These troubling events highlight the fact that while the state may be a useful analytical concept for political scientists and other observers, the notion of a unified sovereign entity within identifiable borders frequently bears little resemblance to reality. Critical theorists have sought to “deconstruct” simple concepts like the state and reveal a much messier underlying picture: in Iraq’s case, the messiness is comprised of three major ethno-sectarian groups, a fledgling central government that is not in complete control of its territory (see Kurdistan) and a population that frequently sees itself less as Iraqi than Sunni, Shiite, or Kurd. While an iron fisted ruler like Saddam Hussein or a powerful occupation force like the Americans may have been able to create a sense of unity for a time, the underlying realities are emerging as U.S. forces withdraw from post-Saddam Iraq. As one recent news analysis put it:
“While the U.S. troop surge of 2007 helped tamp down Iraq’s violence – and, the US hoped, created ‘space’ for sectarian reconciliation – in the years since, Iraqi politics have remained largely driven by sect and ethnicity, their politicians pursuing a zero-sum game for absolute power.”
Is the concept of the state still a useful way of making sense of the world, or is it a dangerously outmoded concept in today’s globalized world that obscures more than it enlightens?