Iraq: the best of openDemocracy, 2002-04

David Hayes
29 June 2004

openDemocracy’s coverage of the extension of the “war on terror” to Iraq, the bitter worldwide convulsions this would cause, and the subsequent problems of occupation and insurgency, began as early as 15 October 2001 – seventeen months before the United States-led invasion. On that date, our international security columnist Paul Rogers concluded his second weekly column with the words: “While all the attention is being paid to the conflict in Afghanistan, it is worth watching Iraq”.

Iraq: a unique compilation

Handover: rarely has a simple word had such complex associations. To help you make sense of Iraq pre- and post-handover we have pulled together twenty of openDemocracy's most insightful, thought-provoking and prescient pieces from the past two years. We have combined current content and many past subscriber-only features to create a rare compilation.

From frontline reports inside besieged Fallujah, to Paulo Coelho's letter to President Bush, you'll find views and voices that no one else has brought together in this way.

This special feature is a new subscriber benefit. If you have not yet subscribed please do so now to gain full access to it.

By 20 February 2002, Paul Rogers’s column “The coming war with Iraq” provided further, unmatched insight for openDemocracy readers.

Iraqi voices

As the propaganda battles and diplomatic manoeuvrings intensified in late 2002, openDemocracy provided its distinctive context for understanding by featuring the voices of Iraqis themselves. The dialogue between two generations, featuring the veteran scholar and writer on Shi’a politics, Faleh Jabar, and the young organiser of the Iraqi Prospect Organisation, Yasser Alaskary, was an early example as they clashed over whether or not to support a United States overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

This developed into our major Iraqi voices debate, which published the analysis and arguments of a diverse array of Iraqis before, during and after the war of March-April 2003 – from Yahia Said based in the London School of Economics and the Kurdish media worker Ayub Nuri, from the scholar Sami Zubaida to Tamara Chalabi, Harvard graduate and daughter of Washington’s then-favoured presidential candidate, from the young student Raeid Jewad to the satirist Khalid Kishtainy.

Perhaps the two best examples of this project were published as the handover of sovereignty to Iraq approached in June 2004. First, a roundtable discussion with six Iraqis from different backgrounds; the result is a compelling dialogue in which Kurdish, Shi’a, Sunni and women’s perspectives from within the Iraqi national community express their ideas and hopes in a dialogue that is clear, sophisticated, surprising, and – in its careful, non-dogmatic atmosphere – even moving.

Second, the article from Baghdad by Haider Saeed decoding a summit photo of world leaders in which three Arab/Islamic presidents wear “traditional” dress offers an incisive view of American power and weakness from an Iraqi telescopic lens, whose author survived the Saddam years.

Iraq in the geopolitical mirror

openDemocracy marked the approach of war with a series of arguments over its legality and merits involving analysts from France, Germany, India, Turkey, Japan, the United States and Britain.

Peter David, foreign editor of the Economist, Frank Vibert of the European Policy Forum, Christopher Hitchens, and Matthew d’Ancona, deputy editor of the Sunday Telegraph saw “pre-emptive war” in the context of 21st century dangers; by contrast, Saul Landau of the Institute for Policy Studies, Edward Mortimer of the United Nations, Steven Lukes of New York University, Michael Naumann of Die Zeit and Patrice de Beer of Le Monde examined the impulses behind US neo-conservative ambition.

The war was clearly becoming a global, geopolitical event. Murat Belge, Rajeev Bhargava and Takashi Inoguchi explored the impact of Iraq on the interplay between their country’s – Turkey, India, and Japan respectively – domestic politics and the international arena, especially their relationship with the United States.

Meanwhile, as protests against impending war mounted in the streets of cities around the world, we marked the wave of dissent with a series of articles from protestors and observers – from Rosemary Bechler’s and Sarah Lindon’s reflections on the multiple meaning of the anti-war demonstrations, to a worldwide “map” of protests and Anthony Barnett’s assessment that “world opinion” was becoming a shaping political force, even a new superpower.

Meanwhile, openDemocracy’s own writers – including our New York editor Todd Gitlin, Caspar Henderson’s Globolog, and Anthony Barnett’s regular Editor’s Note – provided fast-paced, lucid commentary and analysis that both mapped and illuminated the road to war.

openDemocracy invited writers, artists and civic leaders from around the world, led by John Le Carre, Meena Alexander, Nelcya Delanoe and Ian McEwan, to express their views of the war in a unique global experiment. Ariel Dorfman sent us his powerful poems making artistic illumination from political intrigue.

Wendell Steavenson, the brilliant young author of “Stories I Stole”, sent us poignant reports from northern Iraq and western Iran about the longings of Iraqis for freedom.


Paul Rogers continued to track the course of the conflict week by week and was again one of the first to predict the insurgency that would follow. As the violence intensified, our columnist Arthur Helton and Gil Loescher travelled to Baghdad where Arthur was tragically killed and Gil seriously wounded in the August 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters. Anita Sharma wrote for us from the ruins and Jo Wilding sent us her stunning reports from Fallujah.

The war marked a crucial stage in the unfolding national security strategy of the Bush administration. Todd Gitlin and Charles Peña measured the strategy’s cost and homeland implications; John Hulsman examined its utility in handling European divisions; Philip Bobbitt saw it as the incomplete answer to a real problem; and Shadia Drury, in conversation with Danny Postel, mapped the connections between the “noble lie” philosophy of Leo Strauss and the cast of mind of leading administration neo-conservatives.

This is only a small taster of openDemocracy’s Iraq coverage. We are committed to continuing and developing it as the country moves towards a troubled self-government.

Twenty on Iraq

This selection of articles is intended not to be representative of our coverage of Iraq, but to highlight twenty openDemocracy features of the kind you can’t find elsewhere:

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