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Governance and State Building in Iraq


The United States after the Iraq War in 2003, with a vast placement of military force in Iraq anticipated to implement the democratic approach of governance and statebuilding in Iraq. The continued conflict that started from Iraq war, to civil war and now insurgency that is still lasting to this day, the international community’s help to build a Constitution played a crucial role to build Iraq’s better stability in the nation. The international community recognized that overlong conflicts are a big threat for peacebuilding, Iraq needed a strong foundation for governance to build the aspired stability. Through various initiatives and programs, the transitory and permanent constitutional governments were formed, further the government of Iraq drafted and approved reform programs, largely funded by international organizations. The reform initiatives revealed how little Iraqi political elites understand about governance, and how much assistance the government of Iraq required to build a strong footing and to tackle slow recovery process from post-conflict destruction and gender inequality progressions all while religious extremist groups actively participate in insurgency. The turmoil that Iraq is facing for over a decade not only revealed external instability but also internal instability—as evident from gender inequality stagnation. Over in-depth analysis of post-conflict governance and statebuilding programs and current status of gender equality initiatives, the overall stakes of peacebuilding in Iraq is evaluated.


The short 21 days of Iraq war in 2003 led to a big vacancy of power caused by sudden collapse, which had resulted in weeks of virtual anarchy. The citizens of Iraq quickly turned to United States to regulate the situation and subsequently, the United States’ inability to manage the downfall led to a resentment. Iraqi forces had dissolved away rather than being properly dismissed by invading forces, thus the lack of immediate humanitarian aid and reconstruction efforts for Iraqis led to another cause of resentment. Iraqis suffering from the invasion wanted new ways of governance as they suffered from Saddam Hussein’s highly centralized state authority previously. However, the United States did not make firm efforts to aid in effects of the suppression, and rather caused suspicions about United States’ long-term intentions. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was established in Iraq as a transitional government using United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483 and the laws of war. The Resolution was drafted by United States and co-sponsored by the United Kingdom and Spain, and was approved by security councils of United Nations. The Security Council emphasized on the root cause of the war (disarmament of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction) and for citizens of Iraq to determine their own future of the political governance that could afford human rights and equal justice system especially on women’s rights by recalling United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. Subsequently, the Council determined that United Nations play a vital role in reconstruction, humanitarian relief, and institutional development in Iraq. The Council also affirmed United States and United Kingdom as an occupying power to commit toward stability of Iraq as the situation in Iraq remained a threat to international peace and security. As such, the resolution resolved many post-war institutional ambiguities resulted from Iraq War in 2003, by recognizing the development of transitional government from executive, legislative, and judicial authority, and detaching all sanctions against Iraq that was previously under the regime of Saddam Hussein. The resolution consequently allowed Iraq’s oil revenue to transfer from United Nations to a Development Fund for Iraq controlled by CPA as the government of Iraq heavily relied to oil revenue, and created International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB) to manage the expenditure. The CPA was the only authorizing element to expend the fund for the benefits of Iraqi citizens, however, was criticized for failing to implement adequate controls for expenditures in an open and transparent manner as authorized.

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As such, there had been various efforts from United States and international community to support creating a governmental element in Iraq under democracy. From before the start of the conflict, Western states intended to act as a caretaker to institutionalize Iraqi government under democracy, as evident from United States government’s establishment of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA). The CPA which was in charge of the establishment was created and funded as a division of the United States Department of Defense.


Governance and Statebuilding

Privatization of Iraq’s Economy: CPA Orders 17, 12, 49, 54, 57

Prior to Iraq War in 2003, Iraq had a centrally planned economy, which prevented foreign ownership of businesses, majority of large industries were state-run entities by imposing large charges on foreign goods. The CPA post-conflict period quickly issued an order 39 on Foreign Investment that allowed foreign investor to make profit with no limit, and to “transfer abroad without delay all funds associated with its foreign investment, including shares or profits and dividends…”[1] This order drastically converted Iraq’s economy, allowed foreign investors to unlimitedly and unrestrictedly place no limitations on the expatriation of profit. The order was designed to create as favorable as possible toward foreign investors, providing them with a place to dominate Iraq’s economy as evident in the conclusion of the order, “Where an international agreement to which Iraq is a party provides for more favorable terms with respect to foreign investors undertaking investment activities in Iraq, the more favorable terms under the international agreement shall apply.”

