Thomas Sommer-Houdeville. Photo: Stockholm University
Thomas Sommer-Houdeville. Photo: Stockholm University

– You cannot understand what is happening in the whole region now, if you don’t try to understand what happened before in Iraq, says Thomas Sommer–Houdeville, newly appointed PhD in Sociology at the Department of Sociology.

His research begins with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which marked the end of the long and bloody Ba’athist dictatorship led by Saddam Hussein. Then, there is a chain of events that led up to today’s situation, with different militias fighting each other and the ongoing battle against Daesh in Mosul. First, there is the destruction of the Iraqi state and the reconstruction of a neoliberal market state by the US. Second, they split up the political power based on ethnicity and religious identity. And third, since the US uses a maximum amount of violence to impose the new system, there is the rise of what Thomas Sommer-Houdeville calls a “system of violence”.

How did this happen? Since the beginning, the US authorities and the new Iraqi elite were lacking the legitimacy that was essential to make the Iraqi population accept the new political process and the economic system they wanted to impose.

– Therefore, the US authorities resorted to an incredible amount of coercion to impose their vision of the new Iraq. They also raised the kinetic power, weapons and the men at arms, of their Iraqi allies, says Thomas Sommer-Houdeville.

However, the neo-liberal project in Iraq ended up with an intensified economic crisis, an important contraction of resources and a corrupted, failed state without legitimacy. The result is the rise of a system of violence as a main tool to resolve conflict, where the actors that have the upper hands are networks of violence: the Iraqi political elites and specialists in violence - militia, gangs, police and army.

When the US-led occupation introduced a quota sharing system of the political power based on ethno-sectarianism, it was the first time in Iraqi history that power was based on community. Despite how it has sometimes been portrayed, the following ethno-sectarian violence and boundary making is not an effect of inherent conflicts or old hatreds between different ethnic or religious groups. On the opposite, it was an effect of the whole system imposed after the invasion, Thomas Sommer-Houdeville argues.

– When you have this system of violence and you merge it with this new ethno-sectarian political system, then in turn you have a massive wave of ethno-sectarian violence and civil war in 2005-2007, he says.

What are the implications of your findings for today’s situation in Iraq?
– We are still in the same system, with a failed state. The most important actors remain the militia and the security apparatus, and that’s a huge problem. Now everybody is focusing on Daesh and the Mosul battle, but the big question is – what will happen after that?, says Thomas Sommer-Houdeville.

If there is going to be a solution for Iraq, a disentanglement of the different mixed and stuck conflicts needs to take place.

– This means solutions at the local level inside Iraq, at a regional level involving Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia and, an international settlement with the US, Russia and Europe, he states.

More about the research

The thesis “Remaking Iraq: Neoliberalism and a System of Violence after the US invasion, 2003-2011” by Thomas Sommer-Houdeville can be downloaded here.