Dr. Machlis is a senior lecturer in Middle East Studies at Bar-Ilan University, Israel.
Regime change in Iraq provided a new opportunity for Shiis and Kurds to create a new power-sharing system. These two persecuted communities embraced a democratic-federal system based on a combined civic and ethnocultural model. Analyzing this new alliance, this article argues that there were prominent forces within both communities that did not uphold an essentialist sense of identity, thus providing a basis for mutual recognition, as reflected in the new constitution. However, while in theory there was room for mitigating sectarian and ethnic boundaries, in practice, the differences assumed a much larger place, as reflected in the power struggle between Baghdad and Erbil. The process of unifying Iraq lacked an in-depth debate over the place of diverse national narratives, together with an effort toward people-to-people contact. Concurrently, the struggle against the jihadists enhanced Shii-Kurdish interdependency, while the battle of Kirkuk led to greater pragmatism. Post-2003 Iraq provides a challenging case of democratization and regime change, due to the need for a delicate balancing act between power and multiple visions of religion and ethnic identity while contemplating multiple visions of nationalism.
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