Raid Fahmi is a member of the Central Committee of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP). He represented the ICP at the International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties in Athens, Greece, June 19-20, 2003. The ICP is one of the 25 Iraqi representatives on the Iraqi Governing Council. The following is an abridged interview conducted with Fahmi on June 21 by John Bachtell for the People’s Weekly World and Political Affairs. To read or listen to the full interview go to www.cpusa.org
Q. Give us a sense of what’s happening in Iraq today.
A. It’s been two months since the regime fell. People are still facing basic problems. This is related to the war but also to the fall of the regime, which resulted in the fall of the Iraqi state. Iraqis face big problems with security and economic paralysis. Sixty percent of the people are unemployed; services have only been partially restored.
Politically, there is a very big disillusionment even among forces who worked closely with the Americans and who greeted the occupation. After two months there has been a delay in the political process. The UN resolution declared the U.S. and Britain as forces of occupation. This was really a big shock for many, even those who were allied with the Americans. Decisions have been made without any consultation with Iraqis.
The U.S. fundamentally changed its approach. [U.S. overseer L. Paul] Bremer decided to create an interim government. The Iraqis were expecting a provisional Iraqi government that would prepare for the transfer of power and a new constitution, etc. Now we have an interim power, which is run by the occupying force. They will designate an Iraqi council that will essentially only have an advisory role.
Another thing aggravated this problem. Bremer decided to dissolve the Iraqi army in a brutal way. They are taking 400,000 people and telling them to go back home and are giving them a few dollars for their services. This has created enormous discontent among a very wide section of the Iraqi army. They could have been given another means of subsistence. The same shock treatment has happened with the dissolution of several administrative departments and ministries. With all this and the sidelining of the Iraqis from the decision-making process, the level of discontent is rising.
Q. The American people were under the impression the U.S. troops were welcomed as liberators. Now two months later many soldiers are being killed. It looks like a quagmire. Tell us more about the attitude toward the occupying powers.
A. At first when the regime fell there was some relief among the Iraqi people. We were getting rid of this nightmare after 30 years. But as the problems remain and the occupying forces become more provocative, a lot of misgivings have been created.
This must be seen in the context of the existence of remnants of the Iraqi regime. The Baath Party had a million members. Of course many were forced to be members. Many who had important responsibilities, for example in the army, are still there.
Now they have started to foment discontent and defend their own interests. Operations are being carried out against the Americans. The response of the occupiers is creating discontent among people who don’t share the objectives of those who are carrying out the attacks. This is creating a climate of tension.
The forces that will benefit are the Islamic fundamentalist forces and remnants of the Hussein regime. This will have a bad effect for all the democratic forces that are working for an alternative – a broad national conference in which all political forces participate, and an authority that is legitimate in the eyes of the Iraqi people.
Q. How does the Party see ending the occupation? What role do you see for the UN? What form will the struggle take?
A. We are for a speedy end to the occupation and the creation of an Iraqi provisional government. It should arrange for the transfer of power from the occupying power and prepare the withdrawal of the troops. Of course if the Americans don’t respond, each party could resort to other forms of struggle.
At the moment, we think that political forms are the most appropriate. And I think that all the major political forces that don’t share the American view of things are for political forms of action to end the occupation.
We believe the UN should be involved, first to ensure a solution to the humanitarian problem but also politically. The UN could help facilitate the transition to a legitimate Iraqi democratic power. The UN could help ensure security and the economic reconstruction and all major decisions regarding the use of Iraqi national resources.
Who will decide if the Iraqi oil should be privatized or not? Or what contracts awarded to which corporations? In the absence of a true Iraqi authority, decisions about the economic structure of the country should not be taken without the UN.
Q. A major justification for war was the existence of weapons of mass destruction, which haven’t been found. So Bush is saying, “Well, at least we liberated the Iraqis.” The ICP opposed both the regime and the war as a means of liberation.
A. We were against the war. We said there were alternative means to pressure the Hussein regime, in accordance with international legalities. There was UN Resolution 688, the recommendations of the Human Rights Commission, etc. They could have imposed some very fundamental concessions on the regime without resorting to this war.
We were told war is the only way, and that political pressure would be ineffective. Our reply was, let’s use it first, let’s use all these possibilities that exist. Let’s start by exercising pressure not only for the WMDs (and we always said this wasn’t such a big issue), but pressure for democracy and human rights. We could have mobilized the Iraqi people and used all the opportunities provided by the UN resolutions.
Unfortunately this was not done. Not because it was not effective. The war was indispensable for the U.S. for objectives that go far beyond our country. Iraq was the first step in reshaping the political and strategic situation in the entire Middle East. And this requires the military presence of the U.S.
Q. Do you think the state of chaos is welcomed by the Bush administration? Does it help in their objectives?
A. We remember what Rumsfeld said: “This is freedom, such things happen.” That was looking cruelly at what was happening.
