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Contesting the Archives with the 1991 Iraqi Uprising
On March 1991 one of the largest mass uprisings against an Arab government took place. Thousands of Arab, Kurd, Turkmen and Assyrian Iraqis from cities to villages, revolted against incumbent president Saddam Hussein. By April 1, the suppression of this uprising resulted in the flight of one million refugees and over 100,000 deaths. Attempts to label the events of 1991 have been manifold. This uprising has been called a revolution, a riot, a rebellion, an uprising, a robbery, a people’s uprising, a religious revolution, a communist, nationalist or Islamist revolt, an intifada, a primordial frustration, a conspiracy, treachery, mutiny, a Shia uprising, or a Kurdish uprising. Many of these labels are attempts to give an explanatory guideline to what by many was perceived as a puzzling and unexpected uprising whose causes, meaning, trajectory and repression remain unsettled. I argue that the 1991 uprising was a transformative and meaning making event. In specific the 1991 uprising created new meanings of political legitimacy in Iraq and abroad. The uprising was a key event that kept being reproduced both domestically but also abroad in a varied way across the political spectrum and time both in writing, symbolism and speech. In these reproductions questions of political legitimacy, power and history were explored and contextualized. This is still the case today in Iraq. The 1991 uprising plays a prominent role in political mobilizations such as the popular mobilization forces, the 2019 protest or the elections, moreover the 1991 uprising remains a contested and hotly debated topic among the public as its legacy is intertwined with many political concerns, personal trauma and victim hood. Especially the history of imperialism and Neo-imperialism in Iraq is a recurring theme that descriptions of the uprising tries to account for. By reading the Kanan Makiya papers and the Baath party archives against the grain in combination with data collected through interviews conducted in Iraq, a multifaceted exploration of the knowledge production and ethics surrounding the political meanings of the 1991 uprising is presented.
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