Over the last 18 years, Baghdad has gone through transformations at breakneck speed. Many of these changes have been driven by war and insecurity brought about by the US and UK-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. During and after the occupation, attention on the city and the country has at various turns focused on foreign troop presence; the civil war; local militias; car bombs; and the fight against Daʿish. This working paper takes a broader approach while also zooming in on concrete urban changes. It considers social-spatial transformations in Baghdad with a focus on two of the city’s most important economic, entertainment and consumer districts: Karada on the east side of Baghdad, and Mansour on the west. Focusing on these two hubs helps to reveal entanglements between violence, property and consumption.
This paper aims to illuminate how changes in social-spatial life across Baghdad are grounded in political-economic logics through which elites in control of state institutions and parastatal armed entities politically and financially benefit. This study is primarily grounded in ethnographic research carried out in Baghdad from May through July 2019, including more than 45 interviews conducted with engineers, bureaucrats, urban planners, activists, politicians, and security personnel, among others. Violence, privatisation of property and land, and consumer markets are a collective set of factors and forces that have helped bring about and shape social-spatial transformations in Baghdad. These transformations, facilitated by a political economy serving an elite few, are far more consequential and longer lasting than has been discussed or even acknowledged. This paper thus aims to spur renewed interest in the everyday of Iraq’s capital city, and the lives of residents who have endured so much and gained so little.