Subsequently, CPA Order 17 was passed in 2006 to provide protection to foreign employees that especially directs toward United States Department of Defense, stating that contractors shall not be subject to Iraqi laws or regulations in matters relating all legal processes, from any kind of suit, civil or criminal, for any actions engaged in within Iraq.[2]

Conversely to Iraqi government functions on foreign investors prior to conflict, CPA Order 49 granted tax cut for foreign corporations operating in Iraq reducing from maximum of 40% to 15% on income and corporations working with CPA were exempt from such taxes.[3] The tariff on foreign producers that incentivized domestic Iraqi producers were suspended, by CPA Order 12 afterwards.

Critics present such efforts of international organizations to institutionalize under democracy, drafting orders on economy, and all others essentially limiting Iraqi citizens as a deciding factor are principally anti-democratic. It is not for United States or any other country or coalition of countries to decide what laws and policies that citizens of Iraq must live by, and such rules are primarily in effect and legitimate if passed by an elected Iraqi government free of foreign occupation and domination. Especially on CPA Order 57 that provided Iraq the appointment of Inspector General within each Iraqi ministry, critics assert that this is a mechanism for continuing United States presence on Iraqi governance even after the legitimate transfer of all sovereignty to the country after the war.

Recovery and Reconstruction Initiatives

The CPA, to provide reconstruction initiatives to mitigate food and water insecurity in Iraq, awarded contracts to American firms. For example, Bechtel was awarded to repair Iraq’s sewage and drinking water plants as an essential reconstruction, yet today many Iraqi citizens remain adequate supplies of electricity and drinking water. Evidently, funds for reconstruction had been shifted to barely meet the security requirements from what initial contracted required them to meet. Furthermore, such recovery and reconstruction initiatives face with insurgent activities that intentionally destruct the rebuilding process. The insurgency significantly slows down the progress of reconstruction, and faces setbacks to adjust long-term project goals to provide necessary security measures in excess of that originally planned. Regardless, there’s various small to big long-term projects organized by international organizations that particularly aims at reconstructing of governance in Iraq.

There are two recent initiatives from international community that attempt at mitigating previous critiques of not having effective measures to account for long-term recovery projects. Firstly, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) launched the two-year Recovery and Resilience Programme (RRP) in partnership with Iraqi government and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The Programme is designed to “fast-track the social dimensions of reconstruction, to ensure that people see tangible improvements in their daily lives at the start of the reconstruction process, rather than waiting years to benefit from large-scale infrastructure projects and structural reforms.”[4] The RRP is an over-arching programme that aims at building a firm governance platform with supports from international organizations. The key players are United Nations and the Government of Iraq, to reach the objectives that was set out in the country’s Vision 2030 and the Government’s National Framework for Reconstruction and Development. The RRP consists of nine components:

  1. Preventing violent extremism
  2. Revitalizing communities
  3. Restoring agriculture and water systems
  4. Promoting sustainable returns
  5. Decentralizing basic services
  6. Supporting survivors
  7. Engaging youth
  8.  Expanding political participation
  9. Promoting community reconciliation

The first three aims to implement in highly at-risk communities with violent extremism. As such, Iraq partnered with international organizations to build the capacity to provide a recovery procedure that could last by tackling from the institutional level down to the community level. This program currently has the largest budget allocation in Iraq as of fiscal year 2018.

