The Guardian April 28, 2004

Iraq: We need support, not a lecture

Salam Ali, a member of the Central Committee of the Iraq 
Communist Party (ICP), was interviewed by Richard Bagley for the 
British socialist newspaper Morning Star.

Salam Ali has a simple message to the anti-war movement in the 
face of continued violence in Iraq  "We don't need to be 
lectured", and called on left critics to "understand the 
complexities and forge alliances with the forces that matter".

The ICP has been criticised by some on the left for taking part 
in the 25-member US-appointed Governing Council. But the party 
has also pursued a strategy outside the Governing Council, said 
Salam Ali. After the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, the 
ICP, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, was well 
placed to re-establish itself openly across Iraq, having operated 
underground during the dictatorship.

Ali says: "It is effectively the best organised democratic force 
in Iraq. The party has expanded very fast."

But, he adds, "We are trying to expand but not at the expense of 
quality  it's a race against time to build a party and a strong 
democratic movement to face up to the challenges ahead."

In answer to some of the criticisms levelled at the Communists, 
Ali points out that the ICP was the only major force opposed to 
the invasion.

He adds: "We have no illusions whatsoever that the power that 
will be handed over on June 30 will be total or complete.

"The Americans will exercise influence on military, security and 
economic matters, but we hope that it will bring about a new 
correlation of forces."

Dealing with reality

Ali describes the Governing Council as a compromise. "What we 
took into account was, first and foremost, where the interests of 
the people lay", he says.

"We took into account the fact that people had come out of a war 
and were under occupation. "There was a collapse of not only the 
regime but the whole state. There were immense difficulties 
affecting the lives of people. Another path was possible, but it 
would mean more hardship for the people."

In the light of this, says Ali, the Governing Council was seen as 
a step forward in the direction of regaining national sovereignty 
and independence.

"We were also confident that not everything that the Americans 
and the occupying forces had planned would work as they wanted", 
he explains. "They have been forced to modify their plans  of 
course without changing their strategic objectives, we have no 
illusions about that."

He clarifies the current situation on permanent US bases in Iraq 
and privatisation, noting the refusal of the Governing Council to 
sign an agreement on the former.

On sell-offs, Ali says that there is consensus on the Governing 
Council on retaining the oil industry as an Iraqi state asset.

He also reveals that "even Bremer and the CPA [Coalition 
Provisional Authority  US, British, Australians, etc] have 
decided to shelve any large-scale privatisations for the simple 
reason that they know it would aggravate not only the economic 
situation but the social and political situation.

"One major shortcoming in the situation up to now is the failure 
to form a broad patriotic and democratic alliance  a very 
serious shortcoming", he admits.

"It has meant that on many issues we have had to work very hard 
to achieve a common stand."

Striving for unity

To the ICP, a strategy of united political confrontation is the 
best current method to advance, rather than inflicting more 
violence on a battered people.

The most recent crisis in Iraq has centred around the militia of 
Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who the US occupying forces want 
to extract from the holy city of Najaf.

Ali points out that the political and religious situation in Iraq 
is not as simple as that portrayed in the media and by the 
occupying forces.

He explains some of the issues behind the continuing 
confrontation with Sadr.

"In Iraq, one has to respect the reality of religion and Islam 
and the Shi'ite sect in particular", he says.

But, adds Ali, "the centre of authority in Najaf has always tried 
to distance itself from being directly involved in politics, 
political life and the affairs of state."

The highest Shi'ite authority in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, 
has refused to endorse calls for an armed uprising and, while 
refusing to negotiate with the Coalition Provisional Authority, 
has entered into discussions with UN representatives.

"Until this recent escalation, al Sadr was isolated and weakened 
in the Islamic Shi'ite camp", says Ali.

"Many Islamic parties and groups and even the main religious 
centre in Najaf led by Sistani would like very much to have Sadr 

Ali says that Sadr should "disband his group and work as a 
political group like others, rather than resort to intimidation 
and violence which was directed mainly against his political 

He sees the US stance towards Sadr's militia and other forces in 
Fallujah as inflammatory. "Really, they don't command much 
support, but the way that the Americans have been dealing with 
them has been giving them more weight than they deserve."

To Ali, the last few weeks serve as ample evidence of the folly 
of an armed strategy in the current situation.

"The biggest losers are the Iraqi people who are caught up in 
between, like the hundreds who were killed in the fighting in 

"The problem with the Americans is that they have no other 
language  they simply react with excessive force."

