‘The State Has Built Nothing’: A Dispatch From Iraq

‘The State Has Built Nothing’: A Dispatch From Iraq
Demonstrators light candles to mark the first anniversary of the anti-government protests in Basra, Iraq, Oct. 1, 2020 (AP photo by Nabil al-Jurani).

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KARBALA, Iraq—Iraq’s weak democracy has fallen under direct threat from internal militias, and its economy and infrastructure have reached a breaking point. The country’s political system—a makeshift workaround to manage persistent ethno-sectarian divisions—seems unable to make even the slightest course correction. Is it about to unravel? And if it does, what type of government might take its place?

I’ve come to Karbala, a holy city and major pilgrimage site south of Baghdad, to see how Iraq’s mix of corruption and militia rule has played out in a part of the country that should be the most governable, at least in theory. 

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