“Iraqnophobia”: A Biomedical History of State-Rearing and Shock Doctrine in Iraq


DOI: 10.1007/s11196-016-9483-8

Cite this article as:
Picard, M.H. Int J Semiot Law (2017) 30: 81. doi:10.1007/s11196-016-9483-8


The history of Western foreign policy in the Middle East has long assimilated Arab culture to sickness. Specifically, the biological episteme of “contamination” has shaped American foreign policy in the Gulf for decades. In so doing, the US Government continually borrowed references from the natural sciences to frame its foreign policy, leading some commentators to claim that biology supplanted philosophy and religion as the primary political category. The article analyses the semantics of Iraqnophobic metaphors, from the British experience of “nursing” Arabs at the close of the First World War to the recent “shock doctrine” of American therapists. First, the paper will concentrate its attention on the metaphors of disinfection and surgical resection. Second, it will address the metaphors of lustration, State-rearing and scientific recovery. Finally, it will explore Iraqis’ rebellion against their self-appointed tutors and doctors. Elaborating on the belligerents’ nursing and biomedical metaphors, the following pages address the life cycle of foreign “legal transplantation”, “antibody” resistance and “immunosuppressant” counterinsurgency in Iraq.


Metaphor Iraq British Empire Nursing United States Shock doctrine Legal transplant 

The end result of complete cellular representation is cancer. […] A bureau takes root anywhere in the state, turns malignant […], and grows and grows, always reproducing more of its own kind, until it chokes the host if not controlled or excised. Bureaus cannot live without a host, being true parasitic organisms. […] Bureaus die when the structure of the state collapses. They are as helpless and unfit for independent existence as a displaced tapeworm, or a virus that has killed the host.

William Burroughs, Naked Lunch (1959), Grove Press, 2003, pp. 112–113.

In August 20, 2014 US President Barack Obama stated in relation to the growing influence of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) in the Middle East that “there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so that it does not spread” [130]. He thus outlined before his NATO allies a treatment of therapeutic airstrikes and humanitarian airdrops to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the malign terrorist cells [96, 116, 163]. More recently a joint Anglo-American Statement qualified the Islamic State’s ideology as “perverted” and “poisonous” [2]. Because of its high toxicity “this phenomenon of violent extremism [had] metastasized and penetrated communities around the world” [170]. Such declarations equating Arab insurgents with carcinogenic pathologies are symptomatic of the West’s approach to Middle Eastern problems.

Specifically, the biological episteme of contamination has shaped American foreign policy in the Gulf for decades.1 In so doing, the American Government continually borrowed references from the natural sciences to frame its foreign policy,2 leading some commentators to claim that “biology [came] to supplant philosophy and religion as the primary mode for considering life as a political category […]” [15, p. 85]. While States are generally anthropomorphized to relate their behaviour to individual human traits, resistance movements within States are believed to corrode their vital internal organs. This study aims to explore the origins and effects of such a political epidemiology. Why do States rely on biological metaphors to qualify their foreign policy?

1 Treating Iraq for Disinfection

Among the “rogue States”3 unilaterally designated for containment and disinfection by US foreign policy, none has been more systematically targeted than Iraq. The emergence of the term “rogue State” in official discourse has interesting etymological roots. The verb “to rogue” designates the act of removing a diseased specimen from a group of plants of the same variety. According to US foreign policy the “rogue specimen” is recognised when a malevolent agent “deviates” from an international disarmament agreement and “proliferates” biochemical weapons. Once identified, the rogue State is quarantined and subjected to a treatment of disinfection. Like a gardener selecting and arranging species of plants to organise nature, the United States, acting as the world’s green thumb, set out to design an orderly community of States. Ironically, “Iraq” in Arabic refers to a ‘well-rooted country” [see 61, p. 508]. Despite its deterring name Iraq has been a primary scene of American landscaping for decades. Air raids have regularly sprinkled its territory since 1991 to first contain then uproot the rogue regime.

2 The Seduction of Biological Metaphors

The Iraqi soil is particularly favorable to the flourishing of Western fantasies. Iraqnophobic4 stories have been consistently “disseminated to the American public” [86, p. 113] in an attempt to spur public anxieties, exaggerate Iraq’s malevolence and garner popular support for war.5 Because of these cognitive implications “metaphors can kill”, as George Lakoff duly observed at the time of the 1991 Gulf War [94, p. 1]. Metaphors have material consequences, which extend beyond rhetorical discourse [80, p. 448]. In Iraq’s case the pestilence metaphor advanced the pertinence of war.

If metaphors can kill they are worthy of careful study [80, p. 451]. As a linguistic artefact, a metaphor is the characterisation of an object applied to another object. The metaphor enables the “mapping” of concepts from a source domain to a target domain. In other words, metaphors are the glue of collective consciousness [80, p. 44]6: they shape political representations and social attitudes [see 95, see also 25, p. 141]. Without metaphors human reasoning would be impossible. Moreover, psychological experiments reveal that “we cannot ignore metaphors, even when metaphorical readings are irrelevant to the task” [25, p. 140, our italics]. The automatic access to figurative meaning may lead subjects to false analogies and “concentrated value judgement” [see 26]. In sum, metaphors “hold the power to illuminate and mislead” [90, p. 134].

Not surprisingly, leaders faced with a highly complex and volatile reality resort to oversimplified metaphors to find coherence and justify their normative bias [see 142, p. 59; 186]. Because metaphors are springboards for collective action rulers have used and abused them in order to “sell their product7”—namely war—to the public. Iraqnophobia assigns malignant qualities to the enemy to offer an alibi of self-defense to Western aggression. The repetition of “sticky metaphors” creates an “affective adherence” [see 6, p. 131] between Iraq, Islam and biochemical terror, which can then be used by representatives of State to mobilize fear and create misleading associations [see 145]. Biological metaphors are particularly useful to belligerent Governments because they masquerade scientific rationality in support of an arbitrary decision to go to war.

3 History of Iraqi Decontamination Practices

This essay aims to explore the origins and legacy of Western legal epidemiology applied to Iraq. Relying on an analysis of State semiotics this study investigates the deep connections between war, clinical metaphors, exogenous regime change and endogenous resistance in Iraq. It shows how world leaders are imprisoned in a cognitive system of their own making, which severely limits their understanding of Iraqi society. Because of this cognitive bias the essay concludes that the legal transplantation of Western regimes in Iraq has systematically led to a constitutional mismatch and surgical rejection. The semiotic research is primarily based on quotes from archives, diplomatic cables, foreign policy reports, as well as studies of the legal and military history of Iraq. A qualitative assessment of Western official rhetoric on Iraq supports the claim of a systematic prejudice in favour of external legal transplantation and against internal self-determination. Such a prejudice is founded on a hyperbolic association of Iraqi Arabs to a state of pathology.

In our paper the British metaphorical precedent of Iraqi nursing will serve as a distant mirror of American decontamination practices. From a metaphorical perspective, the American “shock therapy” in Iraq was inspired by British tutoring initiated a century ago. In both cases a program of legal transplantation was required to first “save” then “cure” Iraqi subjects. Iraq has consistently been the object of the West’s hygienic scrutiny.

In short, the Western metaphorical discourse on Iraq started in the opening months of the First World War, when Mesopotamia was “rescued” from the “Ottoman peril” by an Anglo-Indian expeditionary force. At the time the British fantasy of Turkish decadence and moral corruption helped to legitimate the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and the conception of Iraq. It was common for European Statesmen to refer to the Ottoman Empire as the “Sick Man of Europe” [22, p. 174]. This anthropomorphic prejudice drawn from the prevalent science of hygiene and natural selection informed British colonial practice: as custodians of civilization representatives of His Majesty gave themselves the mission to save Arabia from the infested womb of the Sultan and subsequently morph it into “an Indian appendage” [189, p. 72].

Once the “Sick Man” finally collapsed the Great Powers proceeded to his “political vivisection” [22, p. 233]. At the Versailles Conference in 1919 France and Great Britain delivered their final autopsy: the Ottomans had decomposed under the weight of their own corruption and threatened to contaminate their abandoned children. A year later, in San Remo, a remedy was offered: the three orphan provinces of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul would be saved and nursed back to health under the guidance of an enlightened Empire.8 Under the terms of a League of Nations mandate, the “juvenile” Iraqis [see 146, p. 247] were held by Britain under a “sacred trust” for lack of having attained a “sufficient degree of civilisation” to be able to “stand alone under the strenuous conditions of the modern world.9” By British standards of civilisation, “the peoples left behind by the decomposition of [Turkey were] mostly untrained politically […] and require[d] much nursing towards economic and political independence” [Smuts, Memorandum on the League of Nations, as cited by Macmillan [102], p. 99, our italics]. In the name of care the tribal societies of Mesopotamia were to be tutored by British nurses until they could reach a satisfactory level of sovereign adulthood.

