines of the plan was to remove the regime in Baghdad and bring democracy to Iraq. In this way, a zone of “democratic peace” will emerge at the heart of the Arab world. In March 20 2003, the first bomb from the US fell in Iraq but Saddam’s regime had evaporated.

The next segment shall dwell on the US and the fight for democracy in Iraq since America is the main actor fighting for the ousting of Saddam and the achievement of democracy in Iraq. However it will be better to look at how Americans perceive democracy ought to be and what is takes to sustain democracy in Iraqi.


Greenberg (1996) comments on the form or way Americans perceive democracy ought to be. Since America is a large state, democracy means rule by the people, exercised indirectly through elected representative. How ever, popular sovereignty, political equality and liberty are imperative to evaluate the American political system. Popular sovereignty focuses on the aspirations of the people; the government policies reflect the will of the people. There is a close correspondence between what the government does and what the people want it to do. More so, the people participate in the political process. How the popular will of the people be known and what makes the peoples representative respect it if wide spread participation is not guarantee. The people have to participate to show that the popular will is expressed and enforced. High quality information and debate must be available to the people, which is the function of the media, government and opposition parties. If this is not there, then the will of the people cannot be guaranteed. Lastly, if the government wants to respond to the citizen, with each counted equally, the only decision that rule is majority rule. The sense is that, the popular will formed are carefully deliberated by taking into consideration issues of the majority of citizens.

In Liam and Stansfield (2004), models for democratic consolidation envisage four levels. Level one, the most superficial level involves a normative commitment to the idea of democracy. Democracy cannot long survive unless the people believe in it.

Democracy is consolidated at the institutional level, electoral system, political parties and the like.

Thirdly, the must be the existence of the civil society which involves social structures outside state control that serve to mediate the interaction between individuals and the state.

Lastly, it must include the family structure, religion, moral values, ethnic consciousness, civic-ness and traditions. Democracy cannot be considered fully consolidated until it is rooted in the political culture of a society.


When the deadline for Saddam to leave Iraq had expired, the Bush administration campaigned to remove Saddam regime began, named “Operation Iraq Freedom” (Liam and Stansfield 2004).

In launching war with Iraq without a United Nations mandate, and against overwhelming sentiments of public opinion in most countries, the Bush administration, had undertaken a momentous gamble. Part of the moral justification for the war has been to “liberate” the Iraqi people from dictatorship (Larry Diamond) and bring democracy in Iraq which will bring a ‘beacon’ of light amid the darkness of repression (Liam and Stansfield 2004).

First, the US cannot democratize Iraq at gun point as democracy requires the concern of the governed. Democracy cannot be imposed onto an unwilling population. Greenberg (1996 ) supports this assertion as he argues that the aspiration of the masses must be taken into consideration for there to exist a genuine democracy. Miranda Mancusi in her article said “American experience in exporting peace and democracy is not a particularly encouraging one”. At present, there is deep mistrust of the US intensions in the Middle East as US allies argue that the war with Iraq was a war to access Iraqi oil.

However, if the economic, political and social reconstruction of Iraq is enjoyed by the Iraqi people, it will go a long way to convince the people of the US intensions (Liam and Stansfield). Rahul Mahajan (2003) further expounded on the hidden US agenda in the Middle East in the fight for democracy as Iraq shall not be different. After the routing of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Washington has been propping up undemocratic forces in Afghanistan, including regional warlords, like Ismail Khan of Herat and Abdul Rashid Dostum of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Report from Human Rights Watch that U.S. support for these warlords could jeopardize attempts to adopt a new constitution and to hold elections. Gunmen and warlords who were supported into power by the United States have hijacked the country outside of Kabul. To convey the appearance of democracy, the United States called together a loya jirga, or grand council. Washington essentially deputized the warlords to manipulate it in order to attain U.S. aims.

In Afghanistan, the United States had no particular desire to run the country. Its goal was a permanent military presence throughout Central Asia. The creation of a pro-American central government helped give international legitimacy to its continuing military operations there.

In Iraq its oil reserves, second in the world behind Saudi Arabia, will be increasingly important to the world market. According to energy plan, by 2020 Middle East oil may have to supply up to two-thirds of world demand. With no spare production capacity in the Middle East, this indicates that Iraq’s production must be increased. Even before the war, the State Department had convened the Oil and Energy Working Group of the Future of Iraq project. Further more, the US AID document in Iraq was entitled “Moving the Iraqi Economy from Recovery to Sustainable Growth” which called for “private sector involvement in strategic sectors, including privatization, asset sales, concessions, leases, and management contracts, especially in the oil and supporting industries.” Not only will the Iraqi economy be sold off to foreigners, but, private American contractors will actually play a leading role in the process of selling it off.

In essence, the United States went into Iraq with clear goals: controlling Iraq’s oil, privatizing the economy, establishing a permanent military presence, and dominating

Iraq’s foreign and defense policies. The Bush Administration set the policies of the Iraqi government first and then went about creating a government that would implement them. It hoped such a government could quickly control Iraq internally, at which point all would hail the triumph of democracy.

