Critics of the concept of human development argue that it has for the most part been easily absorbed into neo-liberalizing frameworks that neglect national, material development and that fail to prioritize the poor and insecure. While those criticisms have some force, more attention needs to be paid to the opportunities for resistance afforded by the fact that neo-liberalization is permeated by self-undermining contradictions and must articulate in hybrid and diverse fashion with existing social forces. When Iraq’s human development report, national development plan and poverty reduction strategy are examined, we can see in them elements of resistance to neo-liberalization and evidence of the assertion of development – national and human, material and non-material – as a right. However, in assessing poverty in Iraq as ‘very shallow’, Iraq’s poverty reduction team demonstrated that resistance to neo-liberalization and the neglect of the poor will require struggles with Iraqi as well as global actors.

Critical Terrorism Studies can be strengthened by scholarship that draws on a combination of critical realism (CR) and historical materialism (HM). CR relates epistemological relativism (we can know the social only indirectly through our interpretation of it) to ontological realism (there is a powerfully influential social reality that includes but is much more than our knowledge claims about it) through judgemental rationalism (knowledge claims can be tested against social reality, although always in an indirect, interpreted and fallible way). We illustrate CR-informed HM’s value in relation to analysing capitalism’s constant remaking of the world, terrorism as an instrument of capitalist class rule and the reified thinking involved in the use of terrorism that it is inherently anti-emancipatory.

Since the US invaded Iraq, it has been concerned mainly with trying to limit challenges to its power and it has been willing to engage in state wrecking as well as state building in pursuit of that goal in the short term. Equally, opponents of the occupation have also been willing to engage in state wrecking and state building  to try to drive the US out. The result has been the fragmentation of political authority and limited state capacity. The US has also been seeking to establish not a sovereign national state but a hierarchical governance state (that is, one which exercises mainly top-down coherent political authority through local, national and transnational public and corporate actors with governance not necessarily channelled through the national level) friendly to US interests. This is part of a wider global process of struggle over the multiple frontiers of inequality between the global North and global South.

An activist scholar approach to Critical Terrorisn Studies (CTS) has five components: class should be brought back into the study of terrorism within a historical materialist framework; CTS should operate on the basis of the equal rights of all and not worthy and unworthy victims; while non-state terrorism should remain on the agenda, much more attention than hitherto should be given to state terrorism, including Northern state terrorism; taboo cases should be addressed; and any engagement with the term ‘terrorism’ should be part of a wider project of moving beyond its use.

Activist International Relations (IR) scholarship involves always adhering to the highest scholarly standards in research and teaching; organising with non-academic activists; making activist arguments on the home ground of mainstream scholars; assessing your scholarship in relation to its contribution to collective struggles against oppression; measuring the worth of your work by the extent to which it serves your own values and not those of the institutions which employ and monitor you.

The Iraqi state is not representing Iraq in a globalising world: it is representing the globalising world in Iraq. The fact that the USA physically occupied Iraq, installed a government and passed a raft of legislation by decree might suggest almost total US dominance over broader globalising forces and thus that the Iraqi state is almost solely an instrument of US empire. Certainly, Iraq’s imperial globalisation from above is not primarily decentred in terms of the actors involved or the interests served: US actors and interests are at the forefront. However, other actors have played a significant role, and the actions of the US agents have tended to favour US political power and the US-based fraction of capital less than the fact of occupation would suggest. Furthermore, this advantage has declined over time. In addition, there is a second force for decentred globalisation in Iraq, namely, globalisation from below by means of the workings of the transborder informal economy. Many but not all of the activities of this informal economy are closely related to the insurgency. The interaction of all these forces is generating sometimes competing and sometimes mutually reinforcing effects, and these effects are highly contingent and continue to be contested.

Noam Chomsky argues that, while the US news media are adversarial towards the US government on foreign policy, institutional filters operate to ensure that the criticisms made generally stay within narrow bounds set by the US political elite. Chomsky’s research in this area is largely ignored even by academics who agree with this conclusion. The institutional tendency to filter out anti-elite perspectives applies not only to the news media but also to academia. Consequently, Chomsky’s work is marginalised due to its emphasis on corporate power, principled opposition to US foreign policy and the role of academia in buttressing elite power.

In this article I outline the case made by the British government for UN economic sanctions on Iraq, and indicate many of the silences in, and counters to, it. When these silences and counters are taken into consideration, the British government’s denial of any share of the responsibility for the devastation of Iraqi society becomes unsustainable. Iraqis have had their human rights violated on a vast scale not only by the regime but also by UN economic sanctions which have exacerbated the effects of the UN coalition’s bombing of Iraq in 1991.


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