Cultural heritage predation in Iraq

Think tank: Chatham House

Author(s): Mehiyar Kathem; Eleanor Robson; Lina G. Tahan

March 24, 2022

This report from UK think tank Chatham House looks at the sectarian appropriation of Iraq’s past.

Since 2003, Iraq’s elites have appropriated the country’s rich cultural heritage in the service of various undesirable agendas. These range from commercialization to the propagation of sectarian and exclusionary political or religious narratives. Large sections of Iraq’s cultural heritage are now captured for private gain, diminishing its role as a public good accessible to all Iraqis. A major factor behind these developments has been the political power-sharing system of muhasasa, which is premised on the division of key state roles along sectarian lines. Under this system, income and other resources derived from cultural heritage increasingly accrue not to the Iraqi state but to subnational institutions that actively promote ethno-nationalism, sectarianism and religious objectives. This paper explores examples of the negative impact of heritage predation on Iraqi society to date, and makes recommendations for both Iraqi and international institutions to counter the damaging effects of muhasasa and the sectarian allocation of cultural resources.