If you relate the end result of this collapse – the chaos and destruction and the collapse of the Iraqi state – to the American objective that Iraq should be a “free economic country,” etc., then it seems this chaos plays a positive role from the American point of view. With the collapse of the Iraqi state it is easier to create the new state in accordance with this vision. Is all this absolutely arbitrary? It may not have been deliberate, but they probably said, ‘Why not?’ since it would facilitate the objectives for what is designed for Iraq in strategic terms.
We believe Iraq is undergoing a fundamental restructuring and the cost to the Iraqi people will be enormous.
Q. What other forces are you working with? What is the role of the Islamic movements, including the fundamentalists?
A. When we describe the Iraqi political scene, we describe it first in terms of political currents. There is an Arab nationalist current, and a Kurdish nationalist current.
The basic expression of the Kurdish nationalist current are the two Kurdish national parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, with of course the Communist Party of Kurdistan.
In talking about the Arab nationalist current, there was the official one represented by the dictatorship, which repressed the other forms of Iraqi nationalist currents. Other smaller political forces also represent the nationalist current.
We have the democratic current, in which the ICP is considered one of the major parties. In addition to that there are a large number of small parties who emerged after 1990, some of them organized around individual personalities and intellectuals.
And there is the Islamic current represented by a number of political parties. They also suffered repression and their leadership was exiled. The major parties are the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution and the DAWA party, but there are others.
During this period there was another Islamic movement inside the country with contacts abroad. Because of the very ferocious repression of the regime they evolved distinctively from the movements abroad. They resorted to means that combined clandestine and legal forms and used all the mosques and the religious structures that existed to spread their influence, and to create a network of opposition to the regime.
After the collapse of the regime this movement was the first to hit the ground and organize demonstrations. Some of these movements have a fundamentalist approach, and they tried to impose politics not shared by the official Islamic movement abroad.
Over the past 20 years the people, under repression and with the absence of perspective and hope, turned toward Islamic faith. There was a general tendency of people toward religion. But that doesn’t automatically mean they are for fundamentalism.
Q. The ICP’s newspaper, Tareeq Al-Shaab, was the first to hit the streets. This got a lot of attention in the U.S. media. What’s been happening in the first few months with the Party?
A. The ICP has been in total opposition to the Hussein regime since the end of the ’70s. And over the ’80s we waged a struggle against the regime using multiple forms. We suffered in a very brutal way from the repression. We had many martyrs. Many people disappeared, and we don’t know what happened to them even now. After the regime fell we recovered from the regime’s security offices lists of hundreds of Communists who were executed. In the ’90s the Party reconstituted itself in Iraqi Kurdistan and after the Gulf War in 1991 the Party worked publicly there. We had our own headquarters, publications, several radio stations and a television station. Our newspaper is in Arabic and the Kurdistan CP, which is part of the Iraqi CP, participates in the local government there.
We had an underground structure that was working in Baghdad and southern Iraq. So when the regime collapsed, the Party was able to be on the ground very rapidly. Because we are already publishing our paper in Kurdistan, we could rapidly get it to Baghdad. We are now starting radio broadcasts from Baghdad.
Our party is now 70 years old. It is the oldest party in Iraq, with oldest tradition, with the oldest major political role. So all this makes us an important political force. Everyone, friends and enemies, recognize this.
In many areas former Communists and sympathizers have taken initiative to create party offices even before the Party got there. In Baghdad, where the first Party office opened, we had people coming from the rest of Iraq – peasants, workers, and all sections of Iraqi society. It is an extremely busy place. Some people who are not Communists come because they want to know who are the Communists. So there is a friendly attitude.
The Iraqi Party is considered by people, even those who don’t share our program, as an important force for balance and diversity of the political scene and as a countervailing force against fundamentalism.
Immediately after 1990 and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, our party was among the first to study the experience and draw conclusions about what went wrong, and what remains valid in actual life. At our Fifth Conference in 1993 we started a process of democratization and renovation.
The main conclusion is that we consider democracy the fundamental element in all social and political transformation. We believe we cannot transform society if the basic beneficiary of this transformation is not involved.
We call for a national democratic program under our slogan, “Democracy for Iraq, a united federal Iraq.” And we believe federalism will solve the Kurdish question. The Kurdish people will be able to exercise their national rights and aspirations in a way that maintains Iraqi unity on a democratic basis.
We are very much at ease with all issues related to democratic and human rights, and enforcing them with legal structures. We consider ourselves consistent advocates of this perspective. We are ready to work with all other forces in this respect. The future Iraqi government should be independent and democratic, and draw its legitimacy from the Iraqi people through an electoral process.
John Bachtell, a member of the Communist Party’s national board and its Illinois district organizer, represented the CPUSA in Athens. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org