Secondly, starting the fiscal year 2017, the project by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was introduced to better respond to citizen needs by supporting reform initiatives and Iraq’s changes on inclusive governance and public sector transparency, accountability, and economy.[5] Learning from previous critics, the pace of reform initiatives is dictated by the government of Iraq, to aim to build a capacity for service delivery functions, public financial management, and open government initiatives. Along with UNAMI’s RRP, the partnership of local communities and the government is crucial to jointly resolve current problems of ongoing fiscal and security crises. The IGPA recognizes improved governance as a key factor to national unity and security, particularly focuses on stabilization in areas liberated from Da’esh (Islamic State of Iraq, or ISIS) that has undermined the nation’s territorial integrity and displaced more than 3.2 million persons. The objective of IGPA intends to deliver democracy to ordinary people. Iraq did not have adequate support to internal reformation prior to IGPA implementation and RRP. IGPA assistance targets budget planning and fiscal management through internal and external controls—the term “public services” includes and is not limited to: electricity, fire services, waste management, water, telecommunication, social services, education, public transportation, social housing, planning, protection health, taxation and etc. IGPA’s reform initiative is under the support of International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Stand-By Arrangement and World Bank loans. Such external funds are generated domestically through tax and fee resources and allocated toward socially optimal and economically reasonable investments; IGPA’s Domestic Resource Mobilization plays a critical role for accountability. Previous CPA’s letdown for fund transparency and inadequate allocation issue that caused distrust between the government of Iraq and its citizens is mitigated by IGPA’s initiative.

Lack of Internal initiatives for governance

There have been various degrees of implementation of democratic governance systems in Iraq. Though these attempts, the majority of initiatives were handled by and for external organizations, rather than initiatives placed internally to engage own local political parties and functioning parliament for the benefit of the citizens. The prolonged conflicts that affected the functioning of the government to this day carries the overall public dissatisfaction toward emerging inadequate and insufficiently represented institution that Iraq currently holds. The internal initiative was not until USAID’s recognition and implementation of IGPA that adequately addressed the need for stronger foundation in place for Iraq. Ironically, compared to other post-conflict states, Iraq did not have a major peace agreement that addressed clear guidelines and firm objectives from aiding states like United States. Iraq essentially anticipated clear guidelines from United States as in the eyes of Iraq, United States came to Iraq with sufficient plans after a destruction. Contrarily, the state essentially had asked for state capacity building after the war in 2003 to address a destruction of system, to adequately replace with a stronger basis in place of Saddam Hussein’s regime. However, the CPA orders, recovery initiatives and fuzzy external funding placements ambiguously did not put Iraq in a better place. The international community’s written program objectives were all allegedly to focus on ensuring strengthened participatory mechanisms such as long-term electoral processes, national dialogue across assemblies and legislative decision-making processes, however, 16 years post-war Iraq government still is working toward the same objective to this day.

Gender in Iraq

The people of Iraq have suffered the consequences of such aforementioned economic stagnation and inability to access to essential services due to conflicts, and had led to take its toll on Iraqi women and girls. Previously before 1980s women and girls witnessed better access to education, healthcare and employment, but such conditions started to deteriorate after the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Further problems were imposed after the First Gulf War following immediately after the Iran-Iraq war, the position and security for them deteriorated even more. The rise of ISIS insurgency and movement costed women suffering from more violence compared to men directly and indirectly due to societal customs and norms set by deteriorated women’s moralities. Highly conservative and patriarchal culture in Iraq worsened along the economic deterioration. According to the UN Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit, government expenditure for 2013 totaled $118.3 billion, an increase of 18 percent over 2012 and exceeding 70 percent of GDP. The budget has three main areas: energy, security/defense and social services, accounting for 21 percent, 14 percent and 13 percent of the total budget respectively.[6] There is little to no allocation on education and human rights initiative. Iraq ranked 123rd out of 188 countries on the UN Gender Inequality Index (GII), thus there is great need to accelerate efforts to meet national targets for gender inequality.[7] According to Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), women’s representation in Iraq showed increased number in the last decade from 25.3% of seats in parliament in 2017 from 7.6% in 2000. Moreover, 28.2% of women aged 12 years or older are illiterate, despite increased number of girls’ enrollment in primary education. The illiteracy percentage shows more than double the male rate of 13%.[8]

Since post-war in 2003, there has been various degrees of success to implement democratic governance systems. Through these attempts, elections have been held several times, a functioning parliament is in place, and political parties are engaged in national and local politics in Iraq. However, there is overall public dissatisfaction toward emerging institutions which is seen as inadequate, insufficiently represented, and operating below objectives set by international aiding organizations.

