The Guardian August 25, 2004

Iraq's communists urge political solutions

Susan Webb

The military confrontation in Najaf needs to be resolved 
politically, through dialogue, Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) 
spokesperson Salam Ali told the People's Weekly World in 
an August 14 interview. That position was echoed two days later 
by 1300 delegates at Iraq's national conference in Baghdad. They 
voted to send a delegation to Najaf to negotiate an end to the 

The conference delegates represented a cross-section of ethnic, 
regional, political and religious groups, women's groups, trade 
unions, tribes and notables. National guidelines specified that 
women were to make up 25 percent of the delegates. Most delegates 
were elected at conferences in Iraq's 18 provinces. Indicative of 
the developing political culture, Ali noted, a progressive woman 
was among 13 delegates elected by the more than 100 
overwhelmingly male, Islamic participants in one meeting in 
Baghdad's impoverished Al-Thawra (Revolution City  US media 
call it Sadr City) district.

"This is a unique experience for us. This is the first time [in 
decades] we are campaigning", said Ali, a member of the ICP 
central committee, speaking by phone from London. The security 
problems and lack of democratic political experience contribute 
to fear of participation, especially for women. The ICP is 
working to overcome this. The Party held campaign training 
sessions for its members, Ali said. "We told them, 'Sit with 
other people, not just among yourselves. Talk to people, talk 
about your family'."

The ICP now has 90 public offices throughout the country, an 
"amazing" expansion of the Party in the past year, after decades 
of repression, Ali said. In fact, the Party is resisting efforts 
to open additional offices, he said, because it wants party 
members to focus on being involved in mass activity among the 

Ali underscored the importance of the national conference as a 
step toward real sovereignty. In order to end the US occupation, 
he said, "We have to have a legitimate Iraqi government in 

The deteriorating security has raised concerns about possible 
postponement of national elections set for January. "That would 
serve the narrow political agenda of some forces to obstruct, and 
thereby to perpetuate the status quo and the occupation", he 
said. "There is deep concern about the fighting in Najaf. It is 
being used to sabotage the political process, to effectively 
paralyse life in some parts of Iraq".

The US Government is now operating "more deviously, behind the 
scenes", to maintain control over Iraq's security forces and its 
economy, Ali said. One US tactic, he suggested, is to "fragment 
the Islamic camp, weaken Islamic groups, and strengthen the hand 
of groups close to the US". The recent hard-line approach of 
interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi shows the hand of the US, Ali 
noted. He said Allawi has reverted to "old ways" in which a 
highly centralised tiny group is calling the shots  his 
National Security Council, consisting of the defence and interior 
secretaries and a national security adviser, closely associated 
with the CIA.

Moqtada al-Sadr has definitely drawn support among the 
marginalised, Ali said. But Sadr's "Mahdi army" is a sectarian, 
extremist Islamic movement without any clear program, Ali said. 
Sadr's slogans and demands change constantly, he noted. By 
engaging in violence Sadr has "alienated large sections of people 
who would otherwise sympathise with any movement that stands up 
to the occupation", Ali said. Most Iraqi people feel violence is 
futile and is paralysing the country, he said. "People are 
waiting, hoping the fighting will subside."

The ICP opposes resorting to violence to end the US occupation, 
and aims to resolve Iraq's problems through the political 
process, Ali said.

The national conference which opened August 15 is part of the 
process approved by the UN Security Council that includes a 
census and voter registration this fall, elections in January for 
a transitional government, drafting of a constitution, and 
election of a new government by the end of next year.

Conference delegates were to elect a 100-member interim national 
council that will exercise a degree of oversight over the current 
interim government headed by Allawi. The interim government has 
only "one main job  preparing for the elections", Ali said. The 
council will have authority to review government decrees, annul 
them by a two-thirds majority, and approve the national budget 
for next year.

More importantly, however, the conference and the council it 
elects, with all their limitations, will "provide a platform for 
political dialogue", Ali said. This is important for the 
development of the political process in a country that lacks a 
recent democratic tradition, he said.

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People's Weekly World

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