Nationalism, Sectarianism, and the Future of the U.S. Presence in Post-Saddam Iraq [open pdf - 370KB]
The destruction of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq has opened the path to a new future for Iraqis, although it is not yet certain what direction that future will take. The U.S.-Iraqi War of 2003 did not emerge as a strong test of Iraqi nationalism. While Saddam did have some committed defenders, large segments of the population remained neutral in the confrontation between the U.S.-led coalition and Saddam's defenders. After the war, the United States emerged as a power on probation with the Iraqi population, many of whom were uncertain that their well-being was a major factor in the U.S. decision to intervene and remain in Iraq. Anti-American conspiracy theories became widespread in Iraq, while conservative Muslims worried about the corrupting influence of perceived Western vices. Some attacks against U.S. forces have occurred following the war with most of the violence associated with residual Saddam loyalists from among the Sunni Arab community. The United States needs to search continually for areas of agreement with the nonextremist clergy while also recognizing issues on which collaboration is not possible. U.S. leaders must also support a continued strong information campaign, expand efforts to challenge Iranian activities in Iraq, and provide troops with extensive training in stabilization and occupation duties. Any U.S. efforts to achieve long-term dominance of Iraqi politics can be expected to produce a serious backlash.