Thursday, 12 June 2014

Iraq - mission accomplished? I think not

The current alarming situation in Iraq is a classic example of what systems thinkers see as unintended consequences of acting in a wicked problem.

Back in the early 2000s great thinkers in the United States and United Kingdom presented a scenario whereby as soon as the dictator Saddam Hussein was removed there would be a linear progression of events embracing democracy, which would lead to peace and stability in the country. Of course, this has not happened, and it may be difficult to imagine that anyone would have really thought that it would.

Democracy takes many generations to take effective root in a society, and the typical pattern when dropped onto a non-democratic society emerging from a dictatorship is that political structures organise around ethnic or religious divides, and that a winner-takes-all mentality ensues, as everyone has learnt from the previous dictator.

One of the characteristics of wicked problems is that they are symptoms of other interrelated problems, and this is very clear in Iraq. The destabilisation of Syria has led to roaming, somewhat disorganised bands of militant groups, the tensions between Sunni and Shia Islam in the region plays out regionally and within Iraq's democratic processes, the massive amount of weaponry and trained personnel available as a result of the instability in the whole region, and of course there is the Israel question.

All of these factors and more are interacting to produce non-linear effects, and it is hard to see how this will all pan out. However, what is fairly certain is that democracy will not be a winner in the Iraq the near future.

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