In sum, Iraq’s polity was first infantilised by the UK, before being maligned by the US. Under the British Mandate, Iraq was portrayed as an orphan in need of care. Eighty years later, under American tutelage, Iraq was considered a patient to be cured. Metaphorically, Iraq was first sent to boarding school, then to the emergency room. Britain was the tutor and America the doctor. Under the custody of the League of Nations Iraq was first reared to behave like a State. And when the Iraqi orphan “failed” to behave like a State it was lobotomized.

4 Legal Transplantation Under Occupation

Beyond their discursive variations British and American policies both claimed to intervene in the name of care, health and cleanliness. Each in their own way they doctored Iraq’s constitution in order to cure and rejuvenate the Paradise Lost. In both accounts a legal crusade was intertwined with biological models to justify military intervention. Great Britain and the United States presented themselves as fair wardens of International Law: they called for a “just war” to legally transplant a new constitution into the body politic. Warfare was waged in the name of welfare.

In sum, the West’s biomedical rhetoric justified the legal practice of constitutional transplantation. In the field of comparative law the reception of foreign law into domestic legal orders has long been associated with the medical procedure of organ transplantation.10 As Roberto Esposito demonstrated the semantics of law, politics and biology are closely connected [57]. In the case of Iraq the British Mandatory Power legally transplanted its constitutional monarchy in 1921, while the United States transplanted their model of a federal republic in 2005. Both legal transplants were supported by biomedical metaphors. This biomedical procedure of foreign legal transplantation will be addressed in the first part of this paper (5).

Yet, far from providing relief to Iraqis the Western fantasy of “immaculate coercion” [see 44, p. 229] provoked the “anaphylactic shock of the political body” [57], p. 19]. Though economic recovery in Iraq was offered as a cure to orphans and widows, its implementation left the Iraqi patient in critical condition. As tensions mounted and casualties grew, it became apparent that maybe “the West was not the doctor: the West was the disease” [see Alexander Herzen quoted in 1]. Western fantasies soon turned into political nightmares.

Ironically, British and American occupiers entrenched the risks they sought to mitigate, namely “juvenile” rebellion, corruption and the spread of “mass destruction”. Such is the tragic feedback loop of Iraq’s modern history: the West’s attitude in the Levant was informed by ideological constructions and cultural perceptions, which in turn had a profound effect on the behaviour of Iraqis [see 51, pp. 37–41]. Soon young anti-British nationalists and older anti-American insurgents would mirror Western metaphors by resisting foreign inoculation. In a typical display of “mimetic violence and contagion” [see 64, p. 13], Iraqi subjects reinterpreted the mapping of imaginary representations imposed by the Occupiers in light of their own experience. For instance, Iraqi “pupils” rebelled against British schooling by setting State institutions ablaze. They mounted instead an alternative nationalist education system for the purpose of acquiring self-determination [see 106, p. 89]. Under the American occupation, the initial shock doctrine awakened the Islamic fight for recovery from apostasy [see 73]. The jihad was driven by a collective effort to “purify” the land from the West’s intoxicating influence.11

In a display of reverse fantasies, metaphors of decadence and disease, which had forged the West’s understanding of Iraq’s polity, were in turn being used by Iraqis to characterise the enemy and promote their ideology [92, p. 4]. In reaction to Western attempts of “exogenous State-building” [50] the Iraqi patient offered “endogenous resistance” and never fully settled for the self-appointed doctor’s prescription. Iraq is a “creature” born out of biomedical metaphors. And much like “an alien creature escaping from the control of its creator” [57], Iraqis have repeatedly rebelled against their international wardens. We will address this Iraqi attempt to resist Western inoculation in the second part of this paper (6).

Up to this day constitutive elements of Iraqi society have sought immunity from the legal transplants inoculated by foreign bodies. Such a resistance is alienating to Western Powers, who seek confirmation of their universality by converting people to their project of modernity. So when people object to the cure it becomes a further sign of their pathology. Such is, for instance, the opinion held by the Department of Defense Secretary, who recently diagnosed ISIS as a metastasized tumour.12

Lastly, in light of this diagnosis of metastasis, the lab scientists decided to dispatch immunosuppressant agents to “degrade and destroy” [131] malevolent resistance in Iraq. The wardens envisioned panoptical confinement as a method to protect their constitutional transplant. In 1920, the British Headmaster inflicted collective punishment by way of systematic “morale bombings” [112] in answer to “immature” calls for rebellion. Since 2003, USAF has been performing “surgical strikes” [47, p. 171] to remove parasitic organisms. Moreover, Great Britain and the United States “embedded” spies, troops and bribes for the purpose of “winning hearts and minds” [see 101] in the classroom and in the field. Deliberately induced antigens were injected to ward off “antibody rejection” of the legal transplant, namely by way of financial retribution and military repression. Yet, such bioengineering and lethal carpet-bombing engendered the very threat they sought to mitigate: mimetic violence and corruption. We will examine the consequences of the belligerents’ immunosuppressant strategy on Iraq’s body politic in the third and last part of this paper (7). Elaborating on the belligerents’ nursing and biomedical metaphors, the following pages address the life cycle of foreign legal transplantation, antibody resistance and immunosuppressant counterinsurgency in Iraq.

5 Iraq’s Exogenous Legal Transplants

Nearly a century of international trusteeship over Iraq showcases the liberal endeavour of prescribing economic therapy to the ills of political corruption. Iraqis were repeatedly asked to accept free market treatment as a cure to their political fractures. In the eyes of international tutors the Fertile Crescent had to be purged from previous “infected” regimes as a precondition for the successful transplantation of liberal constitutions. In this story the British precedent of State-rearing (5.1) will serve as a distant mirror of American shock therapy (5.2).

5.1 London Called to the Rescue of Arab Orphans

5.1.1 First Phase of Sanitary Rescue

In the 1920s the League of Nations’ allegory presented the Mandatory Powers as the midwives of the peoples’ sovereignty in gestation. Metaphors of Turkish pathology and Arab infancy justified the creation of the mandate system [9]. The High Contracting Parties of the League of Nations behaved like nurses and headmasters, who accompanied the orphans towards maturity, until a time when the crutches of trusteeship were no longer needed for them to stand alone amongst sovereign Nations. The League was presented as a medical clinic for archaic peoples, who had previously been immersed in Oriental darkness [7].

The first task of the British Mandatory Power was to salvage the peoples of Mesopotamia from the Ottoman peril. To guarantee success, the previous State apparatus had to be entirely dislodged.13 Acting swiftly on its victory over the Turks in Mesopotamia the British army engaged in a campaign of moral sanitation. Oriental cultural differences were translated into a set of pathologies to be eliminated [see 146]. In Bagdad hostility to Ottoman law was expressed by Judicial Secretary Edgar Bonham Carter, Iraq’s Judicial Adviser, who deemed the Ottoman legal system “unscientific, ill-arranged and incomplete” [4, p. 95]. New codes based on Anglo-Indian laws replaced the old Turkish laws [107, p. 22] to mirror Western practices [171, p. 544]. The old regime’s legacy was uprooted by cleansing reforms and replaced by a policy of agrarian rejuvenation. By expressly relying on the metaphor of moral decay British civil servants claimed to eliminate for the benefit of Mesopotamia the Sultana’s culture of irrational spending [see 192, 2].

In a hypochondriac quest for purification the British tutor probed the Iraqi social body to avoid the return of the Ottoman peril. From 1915 to 1920 it was official British policy to exclude all Ottoman officers from government service [190, p. 247]. Turks were caricatured as “degenerate, slavish and brutal”, “sexually perverted and bloodthirsty” [22, p. 229]. Their “dirty and insanitary” schools were “hotbeds of vice to which respectable Arabs hesitated to send their boys” [4, p. 11]. The cunning Turkish administration in Mesopotamia was accused of alternatively “coerc[ing] or cajol[ing] the tribes” in order to exploit local rivalries [4, p. 90]. Effendis, the class of Arab civil servants educated by the Turks, were also primary targets of a paranoid cleansing policy. These “persistent Turkish-speakers” were parasitic “delinquents” [4, p. 129], for they concealed under “their travesty of European dress” [70 as cited in 53, p. 49] a secret wish for the return of the Sultan. By contrast British saviors would provide relief to a people who “for twenty-six generations [had] suffered under strange tyrants [65].14

The British curator also identified internal parasitic elements. In a Review of the Civil Administration political officer Gertrude Bell recommended the censorship of Mujtahids—Shi’a representatives under Persian influence [see 4]. “The Shiahs (a fanatical Moslem sect) number more than a million and a half, and are a thorn in the flesh.15” The perceived wish of these “alien popes” [18, p. 157] was to establish a “theocratic state, which is the very devil” [17, p. 69]. Their institutions, such as Mullah Schools, were considered “inadequate” [4, p. 103] and had to be replaced. It was believed among British headmasters that those Arabs who refused to yield to the necessity of scientific reform had to be swept aside [see 149, p. 95]. Ottoman “idleness” and Shi’a “obscurantism” would obstruct the British policy of State-rearing, which relied on a comprehensive agrarian settlement policy. The British proposed to teach the peoples of Mesopotamia the valuable lessons of organised production and constitutional monarchy [146, p. 245]. This hygienic regime of modernity was meant to “immunize” Iraq from the corrupting passions arising from the Orient.

