Cultural Destruction and Identity Politics: Targeting the History of Iraq
Since its inception in 1921, a number of successive regimes have sought to politicize Iraq's cultural history in order to develop national identity and foster social cohesion across this rich and complex nation. Foremost among these were the Baath party, particularly under the rule of Saddam Hussein, who used much of the nation's Oil wealth to undergo an extensive nation-building campaign. However, identity in Iraq is far from monolithic and various factions have long resisted the state sanctioned version of "Iraqi" identity and asserted alternative histories and narratives to underpin their own identity politics. With the invasion of Iraq by Coalition forces in 2003, however, came an unprecedented era of cultural destruction. Following the devastation of the battle phase of the war, there were further attacks on Iraq's cultural heritage including everything from the carefully choreographed removal of the giant bronze statue of Saddam in Firdos square, through to military bases set up at sensitive archaeological sites such as the ancient city of Babylon. In addition, Iraqi civilians targeted the cultural history of their nation with wanton looting and arson, as well as systematic attacks on sites of archaeological or ethno-religious significance. More recently, the Shia and Kurdish dominated Iraqi Government have organised the "Committee for Removing Symbols of the Saddam Era" and drew up plans to purge the state of its Sunni dominated past. This paper argues that the unprecedented scale and magnitude of the destruction of Iraq's cultural history has played a part in eroding the various intersecting and overlapping versions of identity politics in Iraq. In turn, this has provided fertile ground for terrorists and sectarians to plant the seeds of their own narrow and deadly ideologies. This has brought about the rise of ethno-religious based violence and seen a series of bloody and protracted conflicts emerge between previously peaceful and compatible factions. In this way, Iraq serves as a powerful case study in furthering academic discussion on the complex inter-relationships between cultural and historical destruction and identity politics, sectarianism, violence and democracy.
Middle East Studies Association
Asian Cultural Studies