The best the US can hope to achieve over a two year period is to implant democracy both at normative and institutional levels in Iraq. Looking at the normative view, one raise the question of what evidence is there that the Iraqi people will consider democracy to be the right legitimate system of government is imperative. This surrounds a lot of disagreement and controversies on western form of democracy. This raises the question of the role of the Shia religious leaders who focus on the compatibility of western democratic norms and politicized Islam. The idea of resulting disputes peacefully through institutional mechanism of democracy need not create problems but democracy which engulfs gender equality, universal suffrage and freedom of speech may prove difficult for the Shia religious establishment to tolerate. The Sunni Arab on their part sees democracy as a death to their dominance over Iraqi state. It is difficult for the Sunni to accept a democratic system imposed on Iraq by western imperialist power. Nevertheless, if the US can leave a new Iraqi constitution, an elected democratic government, this will be victory of sorts. By this, the US would have liberated the Iraqi from the tyranny of Saddam, established the institution of democratic government and left the Iraqi to rule them- which has taken place. However, this is problematic as the departure of the US troops widens the gap of failure. Reaching agreement among Iraqis groups towards democratic institution is a challenge and the US cannot avoid playing an important role in the process. Only the US can provide the framework of coercion to force groups to compromise (Liam and Stansfield 2004).

Worthy to note in Stansfield and Liam (2004), civil society plays an active role in influencing democracy in any country. It is only plausible when democracy is fully consolidated in the political culture of a society. Graham Fuller (2004) underpins the argument as he postulates that the Iraqi’s are Muslim and see democracy as alien and incompatible with the Islamic culture. To them, God reveals principles of what is to be encouraged and what is to be prescribed, man made laws have no place in tempering with these prescription and prohibition. In this light America has to reshape the political culture, as much as to maintain political order and bring democracy. Larry Diamond agrees that the rule of law will need to be an urgent priority (much more urgent than formal elections). The legal code of the country will need to be reviewed, reformed, and publicly conveyed. Transparency and openness will be vital if a culture of legality and democracy is to be fostered. For this reason, emphasis must be placed on training and supporting a new generation of professional Iraqi journalists and broadcasters.

The Bush administration according to Patrick Basham (2004) plans to democratized Iraq based on a new constitution that will be implemented by groups of Iraqi elites bargaining with one another. However to ensure that Iraq is not transform into another Bosnia, a representative system must allow for the complex, heterogeneous nature of Iraqi society.

Another argument put forward by Patrick Basham (2004) towards democracy in Iraq is that, although 80% of Muslim believes the concept of democracy, it is problematic but, it must be accompanied with tolerance, trust, and a participatory outlook. If not the chances are poor in which effective democracy can be present at the societal level. Support for democracy is necessary but not a sufficient condition for democratic institution to emerge as other factors are necessary. In Iraq, a liberal democracy needs to be instituted which requires a system of representative government, a framework for liberal political norms and values, social and institutional pluralism. However, it provides neither sufficient stimulus nor staying power for democracy to take root. The State Department Bureau further doubts the new Iraqi regime to foster the spread of democracy.

More so, the Iraqi society has suffered through period of colonial rule, monarchy, Arab Nationalism, and Fascist revolution. In such society the political trust, social tolerance, popular support for political liberty and gender equality fall short of what is found in established democracies. Both Shiite and Sunni prescribe women’s role in the society as they live subject to the structures of a patriarchal society that dictates where and when women may be seen, whom they can marry and under what circumstances they can divorce. The Iraq democratization will be hindered by cultural and religious factors that neither stimulate nor foster political liberty.

Although democracy is bound to political culture, the political culture in turn is strongly related to the respective level of economic development specifically rising living standards and a large thriving and independent middle class. Empirical research shows that democratization is much likely to occur in richer than in poorer nations as economic development and liberalization stimulate higher level of democratic value. In this regard, the US agency for international development and the National Endowment for Democracy financially and technically supported Iraqi civil society organization. It supported amongst others: women’s group, youth organization to expand and stimulate democratic participation (Larry Diamond).

The global evidence demonstrates that economic and social development is imperative for democracy. In the 2001 data, Iraq was given a zero on the freedom index for democracy but current values on Iraq economic and social variable states a 0.2 index for democracy. In sum, one can expect at best, a minimal level of democracy from Iraq’s current economic and social conditions (Patrick Basham 2004).

Further more, in Byman and Pollack (2003) the socio economic indicators use to assess the probability of democracy, suggest that Iraq has a reasonably good foundation. Iraq per capital in come, literacy rate, male to female literacy ratio and urbanization, are comparable to those of many states who have enjoyed progress in transition from autocracy to democracy such as Bolivia.

They further expound that some democratic success in the Kurdish part of Northern Iraq is the establishment of a reasonable and stable form of power sharing. Although corruption and tribalism remains problematic, Iraqi Kurdistan has progressed greatly. At the local levels, elections have been free and competitive, press considerable freedom, basic and liberties are secure.