Needless to say, the ideological construction of Ottoman decadence served to legitimize the intrusion of Western extractive methods and cartel monopolies into the political economy of Mesopotamia [see 38]. In the new age of engine-combustion born out of the world’s first oil-based military conflict, Iraq was carved by a line drawn in the sand to protect British imperial and petroleum interests [see 61]. Intoxicated by the “vapors of black gold” [22, p. 165], which had so valuably contributed to the war effort, Western industrialists secured their grip over the riches of the Gulf. The establishment of Britain’s new oil sanctuary was backed by the corollary destruction of the enemy’s legacy.

5.1.2 Second Phase of Moral Purification

Because of the privileged position she held among the most “advanced Nations” Great Britain considered herself to possess a vanguard grasp of civilisation that made her uniquely able to guide the Iraqi orphans towards proper development.16 Iraqis had to be reared out of a state of nature into a State of culture. Industrialised agriculture based on private property rights was offered as the key to collective prosperity.17 In an effort to emulate metropolitan constitutional monarchy Churchill’s Middle Eastern Department established a new Organic Law [see 39, 171] which imposed a rigid class system under the banner of a Hashemite Kingdom. In the Iraqi classroom Sunnis formed Iraq’s model pupils, whereas “lower-class Arabs” [see 34, pp. 78–81] had to be tamed. The British Headmaster channeled the violence of “wild tribal elements” [34, p. 33] by sending them into the desert as an “embryonic levy” [34, pp. 108–109] under the command of British invigilators.18

The Schoolmaster “penetrated local affairs” [38] and transformed Iraqi behaviour. Engineers were “scattered all over the country […] for the guidance of municipal enterprise” [4, p. 124], whereas “middle-aged administrators […] flooded the country” [69, p. 64] to offer the Arabs the gift of sound fiscal policy. Industrial projects demanded large infusions of monies raised through unpopular taxes, which required a disciplinary State apparatus acting as a reform school. One such a reform policy was the settlement of unruly tribes against their will. Another lesson of the State was the method of taxation to finance irrigation and extraction works. Iraqis were indebted to their master for the introduction of an alien currency, the Indian rupee, which lead to the extinction of prior bargaining arrangements [4, p. 121]. Billions of rupees were imported from India to meet the needs of reform. Iraqi orphans were not only schooled to quickly abandon their irrational and superstitious beliefs; they were also expediently driven into debt.

“Make Iraq Bloom Once More” The legal transplantation of a constitutional monarchy enabled the British to inoculate capitalist modes of production into the Iraqi social fabric. Iraq’s oil came under control of an incubating cartel, which secured a 70 year monopoly over a wide territorial concession.19 The British transplantation of foreign corporate monopolies was believed to be a powerful tool of social engineering designed to transform Iraq into a model pupil. Under the British Mandate elaborate plans were drawn to expand traffic and trade. The “scientific control of the rivers” [23, p. 202] was meant to increase crop yields and State revenue. The dream of British imperialists was to rejuvenate the Garden of the East and “make Iraq bloom once more” [23, p. 202]. British social engineers made abundant use of biblical references to resurrect the myth of a Babylonian Promised Land:

Instead of devastating hordes, sweeping like locusts over cornfield and pasture, the surplus population of Arabia may find in a Mesopotamia reconstituted by good administration, not only abundant means of livelihood, but far-reaching possibilities of social and intellectual advance […]. [4, p. 20]

Nothing short of an agrarian revolution was contemplated to revitalise the cradle of civilisation. Under this scheme freehold properties and uncultivated farm land were confiscated from extended family groups and parcelled for increased agricultural production [58, p. 4]. Under Iraq’s new “Organic Law” the commons were placed under State jurisdiction and tribal hierarchies reshuffled [178, pp. 94–95]. Nomadic tribes were disciplined by British tutors in an effort to remove trans-border looting and protect new landed property [171, p. 552]. A new “oligarchy of landlords”—mostly “urban investors and speculators” [107, p. 32]—profited from the expropriation of peasants and tribes. While the upper class was groomed by the British headmaster, others were left in the dark.

Under the American regime of occupation a homologous policy of dispossession in the name of rejuvenation took place. State-owned companies were dismantled [33] to cleanse the market from competition distortion. Emulating their British predecessors American tutors attempted to plant the genetically-modified seed of corporate immunity to protect foreign investors and contractors from the shifting sands of domestic politics [see 172, p. 70]. Thus, the 2003 “shock doctrine” mirrors the far and distant British attempt at State reformation. The following section details the landscaping activities of the US Government in Iraq.

5.2 The US Shock Therapy in Iraq

Building on the British precedent of sanitary rescue and moral purification the US implemented a policy of State lustration (5.2.1) before “planting the seed of democracy” in Iraq (5.2.2).

5.2.1 State Lustration

Mirroring earlier British policies of sanitary rescue the US legal transplantation was preceded by a quarantine and curative surgical resection. First, Iraq was isolated and quarantined during a 12-year embargo (1991–2003).20 Following Security Council Resolution 687 repeated surgical airstrikes aimed to disinfect Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s pathological regime. The military medical procedure was supported by “imagery of shiny metallic instruments of war, especially jets.21” Then, following the perceived failure of such a policy of containment and disinfection the US Government inaugurated in 2003 a new doctrine of “pre-emptive regime-change” by way of the scalpel, whereby the malignant Baath Party had to be directly removed from power [see 24]. Suspected of harbouring terrorist cells Saddam Hussein was accused of being “addicted to weapons of mass destruction (WMD)22” [132] and stigmatised as having enabled the lethal anthrax attacks on American journalists and members of Congress [143, see also 86, pp. 108–113].23 The proliferation of WMD represented the risk of developing into an epidemic [see 160, p. 140]. As a “Failed State”, Iraq had lost its capacity to exercise its sovereignty under international law. The “incapacitated” State was in dire need of foreign assistance [see 191] (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

Released army footage of captured former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein examined by US army physician in Baghdad on December 14, 2003

On the Ides of March 2003, pre-dawn “decapitation” cruise missiles were launched by Nighthawk aircrafts to assassinate the Head of State. Then, the Coalition of the willing initiated a campaign to dismantle Iraq’s weapons program and weaken its immune system in anticipation of ground intervention. The Coalition launched preliminary airstrikes to “soften Iraqi infrastructure” [Matthew Rycroft, “Downing Street memo”, S 195/02, 23 July 2002, as cited by Doran 54]. The “Shock and Awe24” campaign targeted Iraq’s “centers of gravity” and “stuck the needle” in its “nerve centers” [84, p. 50] to “make the Iraqi army collapse” [General Chuck Horner, the commander of the air war in the 1991 invasion as cited by Klein [88], p. 329]. Smart bombs of “unprecedented accuracy” [88, p. 329] found “entry points” into the enemy’s communication network. The goal was to “overload an adversary’s perceptions and understanding of events” [176, p. 110] to throw them “into immediate paralysis and capitulation.25” Iraq’s defense system was crippled by surgical air strikes.

Then ground troops were deployed in key contaminated areas to “drain the swamp26” [152]. Once Iraq was invaded, the biological analogy further legitimated reconstruction efforts. Cleansing reforms were intended to inaugurate an era of blooming prosperity in the region. The invisible hand of the market would naturally “plant the seed of democracy27” in the Fertile Crescent. Conversely, government assets were frozen and confiscated for the purpose of market sanitization [35, para 4]. Iraqi civil servants were divested of their ownership and demoted without compensation on the basis of their “hatred for economic freedom” [187, p. 180]. The dissolution of Iraqi public institutions included most organs of government [see 33].

To keep the patient alive the US Army Corps of Engineers (acting as emergency medical technicians) was entrusted with the objective of keeping the oil pumped through the country’s circulatory system [see 118; 164, p. 28; 43; 144]. American Doctors Without Orders firmly believed that once the “corrupt” [33] obstacles to re-engineering were lifted, the Iraqi territory would heal and prosper once more. According to official CPA Reports, the objective was to “revive the economy” by “root[ing] out Saddamism” [29, as cited in 49, p. 198]. The US unilaterally suspended laws of occupation and territorial administration28 to allow for the “purge” [60, p. 209] or “lustration29” of the Baath regime. All traces of the old regime were eliminated from the political, social, and economic life of Iraq [71].

