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The Increasing Patriotism of Iraqis

- January 6, 2009


The graph above depicts two things:

1) Patriotism among Iraqi ethnic groups is quite high, and, among Kurds, has been increasing. Patriotism is measured by this question: “How proud are you to be an Iraqi: very proud, quite proud, not very proud, or not at all proud?” The graph presents the percentage who are very or somewhat proud.

2) Identification as an Iraqi has also increased sharply, particularly among both Sunnis and Shi’is. National identity is measured with this question: “Which of the following best describes you: ‘above all, I am an Iraqi’; ‘above all, I am a Muslim’; ‘above all, I am an Arab’; or ‘above all, I am a Kurd’?” The graph presents the percentage who say “above all, I am Iraqi.”

The question is: why has Iraqi patriotism increased? The originator of these data, Mansoor Moaddel, along with Mark Tessler and Ronald Inglehart, have one answer. In a new piece (gated), they argue that foreign occupation tends to breed patriotism. Analyzing the December 2004 survey in particular, they find that individuals who with harsher views of foreign Islamic militants are more patriotic; this is true among Sunnis, Shi’is, and Kurds. They find that Sunnis and Kurds who oppose the coalition forces are also more patriotic. This isn’t the case among Shi’is; Moaddel et al. attribute this to the invasion’s “free[ing] the Shi’is from the despotism of the former regime and pav[ing] for their political ascendance.” Instead, Shi’is who oppose American values are more patriotic (although the relationship is weak).

Then, Moaddel and colleagues present data from the complete set of surveys from 2004-2007, which I depict above. They view the increases over time as additional suggestive evidence that foreign occupation creates patriotism.

Another explanation revolves around domestic politics more than foreign occupation. Zach Elkins and I offer such an explanation in this working paper. (This paper is not focused on Iraq but uses these same data in service of another argument; the graph above comes from our paper). We write:

bq. The sectarian conflicts that are promulgated by certain group leaders and their followers may actually be pushing rank-and-file members of each sect away from an exclusive ethnic or religious identity and toward a common identity. As New Yorker correspondent George Packer noted in September 2007, after citing these same survey findings, “Civil war and sectarian rule have tarnished the prestige of religious parties and increased the appeal of a nonsectarian government.”

Ultimately, our explanation is more speculative than that of Moaddel and colleagues because we lack data on Iraqi feelings toward various elite political parties and actors. But it strikes me as plausible.

I welcome other thoughts in the comments.