Panel 3F

Iraq: Resistance, Displacement, and Identity

16.15 – 18.15
Chair: Christine Allison, University of Exeter

Yezidis and the Subjectivity of Smallness

Christine Allison, University of Exeter

The Yezidis are a predominantly Kurdish-speaking endogamous religious minority who received international coverage when their communities on Mount Sinjar were attacked and forcibly displaced by so-called ‘Islamic State’ in 2014. Many have since fled Iraq to join diasporic communities which face an uncertain future. Debates over their identity are highly sensitive; Kurdish national authorities claim they are ‘Kurdish’ or even ‘the original Kurds’ whilst many Sinjaris reject Kurdish identity in protest at the Kurdish government’s failure to protect Sinjar.  However, Yezidi ethnic affiliation has always been variable and subject to political vagaries. Analysing discourse gathered from Yezidis in Iraq and the Caucasus over the last 25 years, plus material gathered by other scholars, I will argue that identity is for most Yezidis constructed much more around their ‘smallness’ or relative numerical weakness and the suffering which this has incurred than around wider belongings or even around religious beliefs, practices or principles.  Even before the massacres, abductions and enslavements of 2014, the community already preserved a memory of ’72 persecutions.’ Conversations from 25 years ago show that the themes of persecution, suffering, encirclement and fear were already long established alongside their discourse of separateness from the rest of humanity, well before the current crisis of sectarianism in Iraq.   This invites comparison with studies of the other endogamous religions currently threatened by the crisis in the Middle East (such as the Mandaeans) who also foreground the issues of ‘smallness’, encirclement and fear of the outsider gaze.

British Policymaking and Material Conditions in Southern Iraq, 1914-1921

Scott Jones, DePaul University

This paper is an investigation of the Arab revolt in southern Iraq during 1920, and the role played by key social and political actors in this process. At the time, the former territories of Ottoman Mesopotamia were suspended in a moment of historical transition after the conclusion of the First World War. At stake was whether the former Ottoman provinces of Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul would become a British colony or enter a process of becoming a unified nation state under the influence of a Woodrow Wilson-led project of national self-determination spearheaded by the Versailles Treaty of 1919 and the newly established League of Nations (LN). This paper will focus on the causes and the dynamics of the 1920 revolt to answer a series of inter-related questions. Why did this rebellion occur in southern Iraq? Why did tribal sheikhs, Shi’i ulema, former Ottoman military officers, and nationalists rebel in this region on such a massive scale, and not elsewhere? 1920 was a moment of historical transition, when nascent mobilizing ideologies such as communism, Arab nationalism, Iraqi nationalism, politicized Shi’ism, Pan-Islamism, British neocolonial notions of trusteeship over mandated territories, along with geopolitical concerns over British imperial sphere of influence were at odds with each other. This investigation will reveal the complexities and lasting contradictions characteristic to the emergence of modern nation states. Further, by focusing on specific grievances over a set of imposed policies, in a specific locale the thesis will aim to provide a more complex micro-historical analysis than the prevalent narratives of Iraqi national formation and British colonial history.

Rethinking Ba‘thist Neo-Tribalism: The Northern Roots of Saddam Hussein’s Tribal Policies

Yaniv Voller, University of Kent

One of the features ascribed to the Ba‘th regime in Iraq is that of neo-tribalism. It was Amatzia Baram who used the term first in 1997, to explain Saddam Hussein’s invention and re-invention, of tribal traditions with the purpose of the regime’s survival following its defeat in the 1991 Gulf War. Baram’s hypothesis of the emergence of neo-tribalism in the 1990s has been widely accepted among scholars of Ba‘thist Iraq. New materials, which have become available following the opening of the Ba‘th Archives, shed new light on Ba‘thist neo-tribalism. While this policy, as Baram argues, indeed appeared in central and southern Iraq in the early 1990s, the documents reveal that they had actually been first implemented in northern Iraq already in the late 1970s and 1980s. Practices associated with neo-tribalism, such as granting unprecedented authority to local tribal leaders, mobilisation of tribal forces and integration of tribal customs into state law, were all implemented in the northern provinces. They were implemented primarily, but not exclusively, among the non-Arab, and especially Kurdish, communities. My paper examines the implementation of neo-tribalism in northern Iraq, using documents available at the Northern Iraq Dataset at the Hoover Institution. The reality depicted in these documents can provide us with insights that go well beyond the question of tribalism in Iraq. Most importantly, the practice of neo-tribalism in Iraq implies that the Ba‘th regime may have viewed northern Iraq as a test case for policies it intended to implement in other parts of Iraq.

Internal Population Displacement in Iraq: Containment, Surveillance and Reproduction of Violence

Deniz Gökalp, American University in Dubai

Drawing on fieldwork and limited existing literature, this paper aims to provide a provisional analysis of continuities and ruptures in the socio-spatial patterns of internal displacement in Iraq since 2003. Population movements show the complex entanglement of power and social relations in a given geography and serves as an indicator of geopolitics involving containment, control and oppression (Hyndman 2012). The presence of multiple political actors struggling for control over a given geography indicates their lack of sole capacity to eliminate rivalry and the perceived threat of alternative collective identities. Therefore, human mobility is a strategy for population control and easy surveillance for the ruling political powers, but also a physical and political survival strategy for the displaced given the precariousness of their human security in the face of competing ruling actors. Focusing on the situation of the Iraqi nationals in the KRI (Kurdish Region of Iraq), this paper presents an investigation of the socio-political repercussions of internal displacement in terms of social exclusion, violence against the displaced Iraqis, and containment and population control practices by various power actors in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.  Furthermore, this paper aims to examine the socio-political impact of high displaced Iraqi concentration on economic inequalities and ethnic tensions in the KRG-controlled (Kurdish Regional Government) areas in the region.