Then, abiding by the invisible hand theory of the market the CPA cleansed the economy by erasing entrenched government interests and regulations. Paul Bremer intended to “liberate” Iraqi companies from the stifling bureaucracy of State conglomerates. State planning and intervention were considered diseases to be wiped out. Gas and food subsidies were slashed [49, p. 217]. The CPA dismissed half a million state employees without compensation for having belonged to the previous ruling party [30]. Public sector wages were fixed at US $35 a month to deter workers from seeking employment with the State [54, p. 141]. Once the previous rotten regime was weeded out, USAID prescribed the remedy of “economic recovery” and “sustained growth” [179]. Following military victory the Occupying Doctors delivered at once a shock treatment of market liberalisation [187, p. 180]. In the fog of war they seized “moments of collective trauma to engage in radical social and economic engineering” [88, p. 8].

5.2.2 Incubation of Corporate Capitalism [see 3]

Once the swamp was drained from parasitic obstruction the seed of market democracy and “free enterprise” [133] was planted in the heart of Baghdad’s Green Zone [see 97]. From its headquarters in the Republican Palace the CPA injected the antidote of State deregulation and commodity monetization [113, as cited in 49, p. 217]. The insemination of corporate culture in the Emerald City was protected by checkpoints and high concrete blast walls. The country soil was swiftly “round up” to attract pollinating investors. The crippling embargo was lifted by UNSC Resolution 1483 and replaced by a program of “economic recovery” [182] in the name of the Iraqi people [178, para 8].

After years of isolation and confinement, Iraq was suddenly thrust back into the international market.30 A new trade liberalization order was transplanted to ensure the extra-territorial application of American business law in Iraq. The CPA insisted on the “incorporation of the modern standards of the World Trade Organization into Iraqi law” [37]. All tariffs, custom duties, import taxes and trade restrictions were suspended [31]. Soon thereafter the US exported $190 million worth of wheat to Iraq [54, p. 215]. In effect the liberalisation policy allowed multinational corporations such as Monsanto and Cargill to flood the Iraqi agriculture sector with genetically-sterilized seeds, which prevented replanting unless farmers purchased the proper patenting rights [36, “Order 81 and the Genetically Modified Seeds of Democracy” in [54], pp. 216–222]. Old native crops suffering from “poor genetics” were replaced with hybrid corn to improve harvests.

Additionally, foreign companies were allowed to cross-pollinate and transfer 100 percent of Iraqi assets to foreign bank accounts without any local public oversight required. The CPA revived commercial banks to “pump credit into the economy” [Ambassador Paul Bremer to President Bush, “Draft Points for Message, 18 December,” December 18, 2003, as cited in [49]. Biblical metaphors of rejuvenation and market reformation were conveyed by official CPA regulations. For example, the Interim Law on Securities Markets stated that “Iraqi entrepreneurs and businesses will benefit from the revival of Iraq’s capital markets” [32, our italics]. Additionally, the CPA supervised the drafting of the new constitution to make sure the “seed of democracy” was securely planted. In line with these transitional reforms the final wording of the 2005 Iraqi Constitution enshrined “modern economic principles” and guaranteed “the development of the private sector [77, art 25].

Prior to the 2005 constitutional transplantation of foreign investment law, international “donors31” such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization encouraged the Iraqi “recipient” to engage in substantial market reforms in exchange of financial “relief”. In 2004 the Paris Club and the IMF agreed to support a program of debt alleviation and financial assistance on condition Iraq engaged in structural landscaping. In 2006 the Iraqi Government acquiesced by embedding the lifeblood of its economy—its oil fields—into the global competitive market. Investment Law No. 13 [76, 153] cut tariffs and privatized publicly run industries and services. The objective was to reduce parasitic social expenditure, remove restrictions on imports and attract foreign pollination. International sponsors and American administrators entrenched corporate law into Iraq’s regime to encourage the “global dissemination of free trade” [173] across the Levant. This doctor-patient relationship reinforced hierarchical structures by stressing the need for the Iraqi patient to comply with international expertise. The medicine of economic relief also directed attention to the “immediate causes of illness” (parasitic restrictions to commerce and free trade) and away from social and structural factors of poor economic health [156, p. 27].

6 Collective Endogenous Resistance to Legal Transplantation in Iraq

Local response to British and American legal transplantation was immediate. Iraqi citizens swiftly opposed the dissemination of foreign relations of production and corporate predation. The biomedical metaphor is easily reversed if we now take the point of view of the host body: from a “patient’s perspective” international relief is interpreted as foreign intrusion. Here, the biomedical model is solicited to liken the foreign corporation to a cellular organism appropriating a host body’s vital nutrients in the pursuit of its own self-replication. Already the attribution of the first English Charters prompted Hobbes to declare that corporations, by feeding off the Commonwealth, behaved “like worms in the entrails of a natural man” [72, p. 216, quoted in 15, p. 95]. The life of the corporation effectively eliminates other modes of community survival, since it “completely converges with the private appropriation of the common” [15, p. 92]. Iraq has been plagued since its origins by corporate raiders and military contractors. Both 1920 and 2004 Iraqi insurgencies resemble an “allergic reaction” to the dialectics of local public expropriation and foreign private appropriation.

6.1 The “Awakening” of Self-Determined Iraqis

In February 1919 nationalists protesting against “the authorities’ refusal to allow a Mesopotamian delegation to proceed to Paris for the peace conference […] actively disseminated pro-independence propaganda. [T]hese groups nursed grievances arising out of the war and the conduct of the occupation” [see 38, pp. 369–370, our italics]. Instead of bringing prosperity to the region the British occupation of Mesopotamia during the War had provoked a humanitarian crisis.32 During that time many Iraqis had been forced out of the fields and enrolled in work camps to supply the growing demands of the Anglo-Indian army. After the war, more than 60,000 Indian and British troops were still stationed in Mesopotamia. Tensions grew as the cost of the British presence amounted to £ 2.7 million per month in the summer of 1919 [154; 11, p. 193].

By the beginning of 1920 the schooling of Iraq failed to show any progress. According to the nationalist press in Baghdad the British Mandate was “intended to deceive just as when [the colonizers] talk of liberating humanity, [and] healing the weak” [189, p. 262; 22, p. 264]. In June 1920 a coalition of disgruntled tribal sheikhs, religious dignitaries and vociferous “coffee shop” nationalists rebelled against their self-proclaimed teachers and took to the streets. When the British sent in troops to punish the turbulent pupils in Karbala, “revolt erupted in the cities of southern Iraq” [61, p. 250]. In “the Year of the Catastrophe” (Am al-Nakba), the “Awakening” (Thawra) was considered the catalyst of Arab nationalist sentiment against foreign tutors. The indignity of British nursing tactics ignited armed resistance across the country. Previously tranquilized by heavy doses of State-building sedatives the “Iraqi patient” awoke and attacked the school barracks.

6.1.1 Attacking the Schoolmaster

As a result of “the Awakening”, resistance networks coordinated efforts to disrupt the enemy’s transplanting objectives: nationalists targeted the new transportation routes and building sites. Raids on British lines of communication increased. The rebels ambushed political officers [61, p. 451], rampaged British garrisons, burnt local bridges, blew up railroad lines, drowned supply ships and massacred their crew[28; 22, pp. 254–255]. Trains were looted and burnt [see 4]. Petrol dumps were blown up [4, p. 134]. “Everywhere and every day, the rebels sniped, murdered, pillaged, burned, kidnapped, robbed, laid siege, sabotaged, and unwove the very fabric of Britain’s presence” [22, p. 256]. The tribes attacked foreign presence indiscriminately, targeting military and reconstruction efforts alike [189, pp. 270–271]. “Nor did it matter if the British were Moslem Indians or Christian” [22, p. 256]. The tribes were out for loot and attacked both native merchants and British officers indiscriminately in an “orgy of plunder, […] laying hands on grain stores and fruit” [4, p. 147].

6.1.2 The Inflammatory Response to British Tutoring

The 1920 revolt can be seen as a violent reaction to State-rearing. The umma of Mesopotamia erected alternative autonomous institutions instead of adopting British rules. The British orphanage was replaced by a national education system: the Mesopotamian Nationalist League and the Independence Guards set up “independent schools” of secondary and higher education. In such schools “the teaching staff was composed of ardent young nationalists” [4, p. 140], who “actively disseminated pro-independence propaganda and worked to unite the Sunni and Shia into a national movement against the British administration” [38, pp. 369–370]. Patriotic teachings roused enthusiasm among the young generation [4, pp. 140–141]. Encouraged by the wave of nationalism Iraqi delegates requested the Mesopotamian Convention be elected in conformity with Turkish electoral law. They summoned the British to respect the promises they had made to the people of Iraq in the Anglo-French declaration of November 1918 and appealed for a united Arab Government elected by universal suffrage [4, p. 141]. Arabs were confident they could be schooled by their own.

