Previous attempts to explain US policy towards Iraq from 2003 onwards have understood US intentions and actions through a coherent, rational-utility-maximizing model of the state. This article seeks to de-centre this rationalist explanation by examining the ideational drivers that shaped the Bush administration’s understanding of Iraq and hence its policy towards the remaking of its post-invasion politics. In order to gain ideational coherence, both the Iraqi Ba’ath Party and the Sunni community were understood through a ‘diabolical enemy image’ schema. As a consequence, an ‘exclusive elite pact’ was constructed, a post-war political system specifically built to exclude former members of the Ba’ath Party and marginalize the participation of the Sunni community. This policy of exclusion drove the country into civil war. One side, Iraq’s new ruling elite, fought to impose a victor’s peace, the violent suppression of former members of the old regime. On the other, those excluded launched an insurgency to overturn the post-war political order.