Iraq adopted a new Constitution in 2005 to set guidelines and encourage public participation among citizens. The Constitution states in Article 14 that all Iraqis are equal before the law and prohibits discrimination based on sex. However, the Constitution also states Islam as the basic source of legislation and forbids the passing of laws contradictory to its “established ruling,” and Article 41 allows each religious group in Iraq to govern its own personal status matters.[9] As such, women in Iraq are very contingent on Islamic law and on the priorities and interpretations of male religious authorities. In 1986, Iraq ratified the most important international treaty related to gender equality: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1986, but has yet to ratify the Optional Protocol on violence against women.[10] Iraq participates in numerous international human rights conventions, however, substantial impediments to domestic compliance with treaty obligations remain uncertain. In 2014, 107 Iraqi women’s networks of NGOs, in cooperation with the Iraqi Women Journalists’ Forum, held a press conference to release the first shadow report on Iraq in compliance with the CEDAW convention. This was the first shadow report submitted by civil-society organizations to the CEDAW Committee since Iraq signed the convention in 1986. The current biased legislative establishments do not guarantee women of their rights, and illustrate the need for legislative change combined with feasible enforcement mechanisms to bring full compliance.

In relevance to governance and its effect on gender, the adoption of new Constitution revealed some efforts toward equality. The current Constitution in Iraq replaced the previous CPA’s Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period (TAL) in 2005. 70 women participated in 2005, with a ratio of 25.8 percent in the House of Representatives, but only two women out of 27 (only 7 percent) participated in the selection of committee modifying the Constitution.[11] In many aspects the Constitution ensures equality, through Article 14, Article 20, and Article 30. Article 14 prohibits discrimination based on “gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, origin, color, religion, sect, belief or opinion, or economic or social status” to guarantee basic human rights to all Iraqi women. Article 20 ensures universal suffrage for both male and female citizens and further states that they shall have the right to participate in public affairs and to enjoy political rights, including right to vote, elect, and run for office. Article 30 specifically states the security for women and children, by recognizing their disadvantage. It establishes that the state “shall guarantee to the individual and the family—especially children and women—social and health security, the basic requirements for living a free and decent life, and shall secure for them suitable income and appropriate housing.”[12] Moreover, slavery, slave trade, trafficking in women and children, and forced labor are prohibited by the Constitution. Similar to the United States’ Constitution, Iraq was able to draft a comparable Constitution that guarantees basic rights for all persons with the help of the international community.

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Some aspects in the Constitution and national laws are contradictory toward women. While Article 20 guarantees women’s right to vote and run for office, Article 2 states that “Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation” and “No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam”[13] that often contradicts one another against women. For instance, nowhere in the Constitution mentions a very important right as a woman; the right to choose a partner, and any family-related rights surrounding marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance. Islamic scholars may agree that a woman may inherit from her father, but the share she can receive is unclear. Such uncertainties between the Constitution and national laws are shown in Iraq’s citizenship rights as well; the Constitution grants women the right to give their children Iraqi citizenship (Article 18). However, the Citizenship Law (Article 4) then specifies that children born to an Iraqi mother abroad, or to an unknown father or without any other nationality can be granted Iraqi citizenship at 19 years old but not citizenship at birth. Additionally, Article 5 that grants a right to a non-Iraqi man who was born in Iraq to a father who was also born in Iraq to apply for citizenship, but the same does not apply for women.[14] The Constitution establishes a federal system through decentralized capital, regions and governorates, but the functioning do not specifically ensure women’s rights or any mechanisms on the local level.