Instead, Great Britain announced it had accepted the mandate for Mesopotamia and would pursue State-rearing. British authorities organised a highly selective and deeply flawed survey of “local opinion designed to keep Iraq under a tight grip” [38, pp. 367–368]. The results of this “sanitised consultation” showed an exaggerated degree of acquiescence to continued British schooling amongst sheikhs and notables. Furthermore, the Organic law written by British lawyers would provide the framework to “facilitate the development of Mesopotamia until such a time it [could] stand by itself.” Such an announcement “spurred the nationalists to fresh activity” [4, p. 140].

Efficient taxation was another source of the revolt [53, p. 135]. British land policy had entrenched a rigid class system between tribal landowners and farm workers, in turn accentuating political divisions between advocates and opponents of British rule in Mesopotamia. Some notables and sheiks had agreed to support British presence in exchange of material privileges and immunity from taxation. Others, fearing increased taxation, rejected any form of tutelage [191, p. 250]. “This was particularly the case among the tribes of the Euphrates and the marsh regions of southern Mesopotamia, whose isolation and fierce rejection of centralised Ottoman government had rendered them largely immune from state demands before 1914” [38, p. 363]. Because of their autonomous condition these “hereditary robbers” [4, p. 138] were easily galvanised by Shiite dignitaries in the city of Karbala, who proclaimed a Holy War against Christian Infidels.

6.2 The Secondary Immune Response

During the American occupation opposition groups revived the foundational act of national resistance. The 1920 thawra was the “primaryimmune response—the immune response that is elicited when the body first encounters a specific antigen” [99, p. 2098]. A second active immunity [103, p. 5] emerged in 2004 and mirrored the Thawra. This “secondary immune response” is elicited when the body encounters a specific antigen a second time. In line with the biological metaphor Iraq’s endogenous resistance to exogenous State-building is similar to an organism’s repulsion and expulsion of foreign pathogens. After “recognizing the specific antigen” [99, p. 2095] the social immune system mounts a response to expel what is perceived as dangerous to its health [111, p. 88].33

Some legal scholars have claimed that legal regimes that are foreign to the social fabric of the host State are less likely to be successfully transplanted [see 67, p. 561]. In this light, the CPA deregulation orders were more likely to fail considering Iraqi law under the previous Ba’ath regime had not recognized the privatisation of public property. On the contrary, the 1970 Iraqi Constitution relied on Arab socialist nationalism, whereby “public ownership and properties of the Public Sector are inviolable” [see 169, art 15]. Previous constitutional law called for economic equality, for the public ownership of the means of production and for the duty of care for the good of all. Moreover, immobile ownership was prohibited for foreigners [see 169, art 18]. This regime of collective ownership was surgically removed by the occupying forces in 2003.

The endogenous reaction to the exogenous destruction of Iraq’s constitutional fabric was immediate. Aware of the importance of black gold for “oiling Western presence in Iraq” [cited in [69], p. 198], insurgents systematically targeted key pipeline infrastructures to disable the extractive economy [123, p. 72]: “near-daily attacks [frustrated] efforts to resume exports of Iraqi crude oil? Via Turkey” [87, p. 101]. In 2003 alone, insurgents performed 85 acts of sabotage on the Kirkuk–Ceyhan pipeline [87, p. 101] as a strategy of immune response to a perceived foreign threat to their vital life stream [111, p. 89]. Insurgents also put the electrical infrastructure out of commission, “sabotaging the towers that carry high-voltage lines to Baghdad from generating facilities in the south” [125].

Furthermore, the CPA “order banning Baathist Party members from holding government office compelled many disenfranchised and previously neutral Iraqis” [84, p. 114] to join the insurrection. Iraqi army veterans who had been dismissed without compensation by the CPA emerged after major combat operations to wage guerilla warfare against foreign troops. They carried out ‘search and destroy’ missions within the body. The aim was to draw US troops into the urban jungle to “kill enough Americans to send them home” [128]. Iraqis appropriated the metaphors of decadence and disease to characterise the American enemy. Iraqi insurgents performed kinetic warfare in reverse: their aim was to return the American gift of “shock and awe” by clustering improvised explosive devices (IED) along the enemy’s communication lines [174]. Having recognized the invasive antigens, ambushed Iraqi “antibodies” performed “cellular wall perforation” by blasting army vehicles with explosives. Between 2005 and 2006 “roadside bombs exploded at a rate of 600 per week” [84, p. 178] The intensity of the attacks on foreigners and collaborators of the US-backed regime was hoped to provoke the rejection of the transplanted regime.

Finally, Iraqi delegates and ministers of the new regime were considered corrupt by contagious collaboration with the enemy. Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, the Al-Qaeda operative and plotter of the 2006 Golden Mosque bombing in Samarra, described the Iraqi security forces as “the eyes, ears and hand of the occupier” [21, p. 43]. One insurgent group emphatically declared: “To sign a contract with the occupiers is to sign your death certificate” [cited in 69, p. 195]. The ensuing “body parts war” [140, p. 253] as American soldiers called it, became a metabolic metaphor of the country’s division between collaborators and insurgents. Repeated suicide bombings, roadside ambushes and explosions targeted analgesic collaborators such as Parliament officials. Much like a tissue infected by natural killer cells punching holes into the cell membrane, the Green Zone was frequently shelled by insurgents with rockets. The lobbing of mortars into the Emerald City enclave shattered the American illusion of immaculate market transformation. These were not random acts of terror motivated by “sectarian radicals” but targeted assassinations of international administrators and Iraqi collaborators.34 Between 2003 and 2004 Iraqi “death squads” attacked Jordanian contractors, US private security corporations (Vinnel, Blackwater), Japanese diplomats, Spanish intelligence officials, and armed convoys delivering new Iraqi Dinars to 243 banks across the country [124, p. 89] (Figs. 2, 3).
Fig. 2

Baghdad’s green zone enclave

Fig. 3

Cross-section of a cellular membrane

7 Immunosuppressant Expulsion of Antibodies

In order to quell antibody resistance and save their legal transplants British nurses (7.1) and American doctors (7.2) dispatched immunosuppressant agents across the country. “The goal is to prevent the immune system from attacking the newly transplanted organ when the organ is not closely matched. If these medicines are not used, the body will almost always launch an immune response and destroy the foreign tissue” [181]. Yet, Iraqi “immunosurgents” managed to prolong rebellion and haemorrhaging against British and American transplantation (7.3).

7.1 The British Headmaster’s Collective Punishments

In the 1920s British officials used the metaphor of corruption to refer to the dissemination of nationalist seditious propaganda. According to British officials, “to allow self-determination would be to sow the ‘seeds of decay and dissolution,’ an ‘anarchic’ step” [A. T. Wilson, Loyalties, Mesopotamia, vol. 1, pp. 103, 110, as cited by Dodge [53], p. 11] They considered nationalist sentiment to be a radical minority opinion amongst Iraqi pupils, for “the bulk of the people had no definite opinion and were not in a position to form one” [4, p. 127]. The illiterate shepherds, marsh dwellers and primordial tribes were “entirely ignorant of a world that lay outside their swamps and pasturages, and entirely indifferent to its interests, and to the opportunities it offers” [19, p. 322]. The British tutor disqualified the insurgents, reducing them to an undisciplined, immature youth suddenly given unlimited freedom: “They are like children. […] They don’t know what they really do want” [British Civil Servant quoted in [158], p. 24].

However “immature” the Iraqi orphans were, their actions posed a serious threat to the British efforts of modernisation. In the burgeoning age of information networks, insubordinate ideas flooded the streets of Baghdad. The necessity to monitor restive urban crowds prompted the British to develop an epidemiological perspective on Arab nationalist leagues. The paranoid fear of “infectious ideas” (theocracy, nationalism, communism) occupied the minds of the colonial establishment, which increasingly perceived Arab nationalism as “irrational and dangerous” [53, p. 21]. In Gertrude Bell’s opinion, the 1920 revolt was “a nationalist reign of terror” [89, p. 56]. Soon the British decided to replace the Mandate by a formal treaty of alliance with promising Sunni pupils in order to quell popular antipathy against their rule. Social engineers developed more subtle ways of fooling the orphans into accepting trusteeship. In a letter to Churchill, the Head of the British Forces explains why the mandate ought to be exercised through more subtle forms of coercion:

[The Iraqis] seem to me to resemble a child who, in its anxiety to display its power of walking, resents the nurse taking its hand, but submits, without loss of amour-propre and possibly with some gratitude, to support exerted less ostentatiously elsewhere. [see 139 as cited by Dodge 53, p. 65]

