Tackling Iraq’s unaccountable state

A networked approach to mobilizing reformers
Research paper Updated 30 May 2024 Published 11 December 2023 ISBN: 978 1 78413 591 1 DOI: 10.55317/9781784135911
Photo of protesters in Baghdad

The US-led invasion and occupation may have brought Iraq some of the trappings of a liberal democracy, such as competitive multi-party elections and citizen freedoms, but it did not ensure the rule of law or political accountability. Instead, the country’s post-2003 ethno-sectarian power-sharing system facilitated state capture and corruption that guaranteed impunity for members of the elite..

Seeking to overcome the democracy gap, Iraqi reformers and their international partners have devoted substantial attention and funding to technical capacity-building across varying sectors, but a lack of political will has consistently impeded their work.

To address this problem, this paper proposes an alternative approach to mobilizing support for systemic reform in Iraq – one that frames political ‘accountability’ in terms of leveraging the implicit social contract between the ruling elite and ordinary citizens. It proposes the establishment of an ‘accountability working group’ to connect and empower networks of prospective reformers across state and society. This is necessary to complement many ongoing reform programmes, such as those that seek to diversify economic opportunity, ensure a coherent chain of command in the security sector or address acute climate risks.