Theses Doctoral

Diminishing Returns: An Anthropological Study of Iraqis in the UK

Saleh, Zainab

This dissertation is an ethnographic study of the Iraqi diasporic community in the UK. It is based on two years of fieldwork research I conducted there between 2006-2008. I approach the formation of the diasporic community in light of utopian visions of a past colored by colonial struggle and high national aspirations, and in light of subsequent political developments that resulted in oppression, exile, and even occupation after 2003. I read the displacement of Iraqis as an example of the failure of the postcolonial state, represented by the emergence of the Baath regime in the 1960s and Saddam Hussein's rise to power in 1979. Throughout, I examine the heightened salience of sectarianism among Iraqis in exile and in Iraq since the 1990s. Instead of understanding sectarianism as a return to traditional loyalties, I argue that it is deeply linked to the issue of power and identity politics, which the Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein's regime in the UK employed while in exile and institutionalized after the fall of the regime in 2003 with the support of the US Administration. This dissertation is, also, an ethnographic study of Iraq, and aims to make up for the dearth in anthropological studies on Iraq during the last four decades. In addition to questions related to exile and life in the UK, I seek to tease out accounts about Iraq, and about life in Iraq under Saddam Hussein's regime. The great majority of Iraqis fled Iraq because of Saddam Hussein's brutal oppression, and they all had family members who were killed, tortured or disappeared. With their hopes of return to Iraq shattered after the 2003 US occupation, these Iraqis have been reliving these tragedies every single day in the UK. This is the reality that travels with, and defines, them. Through the use of life history methodologies with Iraqi exiles from different socioeconomic backgrounds, I document the different social and political scenes prior to and after the late 1970s; the persecution suffered under Saddam Hussein's regime since the late 1970s; the journey to and life in exile in London; relationships among members of the diasporic Iraqi community therein; and the ways in which those in exile reconfigure the past in relation to the present developments.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Messick, Brinkley
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 1, 2013