Theses Doctoral

From Dictatorship to Democracy: Iraq under Erasure

Shaheen, Abeer

This dissertation examines the American project in Iraq between 1991 and 2006. It studies the project's conceptual arc, shifting ontology, discourses, institutions, practices, and technologies in their interrelatedness to constitute a new Iraq. It is an ethnography of a thixotropic regime of law and order in translation; a circuit through various landscapes and temporalities to narrate the 1991 war, the institutionalization of sanctions and inspection regimes, material transformations within the American military, the 2003 war and finally the nation-building processes as a continuous and unitary project. The dissertation makes three central arguments: First, the 2003 war on Iraq was imagined through intricate and fluid spaces and temporalities. Transforming Iraq into a democratic regime has served as a catalyst for transforming the American military organization and the international legal system. Second, this project has reordered the spatialized time of Iraq by the imposition of models in translation, reconfigured and reimagined through a realm of violence. These models have created in Iraq a regime of differential mobility, which was enabled through an ensemble of experts, new institutions and calculative technologies. Third, this ensemble took Iraq as its object of knowledge and change rendering Iraq and Iraqis into a set of abstractions within the three spaces under examination: the space of American military institutions; the space of international legality within the United Nations; and, lastly, the material space of Baghdad.

Part one examines the pre-invasion political, military, and legal practices that enabled the 2003 invasion and the so-called nation-building projects that ensued. In the American military space, the dissertation focuses on the 1991 and the 2003 military campaigns and operations and traces both campaigns in Iraq in terms of discourses of spatialization and temporalization to historicize the emergences of the so-called `revolution in military affairs' and its progression to a full-fledged theory of cyber-war renowned as network-centric warfare (NCW). In the UN space, this dissertation studies the forms of sovereignty that emerged through the political, legal, and military processes of the 1990s and early 2000s. The 1991 military campaign; post-1991 deployment of the United Nations' authority in order to establish, as an institution, the sanctions and inspection regimes; the 2003 invasion itself; and, finally, the re-siting of the Iraqi Archive: These events are the work of various technologies of violence and control which led to extensive asymmetrical movements of people and things in and about Iraq resituating the sovereignty of the state not within the territorial borders of Iraq but at the level of the globe.

Part two studies the post-invasion regime of law and order imposed by the American occupation, its role in reconfiguring the architectural and social space of Baghdad, the identity of the city's population, and the persistent crisis in which the city was subsumed. The Iraqi legal system was flattened and remade with speed and intensity as a prerequisite for a new democratic Iraq creating a new set of laws to be administered by reorganized government institutions, and a new lexicon of political categories that has divided the city's population and mapped them onto the divided city-scape. In Bagdad's urban space, architectural barriers, empowered by new technologies of surveillance, targeting and identifications, have become a permanent element of the post-invasion system as spatial signifiers of law and order.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Mitchell, Timothy P.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 5, 2015