The Role of Conflict in Shaping Iraqi Identity

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The Role of Conflict in Shaping Iraqi Identity

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Title: The Role of Conflict in Shaping Iraqi Identity
Author: Armstrong, Debra Kalynn ORCID  0000-0002-2027-2164
Citation: Armstrong, Debra Kalynn. 2016. The Role of Conflict in Shaping Iraqi Identity. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
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Abstract: This thesis shows how four sources of conflict have been particularly divisive to Iraqi identity: sectarian legacies, ethnic tensions, internal political conflict, and foreign involvement and intervention. This thesis examines how these four sources of conflict have shaped Iraqi identity, or prevented it from forming, and how this shows up in its society and politics affecting Iraq’s ability to function as a country.

Iraq from its very beginning as Mesopotamia has a long history of conflict, some of which was extremely violent. The inhabitants of Mesopotamia built advanced civilizations, established writing, law, and made advances in the sciences and mathematics. Despite these advances, their civilization was completely demolished by invading forces on multiple occasions continuing through to present day Iraq. Iraq has plentiful oil resources, water, agriculture, and an educated population, yet Iraq struggles to prosper because of the poor decisions of its leaders, wars, corruption, and internal conflicts.

This research is based on first-hand accounts of Iraqi exiles and refugees I interviewed. I located ten individuals to interview through friends and associates, as well as through institutions that help Iraqi refugees settle in the U.S. and that raise awareness of the Kurdish situation. These individuals are from different places in Iraq. One individual still lives in southern Iraq and is working to restore a sense of hope to the country. Many of these individuals left Iraq after 2003, and a few of those who departed earlier went back to work in Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s fall. A few of these individuals continue their work on improving Iraq and make frequent trips back. I asked these individuals questions about their experiences living in Iraq, what they saw and how they feel it affected Iraqi identity and society. I asked them if Iraq has an identity, what they believe that identity is, and what they believe are the problems facing the formation of an Iraqi identity. I also asked them what they think the future of their country is. I obtained the consent of those I interviewed to use their insights and stories for my study and withheld their last names to protect their identities. I also used secondary sources in order to provide context and background for the stories of some of my subjects and to further explain the effects of conflict on identity.

The insights provided by these interviews leads me to conclude that conflict has had a significant impact on identity in Iraq. The deep distrust among the people following years of conflict, violence, inequality, and discrimination is keeping them from working together and instead is pulling the different ethnic and sectarian groups apart. Because of all this conflict, Iraqis are unable to form a trust and devotion to their country that in turn would help them to form a national identity. Instead many Iraqis have lost hope and remain divided along their ethnic and sectarian lines that could lead to Iraq being divided into three federalisms.
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