Indirect nursing was carried out by way of a 1921 bilateral agreement with upper-class Sunnis led by a puppet monarch, King Feisal. The recognition and promotion of an outstanding Arab pupil such as Emir Feisal was intended to give the Iraqi subjects a pledge of British benevolence. Yet on the first occasion King Feisal and his cohort would jump the fence and distance themselves from British tutors to establish their own school of thought. A British agent explained to the Middle East Department of the Colonial Office the reason for their insubordination: Faisal and his fellow men were “the basest creatures on earth” because of their “mean-spirited and cowardly” nature [see 10, p. 336]. This racist evaluation of Arab character had progressively led the British to believe that “a conciliatory attitude proved an incentive rather than a sedative” [4, p. 138]. In June 1920 they had already warned Iraqi delegates gathered in Bagdad that “in encouraging disorder and inciting the population against the existing regime, they were rousing forces which would prove too strong for native institutions while in their infancy” [4, p. 141]. Yet, in the absence of any sign of appeasement Britain’s legacy had to be forced onto the undisciplined orphans with utmost brutality (Fig. 4).
Fig. 4

Evolution of King Feisal (1885–1933), from tribal leader to model pupil under British State-rearing. He would ultimately be grounded for attempting to rebel against his tutor

As a school drop-out King Feisal was grounded and kept under a close watch at the master’s headquarters [see 159]. Meanwhile the British resorted to punitive reprisals to squash the “fanatical and hostile” nationalist rebellion [4, p. 135]. In Baghdad they censored free speech, banned political parties and deported trouble-makers [53, p. 21]. In the North the High Commissioner sent “a column of troops, which ravaged the harvest in the area, destroyed the homes of suspected troublemakers and chased the entire population of Tal Afar, innocent and guilty alike, into the desert” [69, p. 65]. The High Commission was “a kind of head tutor to the struggling young kingdom” [British Civil Servant quoted in [158], p. 21]: he modified Iraqi law in order to expel agitators from the classroom [46, p. 25]. The High-Commission judged Iraqis’ performance based on merit by handing out a mixture of punishments and rewards. While investment bankers and landowners were rewarded with tax incentives, religious zealots and disturbing nomads were grounded or expulsed to Persia [159, pp. 57 and 225].

Most tellingly perhaps the British tutor decided to use local levies and air power to quell the resistance and create a pliable recipient of economic reform [190, p. 251]. “Eighteen Indian Army battalions were rushed to Mesopotamia to join the 55,000 Indian and 10,000 British troops still in the country, and by mid-October they succeeded in quelling the rising” [38, p. 375]. With time, the maintenance of troops in Iraq was too costly and replaced by air policing [78, p. 283]. The Royal Air Force (RAF) was called to rescue school discipline, whilst shortening the master’s purse. British tutors believed in the persistent gaze of the RAF as a method of panoptical control over the remote desert, though some within the military establishment riled the scheme as a recipe for disaster.35 Faced with the difficulty of maintaining long lines of communication without sufficient funds and ground troops the High Commissioner used air power to warn King Feisal and his countrymen that they were under constant supervision and threat of punishment. “There was no other methods available than punitive action by air” [4, p. 145].

7.1.1 Panoptical Surveillance and the Use of Fumigating Air Raids

The panoptical regime of aircraft surveillance was justified on the grounds that Bedouin and Kurdish tribes were in a perpetual state of war and needed to be schooled to stand straight and fall back in line. Rebellion to State authority was considered an anomaly. Tribal anarchy was a threat to “ordered government” and had persistently been “a centrifugal force adverse to the formation of a unified State” [4, p. 143]. When tribes refused to submit to the authority of their tutor it became perfectly legitimate to machine-gun their settlements. “The desert was alive with Arab raiding parties and, in Colonel Leachman’s opinion, the only way to deal with the disaffected tribes was ‘wholesale slaughter’” [61, p. 452]. Under the British mandate tribal rebellion was “pacified” by the burning of crops, the destruction of homes [22, p. 253] and the new power of airplanes. The projection on Bedouin culture of a British hygienic fantasy justified their use of aircraft bombing [see 137, 138]. State discipline had to be sternly enforced, for Arabs orphans were immature “liars and scoundrels” [4, p. 24], “incapable of honest dealings” [4, p. 129], illiterate and “ignorant of the laws of health and sanitation” [4, p. 17]. As a result the “hornet’s nest of Arab tribes” [135, p. 510 as quoted in 61, p. 141] was fumigated by air raids. In the mountainous Mosul province and along the Zob-el-Astal River the RAF recommended the use of poison gas bombs to expel the truant rebels from their hiding caves and draw them into the light.36 Air power had quickly become a tool to enforce compulsory school attendance.

Between 1920 and 1925 all rules of humanitarian concern for civilians were discarded for the sake of discipline and State-building.37 The “tribal principle of communal responsibility” [147, p. 26] allowed indiscriminate pilots to discard the customary distinction between combatants and non-combatants and level whole villages, such as Karbala, Najaf, and Kufa. In breach of sanctuary immunity the British bombed the Kufa mosque, where the Imam had been accused of sheltering political activists [22, p. 256]. In the first years of Iraq’s resistance collective punishment had become a consequence of the violation of State discipline.

7.1.2 Fiscal Death from Above

Furthermore, in order to establish the new Iraqi State, the British had to pacify “parts of the country which were more or less anarchic and had rarely paid taxes in the past” [159, p. 187]. Because “the reluctance to pay taxes is hereditary” [158, p. 17] the RAF must “prod the provinces with explosives […] to take over the duties of a bailiff on behalf of King Feisal” [158, p. 17]. In Iraq British pilots became fiscal representatives appointed by the State to extract overdue revenue [4, p. 145]. The Bani Huchaim—a tribal society scattered along the Euphrates—were accused of resisting crop measurements and the payment of arrears. They were repressed by air control [4, p. 145]. As a result “Morale Bombings” [22, p. 257] were meant to “terrorise the inhabitants of parts of rural Iraq into paying taxes” [61, p. 452]. Only through constant airstrikes, military blockades, water shortages and “cash influx from the British rentals, purchases, wages, and political subsidies” [22, p. 216] were the British tutors able to contain the “irrational mass completely under sway of social or moral contagion [117, p. 65 referring to 98]. In 1920 alone the fiscal repression inflicted 8450 Arab casualties and cost 40 million pounds sterling. Aerial policing enforced the British medicine of State taxation “as a panacea for all the ills to which tribal situations [gave] rise” [121].

Lastly, bombing campaigns satisfied the need to protect oil field exploration from native eruption [104, p. 117]. Aerial policing was born out of the specific need to secure a widely unmapped and untapped territory [147, p. 1]. “Air power was the ‘midwife’ in the birth of the Iraqi state” [53]. Reflecting on the state of affairs in 1925 Lieut.-Colonel Leo Amery claimed: “If the aeroplanes were removed tomorrow, the whole structure would inevitably fall to pieces” [42]. Throughout the 1920s air power continued to “radiate” across the land. Morale bombing was a new medical tool air-dropped over the schoolyard to ensure school attendance and tribal compliance. Aerial surveillance became the preferred method of State discipline [147, p. 2].

7.2 American Immunosuppressant Strategies

Likewise the United States Air Force (USAF) believes in the accuracy of “kinetic” bombardment campaigns to “strike everywhere—and at once” [147, p. 15]—the enemies of its regime transplant. Today, “antibodies” of the old regime’s shadow State—Saddam’s military guard—are remotely eliminated by airstrikes. The “persistent stare” [68, 108] of USAF Eagle Eye drones monitors Iraq’s vital revenue stream [see 105]. Surveying the desert oil fields drone pilots have been known to refer to insurgent casualties as “bug splats” [see 147, p. 13]. Metaphors of hygienic cleansing litter the military literature on counterinsurgency tactics. During the immunosuppressant counterinsurgency campaign, “search and sweep” [12] operations, known to have destroyed many Iraqi homes, were presented as legitimate forms of collective punishment in seditious areas [5].

7.2.1 “Shake & Bake”

The 2004 and 2006 battles of Fallujah revealed the extensive use of Iraqnophobic metaphors to justify the counterinsurgency tactics of the US military. One particular campaign, codenamed Operation Phantom Fury, resorted to the use of white phosphorus to clear the city of insurgents. White phosphorus was disseminated to “shake & bake” or “flush out combatants from fortified positions” [167, p. 326]—otherwise known as “spider holes” [167, p. 356]—as a way to expose them to sniper fire and high explosives. The chemical agent was also reported to have directly afflicted civilians in the densely-populated areas of Fallujah, Nasariyah, and Baquba [167, p. 355]. Like the British schoolmasters before them, American doctors target entire populations in breach of civilian immunity from war objectives.

7.2.2 The Immunosuppressant Surge

Between 2003 and 2006, 40,000 insurgents were killed and 200,000 wounded by counterinsurgency troops. The violent war which erupted provoked the death of 71,500 Iraqi civilians between 2004 and 2006 [see 122, p. 12]. American landscaping battalions were deployed to clean out the “festering wound” [62] of guerilla warlords before it “metastasized” [165, p. 172]. General Casey’s initial “light footprint” tactics were replaced by an emergency plan, known as “the surge”, which refers to the swelling of the army regiment. The think tank responsible for designing this counterinsurgency plan was a group of PhD graduates from West Point and the RAND Corporation advising the Pentagon on military strategy in Iraq. Their group was astutely coined “Doctors Without Orders38” [Interview with Col. William Hix, 62]—a play on the denomination of the international relief organisation founded by the French Doctors. The U.S. emergency plan to rescue Iraq's constitutional transplant was called “Operation Imposing Law”.

