Postwar development of civil society in Iraq’s mid-Euphrates vicinity


Although comparatively thriving and stable, the mid-Euphrates vicinity of Iraq has not been successful in producing a civil society that contributes and produces democratic growth. The presumed association between civil society and democratization has been studied extensively at the national level in the Middle East. This report, by contrast, proposes a subnational study of civil society development, arguing that the conditions that foster civil society organizations’ (CSOs) development and that mechanisms linking civil society to democratization are not continued throughout Iraq. By relying on novel data collected by fieldwork and interviews conducted with activists and international aid workers, this report argues that subnational and provincial-level political and social dynamics influenced the differential development of civil society.

The report provides a bird’s-eye view of civil society development in southern Iraq, then focuses on the situations of Karbala and Hillah, which despite sharing many commonalities, have developed different types of CSOs. For example, Hillah has more organizations involved in advocacy and Karbala has more organizations that are involved in charity. This is a consequence of donor patterns in the two cities, where Karbala has tapped into local networks and is responsive to local perceptions of what civil society should look like, while Hillah has been influenced by the role of international organizations in the early 2000s. The two cities, in addition as the rest of the country, are plagued by the issue of “ghost organizations” which are registered only to be eligible for obtainable funding, and then disappear after funding has dried up. Ghost organizations represent one of the many challenges that the international donor communities confront when dealing with civil society in Iraq, in addition to the challenges of identifying and providing training for smaller organizations. There are many challenges that Iraqi activists and local organizations proportion, and the situations of Karbala and Hillah demonstrate how the path from civil society development to democratization is paved with roadblocks. already in areas that are comparatively safe and wealthy, social and economic relics of war and authoritarianism shape how people interact with and view associational life.

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