Political process

According to Ali, "the majority of political forces are for 
pursuing the political process to bring about elections 
supervised by the UN and a legitimate elected government to end 
the occupation fully.

"The alternative would be to drag the country in chaos and play 
into the hands of the neoconservatives in the US who want to turn 
Iraq into a battlefield for Bush's war on terror."

He addresses the nature of violent forces in Iraq other than 
Sadr's militia: "Yes, there is a patriotic element, we fully 
understand that. But, on the other hand, there are forces 
carrying out sabotage simply to destabilise the situation and to 
maintain the privileged position that they had before.

"There are remnants of the old regime. The dictatorship at the 
time had a sophisticated system of repression. They didn't just 
vanish", says Ali.

"They carry out operations in return for money paid by leading 
figures of the old regime, as well as tribal elements. Certain 
strata thrived under the sanctions through the smuggling of oil.

"Of course, there are other forces which jumped into the 
situation to settle scores against the Americans. The Americans 
actually allowed the borders to be open without taking any 
action. Whether deliberately or not we don't know."

One thing of which Ali is certain is that the US has been 
dragging its feet on the training and equipping Iraqi security 

"This escalation of violence  whether by design or default  
could play into the hands of those in the American establishment 
who want to sabotage or delay the transfer of power to the Iraqi 

He compares the potential situation in Iraq with that which now 
exists between Israel and the Palestinians, such as the US use of 
collective punishment.

"The US is trying to copy tactics used in the West Bank and Gaza. 
This is dangerous because you end up with a cycle of violence and 
counter-violence with the overwhelming majority of people and 
political forces marginalised.

"Now, you have only extremist elements that are used by Sharon to 
justify his plans and divert attention from the legitimate 
aspirations of the people to end occupation."

Ali has strong words for those on the left here who have hailed 
the current upsurge in violence as a sign of a "national 

"What is the agenda of these political groups?" he asks. "What 
alternative are they putting forward for Iraq and the region as a 
whole apart from violence and destabilisation and turning Iraq 
into a battlefield to fight their own wars against America?

"Anybody can go to Baghdad and they can detect straight away that 
the people simply are not part of it. They've had enough wars and 
killing. These people who are advocating support for 'national 
resistance' have to convince us  how will this in any way 
advance the causes of peace, democracy and social progress?"

He says that it is important to understand that there's "a very 
strong Iraqi national sentiment. Nobody wants the occupation  
everybody wants a speedy end to the occupation."

United Nations

Ali sees the UN as having a vital role, but argues that there is 
no way that elections can be held until the security situation 
improves  under adequate well-trained Iraqi forces.

"It's very irresponsible to say, on one hand, let the Iraqi 
people decide their fate without giving any alternative apart 
from supporting people like Sadr or extremist reactionary forces.

"Immediate elections are simply impossible. That is the 
conclusion that the UN came to after consulting all Iraq's 
political forces  including the clergy and Sistani and others. 
They agreed to prepare for elections at the end of the year."

Rather than criticising the democratic forces in Iraq for 
entering into discussions with the occupying powers, Ali believes 
that the left needs to engage with them and help ordinary Iraqi 
people take centre stage in the political process.

"One aspect which has not been given sufficient attention by the 
peace movement, not only in Britain but internationally, is 
solidarity with the democratic forces inside Iraq.

"They need to develop links with democratic forces. I'm not only 
talking about political parties  I'm talking about democratic 
organisations and social movements.

"We see it as unthinkable to imagine any advance, any social 
progress without political and social democracy."

It is important, he says, "not to think of Iraq and the Iraqi 
people simply as a means to achieve an end but as equal allies in 
the fight to gain an end to the policy of pre-emptive war.

"The Iraqi people don't need lectures in how to conduct their 
affairs. The people, from bitter experience, know their enemies 
very well.

"Some of the analysis on the left  I don't think it has been 
intentional  gives the impression that there are some who want 
to dictate and to lecture. We don't need to be lectured.

"Only democratic regimes representing the will of the people can 
stand up to imperialism. Saddam ended up being a paper tiger. He 
collapsed after two days.

"Unless people understand the complexities and forge an alliance 
with the forces that matter  with your allies in the struggle -
- it will always be a one-sided struggle, to the detriment of 
both us in Iraq and you in Britain."

* * *

Back to index page