In 2007, as violence escalated, the United States committed 20,000 additional troops on the ground to act as an immunosuppressant surge. “As the war metamorphosed from regime change to counterinsurgency, the Coalition adopted more invasive and punitive measures” [161, p. 152]. As stated by the Surge Plan Announcement the aim was to “embed”, “surround” and “isolate radical Islamic extremists and militias” [129]. In order to address the “endemic disease” of terror US troops adopted a new policy of “clearing insurgents door-to-door, holding neighbourhoods by stationing troops among the people” [100, p. 248] To defeat the “endless swarm” of insurgents the American doctors had to wage a new type of war by attacking their breeding ground. Incapable of distinguishing between combatants and civilians, some US military divisions equated the insurgency with “an amorphous organism” [161, p. 158] and targeted military-age males indiscriminately [161, p. 159]. Homes in highly populated urban areas were sprayed with gunfire and fragmentation grenades to clear the ground.39

7.2.3 Community “Embedding”

The insurgent’s immune reaction was painfully contained by a commitment of additional ground troops and monetary kickbacks. As difficulties of local policing mounted, the Americans resorted to tactics of cooptation and bribery. Iraq’s spoils of war were used to compensate civilian property loss and infrastructure damages. In 2007 Sunni insurgents were compensated $400 million by the US Army in exchange for signing a truce with the Government. The insurgency was “domesticated by ever larger doses of the antidote” [57, p. 125], namely monetary bribes. An infantry soldier believed that “With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them” [Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Sassaman, US 4th Infantry Division, December 2003, as cited by Filkins 59]. The Americans would resort to the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, a discretionary fund financed by Saddam’s treasure trove to bribe local officials and pay compensation to people whose houses had been destroyed or family members killed. “‘Money is ammunition,’ [Lieutenant General Petraeus] liked to say” [84, p. 76]. In other words, “corruption became [routinely] embedded in the key institutional apparatuses of the economy” [187, p. 189].

The extensive use of medical metaphors served to legitimate and prolong American “shock therapy” in Iraq. Local “agitators” such as Moqtada al-Sadr—“a cancer undermining the legitimate government” [91] —were pacified by monetary incentives. The Mahdi Army, which provided basic service such as electricity to the population of Sadr City, reluctantly gave up its weapons in exchange for cash. Moreover, external antigens aimed to expulse the host’s antibodies and prevent their return, by “embedding” themselves into the community and “winning the hearts and minds” of the population. This was evident in Petraeus’ surge tactics that would become known as “Clear Hold, Build.” The idea was to sweeten the pill of regime change by demonstrating “cultural awareness”, which was “a force multiplier” [101].

7.3 Prolonged Rebellion and Haemorrhaging

Despite British and American efforts to crush and bribe the insurrection the “autoimmune” resistance to legal transplantation was sustained. As it happened, the persistent bombing campaigns only contributed to creating more enemies [162]. Under the British Mandate Bedouins sought shelter from bombing, taxation and State-rearing by resorting to new techniques of camouflage: “Iraqis found cover in watercourses, hillocks, and other features of the allegedly ‘featureless’ landscape” [see 136, 188]. Bedouin refusal to accept settlement “likewise prohibited panoptic surveillance” [147, p. 5]. Tax-collectors of the air “drop[ped] their ‘eggs’ as accurately as possible, but they [could] not single out individuals” [158, p. 15]. Moreover, it was not unusual for the RAF to bomb the wrong town. The panoptical gaze gave the British the “illusion of omniscience” [147, p. 14], but could not quell tribal rebellion. Ultimately the British experience in Iraq proved the inherent limit of magic carpet bombing as a social engineering tool. If metaphors are springboards for collective action their implementation also reveals the impotence of British imperial redemption, which rested on the “romance of desert flight” [147, p. 9]. In Iraq oriental fantasies turned into political nightmares.

In the same vein, marginalised Iraqis today refuse to be locked into the open-sky prison fantasy built by American drone wars. Regime-change and panoptical landscaping were meant to terrorise the population into submission. Yet, indiscriminate “death from above” fueled “outrage down below” [85]. Now that Americans have withdrawn most of their troops from Iraq40 the Iraqi Government is still fighting the “insurgency”. Still today, the US administration is in quandary and anguished rumination over the future disposition of its client State. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, by dissolving the Iraqi army, provided insurgents a recruiting opportunity among “angry, unemployed Iraqis” [82]. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) rose precisely out of the failed transplant by offering marginalised Sunnis a six-stage cure to Western inoculation: “awakening, eye-opening, rising-up, recovery, confrontation and victory” [see 73]. The insurgents emulated enemy practice by “winning the hearts and minds” of disenfranchised Iraqis. Their objective is to transplant an alternative sovereign entity: the Caliphate [see 110].

ISIS also seized control of dams, oil wells, refineries, ports, banks and wheat crops to cripple the material foundations of the capital [20]. ISIS smuggled oil through Turkey on the black market at the rate of $1 million per day. Owing to the appeal of the “dark oil trade”, young men have been lured into Iraq to fight alongside local militants. The rise of ISIS is, to some extent, the “unintended consequence” of Western intervention in Iraq [75]. America’s flawed diagnosis and remedy enabled the proliferation of ISIS, which grew stronger by mimicking the CPA’s extortion tactics in a deregulated oil market.41 ISIS fed off the CPA’s reforms, namely a monetized cash economy, the dark oil trade, an informal network of trade intermediaries and mercenary employment. Such behaviour could be interpreted as a mutation of American regime transplantation, as one essay put it:

While the perceived sectarian policies of the Iraqi government and the brutality of the Assad regime provide the oxygen and nutrients to sustain Daesh, the tribal lands in the vast desert landscape to the north and south of the Euphrates between Syria’s Aleppo and Iraq’s Fallujah provide Daesh the vital structure and muscle tissue it needs to function. [8]

Instead of admitting their failed experiment the Western Powers resort to the same immunosuppressant strategy as before. Still today Central Command relies on aerial bombing to wipe out the insurgency [120]. The Obama administration has offered the Iraq Government military support against ISIS by dropping thousands of Hellfire missiles from Reaper and Predator drones [13, see more generally 108]. The military “targeted killing” is combined with an economic policy of “choking off IS lifeline” [119] and “incinerating” cash depots [55].

Yet, field reports estimate that the “fly and fry” tactics of Operation Inherent Resolve have “barely made a dent in the […] campaign to kill the ideology that animates the terrorist movement.42” On the contrary President Obama admitted at a NATO press conference that the ideology of violent extremism “had metastasised and […] entered communities around the world” [119]. Today, fearing the conversion of their own citizens to radical Islam, hypochondriac bureaucrats increase State expenditure in an effort to eradicate the Caliphate [see 180]. In light of ISIS’s recruitment success a US Brain Trust was established by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to understand its “magnetic attraction” and “probe” its “hybrid sleeper cells” [16]. As we write, the White House is still relying on its immunosuppressant doctrine by considering expansion of its “new elite special operations and intelligence fusion cell in northern Iraq” [55]. Biological metaphors of disease and recovery keep feeding American foreign policy in the Gulf.

8 Conclusion

In this study the legal epidemiological discourse was applied to Iraq to test the strength of the biomedical analogy in the field of international relations. After a brief study of Iraqnophobia it becomes clear that Iraq was born and reborn out of dark Western fantasies. The repeated failure of bioengineering tactics reveals a belligerent state of nolumus—a refusal to learn from the past [126, p. 171]. From 1918 onwards the pervasive use of biomedical metaphors has shaped the country’s history “first as tragedy, then as farce.43” Lawrence of Arabia is the tragedy and Paul Bremer the farce. The tragically failed British attempt at State-building [see 157] is a distant and distorted mirror of the American farce of exogenous State collapse.44 Contrary to British nursing which still relied on the ideology of sovereign representation, American shock therapy attempted the transplantation of “uncontaminated capitalism” [88, p. 54, our italics], void of institutional planning. Al-Baghdadi’s Caliphate is a reaction to the institutional vacuum provoked by American “shock therapy”. Beyond their differences, both British and American military interventions failed to successfully transplant their political project in Iraq [52, p. 192]. Iraq constitutes a radical test to sketch the outlines of a growing autoimmunity crisis in a postcolonial world.

From the beginning of Iraq’s troubled history the artificial State transplanted by outsiders had no firm footing in Mesopotamia [14, p. 3]. The heterogeneous patchwork of disparate religious, ethnic, and tribal groups did not sit well in the British classroom. The result was a failure to keep discipline among the orphan pupils [53, p. X, preface]. Because of chronic turbulence the schooling of rebellious Arabs had to be aborted in 1932.