The Kurdistan Region

The Important aspect regarding governance in Iraq in regards to gender inequality can be learnt from Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdistan is an autonomous region in Iraq as officially recognized in 2003 and is followed by the Iraqi Constitution. Since the Kurdistan Regional Government’s formation, has consistently expressed its desire to comply with international standards and in the rule of law and governance. The Kurdistan Regional Government’s initiative to improve gender equality is distinctive, by establishing new institutional bodies to deal specifically with women’s issues and support gender mainstreaming in policy-making, such as the Special Directory to follow up on cases of violence against women, and domestic violence courts in all three Kurdish governorates. The Kurdish government also established the High Council of Women’s Affairs to develop government policies and strategies regarding women’s issues in political, economic, cultural and empowerment areas in 2010.


Various international organizations’ interventions for governance and statebuilding in an overlong post-conflict country Iraq provided many aspects of engagement and ownership to develop and sustain. With them, Iraq was able to establish a new Constitution to ensure basic gender equality. Although several current unsafe activities from extremist groups and numerous and lengthy continuous conflict make Iraq harder for an initiative to uphold, hence the need for more concrete foundation from international organizations to sustain long-term rather than a project-based momentary intervention. The short-term projects presented with many external involvements between international organizations and the government of Iraq, which instilled too much of western neoliberal peacebuilding processes rather than recognizing inequality and the brokenness inside the state. Gender equality is a big predictor of peace—because gender justice means building collective power rather than imbalanced dominating power. The inequality to social, political and economic opportunity between women and men increase risks of state instability and internal disputes. For Iraq to ultimately come to peace, it is essential that all peacebuilding elements pay attention to inequality such as gender inequality and human rights to ensure that Iraq comes to an end to an extensive internal conflict that is continuing since 16 years ago.


[1] “Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 39 Foreign Investment.” The Coalition Provisional Authority (September 2003). https://govinfo.library.unt.edu/cpa-iraq/regulations/20031220_CPAORD_39_Foreign_Investment_.pdf.

[2] “Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 17 Status of The Coalition Provisional Authority, MNF – IRAQ, Certain Missions and Personnel in Iraq” The Coalition Provisional Authority (June 2004). https://govinfo.library.unt.edu/cpa-iraq/regulations/20040627_CPAORD_17_Status_of_Coalition__Rev__with_Annex_A.pdf.

[3] “Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 49 Tax Strategy for 2004 withAnnex A and Explanatory Notes” The Coalition Provisional Authority (February 2004). https://govinfo.library.unt.edu/cpa-iraq/regulations/20040220_CPAORD_49_Tax_Strategy_of_2004_with_Annex_and_Ex_Note.pdf.

[4] “Iraq Recovery and Resilience Programme” United Nations (January 2018). http://www.uniraq.org/images/documents/RRP/Brochure_Chapeau_31_Jan_2018.pdf

[5] “Statement of Objectives: Iraq Governance and Performance Accountability (IGPA) Project” United States Agency for International Development (July 2016). https://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/j-1_statement_of_objectives.pdf

[6] “Women in Iraq Fact Sheet” Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit (March 2014). http://nina-iraq.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Women-In-Iraq-Fact-sheet-English.pdf

[7] “UN Gender Inequality Index” United Nations Development Programme Human Development Reports (2016). http://www.hdr.undp.org/en/composite/GII

[8] “Women in National Politics” Inter-Parliamentary Union (February 2019). http://archive.ipu.org/wmn-e/arc/classif010219.htm

[9] Ahmed, Huda (2010) ‘Iraq’, in Sanja Kelly and Julia Breslin, eds., (2010) Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, Freedom House, New York, NY; Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD

[10] “Overview of the Convention” United Nations Entity for Geder Equality and the Empowerment of Women (2008). https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/

[11]“National Action Plan for Implementation of the United Nation Security Council Resolution 1325 Women, Peace and Security 2014-2018” Iraqi National Action Plan (2018). http://iraqnap1325.org/images/PDFfiles/masterplans/nationalActionplan/NatinalActionPlanArabic&English-1325.pdf

[12] “Iraqi Constitution” Library of Congress (October 2005). https://wipolex.wipo.int/en/text/230000

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.


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