Post-invasion Iraq: An impossible task, poorly executed

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This article is featured in Orient III/2023.

The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein’s authoritarian regime and to replace it with one based on democracy. The regime was defeated quickly, but twenty years later it is clear that the United States has failed to re-engineer Iraq into a democratic country. This is not surprising because the occupation was poorly planned and executed. More fundamentally, however, it failed because nation-building, that is the deliberate re-engineering of a society, is an impossible task even authoritarian regimes have failed to accomplish.

Marina Ottaway is a Middle East Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a long-time analyst of political transformations in Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East. She is working on a project at the Wilson Center about the countries of the Arab Spring and Iraq, having joined after 14 years at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where she played a central role in launching the Middle East Program. Prior to that, she carried out research in Africa and in the Middle East for many years and taught at Georgetown University, the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, the American University in Cairo, the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, the University of Zambia and Addis Ababa University. Her extensive research experience is reflected in her publications, which include nine authored books and six edited ones. Her most recent include Getting to Pluralism, co-authored with Amr Hamzawy, and Yemen on the Brink, co-edited with Christopher Boucek. While at Carnegie, she supervised its Guide to Egypt’s Transition, a website that provides background and analysis on issues that will shape Egypt’s political future, and Iraqi Elections 2010, an online guide to Iraqi politics. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University.

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