Today, “US security interests are not very different from those of the British in 1932” [190, p. 258]. In light of today’s spread of violence we dare ask if indeed the constitutional transplant of postcolonial Iraq would survive without the United States’ military assistance to the new regime. Because of Iraq’s precarious birth and reform its social body would possibly dismember along regional, confessional and ethnic lines were it not kept on artificial life support.

Iraqi history informs us that once the immunosuppressant British air power had departed, the transplanted artificial Nation State was up for grabs to the highest military bidder. Once the British mandate came to an end in 1932 the palace of the fragile dynasty set up 10 years earlier by Churchill was stormed by military bullies. Headed by General Bakr Sidqi, young army officers armed and trained by the British took control of the State apparatus and toppled the constitutional monarchy. Indeed, the bitter lesson of British trusteeship was that the very cure that could bring prosperity to Iraq could also sow the seeds of its destruction. It remains to be seen if Iraq will recover from yet another mismatched constitutional transplant.


Recall the time of George W. Bush’s Presidency, when American Spin Doctors used the vocabulary of crop selection to equate Middle Eastern enemies with the threat of corruption.


For a long historical view see [65].


After the September 2001 attacks, the US Department of State advocated a strong policy of weeding out “rogue States” which sponsored terrorist activities. Pursuant to the policy of striking terrorism “by its branch and root” the purge of a “rogue State” alluded to the removal of an “abnormal” political body whose biochemical arsenal posed a threat to the national security of the United States. See [115, 183].


See the Urban Dictionary online: “Iraqnophobia, noun. An irrational fear of Iraq and its ability to make and use biological or nuclear weapons.” For use of the term in academia see [74].


The “infoganda” was so persuasive that “69 % of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was probably involved in 9/11.” See [114].


Also, cognitive psychologists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson argue that that affective evaluations are represented, implicitly and automatically, in terms of perceptual metaphor. See [93].


The term was used inside the intelligence community during the Bush campaign to wage war against Iraq. See [40, p. 33].


“The peoples left behind by the decomposition of [Turkey] are mostly untrained politically […] and will require much nursing towards economic and political independence.” Smuts, Memorandum on the League of Nations, as cited by Macmillan [102], p. 99].


See the wording of Art. 22 (4), Covenant of the League of Nations [41].


Legal epidemiology studies the spread and penetration of foreign legal transplants into new spaces of jurisdiction and host bodies of law. See [166, 184].


On ISIS’s suicide-bombing quest for purity, see [48].


“The metastasis of [the Islamic State] has to be taken care of,” he said, “as well as the parent tumor, which is in Syria and Iraq” [151].


It was all the more “necessary because the ‘fabric and personnel’ of the Ottoman system had vanished, thus making impossible the ‘retention of indigenous laws and institutions’” [66, as cited by Coates Ulrichsen 38, p. 356].


See General Maude’s proclamation: “O people of Baghdad, remember that for twenty-six generations you have suffered under strange tyrants who have ever endeavored to set one Arab House against another in order that they might profit by your dissensions. This policy is abhorrent to Great Britain and her Allies […].” Proclamation, delivered by Gen. Stanley Maude to the people of Baghdad, March 19, 1917, as reproduced in [158].


A British “expert” of the Civil Services quoted in [159, p. 25].


See the wording of Art. 22, Covenant of the League of Nations [41].


See the reference to General Maude’s Proclamation to the People of Bagdad, in [4, p. 32].


The patrolling of traffic routes by the sons of feudal warlords was believed to “provide an outlet for restless spirits” see [4, pp. 19, 90].


A March 1925 agreement distributed equal shares amongst British, Dutch, American and French shareholders united under the banner of the deceivingly denominated Turkish Petroleum Company (TPC). See [175; 22, p. 228; 81, p. 671].


“The outlaw state [was] incarcerated within a separate legal regime without rights and subject to continual surveillance and occasional disciplinary violence” [155, p. 343].


F-16 fighter aircrafts were used as lancets. See [94].


Iraq was suspected of sheltering undetectable mobile biochemical laboratories and building a nuclear program with enriched uranium. See [40].


In his January 2002 Axis of Evil” State of the Union address to Congress, President Bush claimed that “the Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade” [134]. In his January 2003 address to Congress President Bush warned of Iraq’s alleged possession of “biological weapons materials sufficient to produce over 25,000 l of anthrax, enough doses to kill several million people” [133]. The biochemical scare was a key element of the US smearing campaign against the Iraqi Head of State. It would later be revealed, however, that the dispersal of infectious spores on Capitol Hill was in fact an “autoimmune disease launched from within [America’s] own biodefense establishment.” The elusive viral pathogen had been leaked out of an American military laboratory to engender the very threat it stood to protect the public against. See [86, p. 108]. See also [40, p. 136].


The Shock and Awe doctrine applicable to Iraq covers “actions that create fears, dangers, and destruction that are incomprehensible to the people at large, specific elements/sectors of the threat society, or the leadership.” See [56, p. 110].


The belligerent rendered the enemy “impotent” by “depriving [them] in specific areas, of the ability to communicate, observe” [84, p. 52]. This includes such strategies as “real-time manipulation of senses and inputs […] literally 'turning on and off' the 'lights' that enable any potential aggressor to see or appreciate the conditions and events concerning his forces and ultimately, his society” [176, p. xxviii].


The metaphor has roots in Mao Tse-tung’s “description of guerilla fighters as fish swimming in the sea of the people. US counterinsurgency experts after World War II took up the phrase in their strategies of “draining the sea” to counter guerilla warfare” [79].


US President Bush's address from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, December 14, 2005.


See conformity of CPA Order 39 replacing “all existing foreign investment law” (Section 3, § 1, CPA/ORD/19 Sept. 2003/39) with Article 43 of the Hague Convention (1907): “The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country” [39].


Lustration “denotes the disqualification of a former elite, of the secret police and their informers, or of civil servants from holding political office under the new regime” [27, p. 157]. See also [45].


“No country had ever been subjected to the radical degree and intensity of wrenching economic change that the US was attempting in Iraq” [54, p. 145].


See wording of the United Nations Security Council Resolution CSNU S/RES/1483 [177, para 15].


“A shortage of food afflicted the entire region after 1916 as the dislocation to economic and commercial patterns led to poor harvests in 1916 and 1917 and meant that both the Baghdad and Mosul vilayats were in conditions of near famine when they came under British occupation in 1917 and 1918 respectively” [38, p. 364, citing 11, p. 279].


When an immune system encounters an invading organism, it alerts the body that it has been invaded by a foreign cell [99, p. 2094].


A study conducted by the University of Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism reveals that 95 % of suicide attacks are not motivated by religious fundamentalism but are in response to foreign occupation and civilian casualties. See [127] “We now have strong evidence that the narrative—that suicide terrorism is prompted by Islamic fundamentalism—is not true. […] The research also showed that civilian casualties during occupations increase suicide terrorism by giving terrorist leaders rallying points to turn local residents against the invading force.”


On the subject of the air defence policy in the Middle East, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson referred to the plan as “Hot Air, Aeroplanes and Arabs”. See [78, p. 286].


See Secret memo of RAF to Air Ministry, Apr 19, 1919: PRO AIR2/122.n April 29, 1919: “Gas bombs are required by 31st Wing for use against recalcitrant Arabs as experiment, the suggestion being concurred in by the General Staff, Baghdad” [150 as cited in 22, p. 248].


“This was a population at once so orientally backward and admirably manly and phlegmatic that […] all principles of ius in bello were irrelevant.” See [147, pp. 9–10].


Among them Darrell Henderson and Dr. Sepp. Also Lt. Col. Donald G. Rose.


“It may be a bad tactic”, admitted one soldier, but “it keeps you alive.” A private quoted in [161, p. 159].


By the end of August 2010, the United States had withdrawn nearly 50,000 combat troops from Iraq. See [190, p. 257].


ISIS is “a mafia adept at exploiting decades-old transnational gray markets for oil and arms trafficking” [185].


Eric Schmitt, “In Battle to Defang ISIS, US Targets its Psychology”, New York Times, Dec. 28, 2014.


“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce” [109, p. 31].


Iraq’s state of collapse is addressed in [141]. Kaldor and Said use the term “State un-building” in [83, p. 275].



I wish to thank Rose Parfitt, Peta Mitchell, Olivier Barsalou, Georges A. Lebel, Tina Beigi, Deborah Bonnie Rose, Audrey MacKay, the anonymous reviewers of the Journal and the organizers of the Melbourne Doctoral Forum on Legal Theory and "Contamination" held 9 and 10 December 2013 at the Melbourne Law School.

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Law FacultyUniversity of Quebec in MontrealMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Centre for the Study of International Law and Globalization (CÉDIM)MontrealCanada

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