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 defeated. 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 opposition." 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 Fallujah. "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 forces. "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 people." 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 resistance". "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."
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