A good starting point for democracy in Iraq is the unity of Iraqi opposition. Much has been discussed how diverse the opposition in Iraq is. It includes Sunnis, Shia, Kurds and Christians, Islamist, Secular Democrats and communists. Every faction of the opposition speaks the language of democracy. How ever, there is a broad consensus that a post-Saddam Iraq should be representative, decentralized and federal, with civilian control of the military and respect for individual rights and ethnic diversity.

There are still debates about the precise structure of this federal system, but what key is the agreement that power in a future Iraq should be devolved. This is a radical idea in the Middle-East.

The Iraqi society is highly conducive to democracy. It has long been an urban society.

Indeed, one of the tragedies of Saddam’s rule has been his campaign to de-urbanize the culture of Iraqi society, with a massive social experiment designed to revive tribalism.

Even so, Iraq’s foundation remains largely urban. Iraqi society is also highly educated: It has the highest number of engineers per capita in the world, higher even than India. Iraq has a rich tradition of arts, culture and literature.

The institutions in Iraq need to be transformed. Power is concentrated in the hands of one man which affects how the government functions. Political parties will need to be created that have rational appeal and cut across boundaries (Rend Rahim Franke 2003).

Freedom of speech is imperative for any democratic government. In Rahul Mahajan (2003), there is more openness in the Iraqi media than in the past thirty years but Washington controls the spectrum of discussion which is not plausible for any democratic government. In May, Major General David Petraeus, the military governor of northern Iraq, seized control of Mosul’s TV station due to its unbalanced news coverage.

In early June, Bremer issued an order against “inimical media activity” in which he listed reasons for shutting down media outlet. For example, news can be misinterpreted which can promote opposition, promote civil disorder, riot and damage. Finally two newspapers and one radio station were shut down. In actual fact, democracy cannot be achieved when there is no freedom of press and media.

In any democratic society, the voice of the people needs to be heard. In this aspect, the women in Iraq are been marginalized. According to Liswood (2003), for the past 100 years, Iraqi women have gained some equal rights as women have held 20 percent of Iraqi parliamentary seats. Iraqi women have the rights to vote, drive, work, and educated but in the last six month; Iraqi women have been worried about their rights in which they met the US secretary of state Colin Powell to share their concern about threats to their rights which they use to enjoy. At the moment it seems that women’s voices in the post war Iraq may not be heard. During the Reconstruction Group set up by the US and Britain, only five women among thirty members, in a meeting in Nasiriyah, only four of the 80 selected delegates were women and of 13 legal experts assembled by the US justice Department to help rebuild Iraq court system, none are women. Women need to participate in the rebuilding at a level of critical mass. At least 30 percent of those involved should be women to ensure a real voice.

Lastly, a new Iraqi police force will need to be constructed, and fairly rapidly, because the occupying military forces cannot indefinitely police people with whom they cannot communicate and who are deeply distrustful of their purpose. The new Iraqi police and military could be recruited within the ranks of Kurdish and Shiite resistance forces.

However, American and British forces must be replaced on the streets of Iraqi cities and towns with a multinational force trained in post-conflict policing. Given the linguistic imperatives, such a force might include some officers lent for the purpose by Arab states sympathetic to the mission of Iraqi post-war reconstruction. This will foster an urgent and comprehensive effort at “de-Saddamization” and “de-Baathification,” in which they shall identify and arrest senior figures responsible for the political crimes of Saddam’s regime, including leading figures of the Baath Party, and banning from post-war governance and politics the large number of people who played an active supporting role (Larry Diamond).


The failure to establish democracy in Iraq will be disastrous, civil war, refugee flows and renew fighting. More so, should democracy fail to take its roots it will further add credence to charges that the US cares little for the Muslim world , a charge that involves security and moral consideration.


- Byman L and Pollack M; 2003 Democracy in Iraq, The Center for Strategic Studies and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Washington Quarterly

- Edward Greenberg, 1996: The Struggle for Democracy Harper Collins College Publisher

- Graham Fuller, 2004 Islamist in the Arab World: The Dance around Democracy. Middle East Series, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Publication Department

- Liam A and Stansfield G 2004: The Future of Iraq, Dictatorship, Democracy or Division? Pal grave Macmillan

- Larry Diamond, Can Iraq Become a Democracy

- Laura Liswood (2003); Find a Role for Women in Rebuilding Iraq

- MEDIA RELEASE (2004) National Democratic Institute

- Miranda Daniloff Mancusi, Prospects for Democracy in the Middle East on the Eve of War

- Patrick Basham, 2004: Can Iraq Be Democratic? Policy Analysis no 505

- Renh Rahim Frank, 2003: Prospects for Democracy in Iraq The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies Washington DC

- Rahul Mahajan, 2003 : Gunpoint Democracy in Iraq

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The Quest for Democracy: An Iraqi Perspective
University of Kassel
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The fight for democracy is a global syndrome. The paper explores the possibilities for Iraq to witness democracy by highlighting the US actions in the fight for democracy.
Quest, Democracy, Iraqi, Perspective
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Dingha Ngoh Fobete (Author), 2005, The Quest for Democracy: An Iraqi Perspective, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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