The military confrontation in Najaf needs to be resolved politically, through dialogue, Iraqi Communist Party spokesperson Salam Ali told the World in an Aug. 14 interview. That position was echoed two days later by 1,300 delegates at Iraq’s national conference in Baghdad. They voted to send a delegation to Najaf to negotiate an end to the fighting. 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 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 — U.S. 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 people. Ali underscored the importance of the national conference as a step toward real sovereignty. In order to end the U.S. occupation, he said, “We have to have a legitimate Iraqi government in place.” 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 paralyze life in some parts of Iraq.” The U.S. government is now operating “more deviously, behind the scenes,” to maintain control over Iraq’s security forces and its economy, Ali said. One U.S. tactic, he suggested, is to “fragment the Islamic camp, weaken Islamic groups, and strengthen the hand of groups close to the U.S.” The recent hard-line approach of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi shows the hand of the U.S., Ali noted. He said Allawi has reverted to “old ways” in which a highly centralized tiny group is calling the shots — his National Security Council, consisting of the defense and interior secretaries and a national security adviser, closely associated with the CIA. Moqtada al-Sadr has definitely drawn support among the marginalized, 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 sympathize with any movement that stands up to the occupation,” Ali said. Most Iraqi people feel violence is futile and is paralyzing the country, he said. “People are waiting, hoping the fighting will subside.” The ICP opposes resorting to violence to end the U.S. occupation, and aims to resolve Iraq’s problems through the political process, Ali said. The national conference which opened Aug. 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. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.