Posted on 22 May 2023
This article analyses the nature of the legitimacy deficits of the post-2003 Iraqi state and the grounds upon which alternative political orders have been proposed. The theoretical framework groups possible changes into three types: redistribution, regime change and secession. Empirically, the article illustrates these dynamics through two contemporary challenges to the Iraqi state: the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and the Tishreen protest movement. The intention is not to compare and contrast the two, as they are widely divergent types of alternative orders, but rather to reflect on the nature of their grievances against the Iraqi state, and the role of identity in shaping their alternative visions. The article argues that identity is key to understanding both the perceived legitimacy failures of the state and the political alternatives proposed, but also efforts by the political elite to delegitimise these challenges to the state. Finally, the Iraqi case demonstrates that the role of identity in legitimation is fluid and contingent rather than static and deterministic, with the salience of different identities shifting over time and being affected by other forms of legitimacy.