2003 Invasion of Iraq

May 3, 2024

The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a key event in the region for many reasons but most importantly, the further weakening of Iraq as a regional superpower. Such an event would have multiple outcomes, not only for neighboring countries but also the remaining powers in the region. After the Iraq-Iran war, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and following sanctions, the Iraqi state was weakened not only militarily but also in terms of state capacity. As a result of this, Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, which were not powerful during the Iraq-Iran war, steadily gained power. I argue that while Iraq’s regional power was already largely diminished by the end of the 1990s, if not earlier, the US invasion of Iraq was a further hit to Iraqi power. As for internal politics, the United States changed the governing structure within Iraq. The new government system meant one with more Shi’i representation, as well as more Kurdish control of Kurdish territories. This is a shift from the minority Sunnis acting as the ruling elite. In addition to the power shift, Iraqi interregional relations changed as the regime changed. 

For Iran, after the fall of Iraq as a superpower, it became a leader in Levant politics, especially in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq (Gause 2014, 12). In particular, with Iraq so weakened it was open to outside influence (Gause 2014, 10). This seems especially the case as Iran started to form resistance to outside intervention in the Levant. According to Gause, the other regional superpower, Saudi Arabia, would take a power balancing stance in response to Iran’s growing power. 

Some scholars might argue that the significant weakening of Iraq as a state is partially responsible for a new cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Without Iraq’s weakening and Iran’s influence, Saudi Arabia might not have involved itself in regional politics in the same way. In addition, the price of oil increased post-2003 giving both Iran and Saudi Arabia increased funds. Contrary to the expected disagreement between the two states, in terms of oil both countries worked together successfully to raise oil prices (Gause 2010, chap.5).

I think Guase’s stance of a new cold war in MENA is compelling, I wonder if some scholars might go as far as to saying that a major cause of the new cold war in MENA is because of the impact of the US invasion in 2003. I’m inclined to think that while the most important outcome at least from a realist perspective, was a change in regional power that set up the current Gulf powers today. 


Gause, Gregory. 2010. “9/11, the Iraq War and the future of the Persian Gulf.” The International Relations of the Persian Gulf, New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Gause, Gregory. 2012. Beyond Sectarianism: The New Middle East Cold War. Doha: Brookings Institution. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/english-pdf-1.pdf 

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