Sectarian Identities, Narratives and Political Conflict in Baghdad


  • Harith Hasan al­‐Qarawee Fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University



This article addresses some of the effects of political transformations and conflicts on the identity of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. It illustrates the gradual “Islamization” of space by Saddam Hussein’s regime, which reflected a sectarian bias as it denied Shi’a religious identity the level of visibility given to Sunni religious identity. After the fall of the regime, there was an upsurge in Shi’a symbolism and rituals in Baghdad, which further de-­secularized and sectarianized the public space. The article also addresses some of the cultural consequences for the sectarian segregation in Baghdad, especially by looking into the mosques and worship places, their sectarian distribution and the contesting claims regarding some of them. The rise of sub-­national cultures and the competition between Shi’as and Sunnis have further fragmented Baghdad’s identity and downgraded the cross-sectarian representations. This has been mirrored in the conflict of narratives about the city which is discussed in the last part of this article.

Author Biography

Harith Hasan al­‐Qarawee, Fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University

Al-Qarawee is a political scientist whose research focuses on state-society relations, political transitions, and identity politics in Iraq and the Middle East. He has written extensively for various English and Arabic publications and journals. He also worked as a political commentator and consultant, contributing to several research centers and outlets, including Al-Monitor, Carnegie, the Atlantic Council, and the Al-Jazeera Center for Studies. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Sant'Anna School for Advanced Studies in Italy, an M.A. in Political Communication from Leeds University (UK) and an M.A. in Political Science from Baghdad University (Iraq). He worked as a lecturer and teaching assistant at Baghdad University, and was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute (Harvard University). As a fellow at the Crown Center, Al-Qarawee will be writing a book titled “Hawza and Shi'a Politics in post-Saddam Iraq,” and working on a project aiming to track cultural heritage and human migrations in areas engulfed by violence in Iraq.




How to Cite

al­‐Qarawee, H. H. (2016). Sectarian Identities, Narratives and Political Conflict in Baghdad. The Levantine Review, 4(2), 177–200.