Iraqis condemn U.S. colonialism

President Bush plans to ask Congress for $50 billion this month to continue funding the Iraq war, the Washington Post reports.

But meanwhile, Iraqi Communists charge, “The Americans are doing everything they can to prevent Iraqis from exercising their right to self-determination.”

In an Aug. 28 phone interview, Iraqi Communist Party spokesperson Salam Ali said hints that Bush may be looking to oust Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and calls by some Democrats for Maliki to go, “invoke memories of colonialism” among the Iraqi people. “People say, ‘Who are the Americans to tell us what to do?’”

The U.S. has become an increasingly destabilizing factor in Iraq, “contributing to divisions and manipulating those divisions,” he said.

The governing Islamic Shiite parties feel they need American support to keep their dominant position, Ali said. But now they are very concerned that the U.S. has shifted to backing former Baathists who are collaborating with the U.S. against Iraqi “Al Qaeda.” Iraqi Communists say this U.S. tactic helps proliferation of militias and destabilizes the central government.

In addition, U.S. ally Saudi Arabia has become more aggressively engaged in Iraq, supporting “Sunni” groups inside and outside the political process, Ali said, while Iran is also seeking to expand its influence there.

The ICP sees national reconciliation as crucial to compelling an end to the occupation. The public is extremely frustrated that little progress has been made toward that goal under the Maliki government, Ali said.

“Now almost every family has had people killed or forced to leave. All the promises have come to nothing. The Islamic groups, especially the Shiite, have been exposed as corrupt, only aimed at getting more and more. Ordinary people feel they have been betrayed.”

This situation has fueled tension between the Shia and Sunni groups, and fierce internal struggles within their political alliances. The fighting that broke out in Karbala during a Shiite religious celebration was an example of infighting between two Shiite groups contending for power, Ali noted.

“In a way, what you are seeing is a process by which the Islamic vision for a future Iraqi state is facing serious problems, if not already failing,” he said.

But Maliki is not on the way out, “for the moment,” said Ali, because there is no alternative right now.

As a result of pressure from within its Sunni bloc, the relatively moderate Iraqi Islamic Party, whose leader Tariq al-Hashemi is Iraqi vice president, last week said it would not, for now, join a national unity front with the two main Shia parties and the two large Kurdish parties.

But it joined those four parties in agreeing on several steps that are seen as furthering national unity, including a less harsh de-Baathification policy, release of Iraqi detainees and a more inclusive cabinet decision-making process.

The Iraqi Communist Party is part of the non-sectarian Iraqi National List headed by former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who has been promoting himself as an alternative to Maliki, possibly with some U.S. backing. The ICP has one cabinet minister in the current government. He did not join others from the National List who withdrew from cabinet meetings last month. The Communists said paralyzing the government would only hurt the Iraqi people. The boycott may be crumbling, as several National List members reportedly attended a cabinet meeting last week.

The ICP is critical of Allawi’s maneuvering. “We are still part of the Iraqi National List because its program is generally positive, but our participation is constantly under review,” Ali said. Because of the ICP’s stature in Iraq, its departure would effectively end the alliance, he said.

On Aug. 20, the ICP launched its own 14-point “Patriotic Democratic Plan.” At a well attended Baghdad press conference widely covered in Iraqi and some international media (though not in the U.S.), party leader Mohammed Jassim al-Labban said many in Iraq recognize “the urgent need for a plan that charts the way out of the crisis,” that begins to build a “modern, democratic Iraqi state, based on the principles of citizenship and social justice, and striving to end the legacy of occupation and regain sovereignty.”

The party plans a series of conferences with democratic organizations including unions. The aim, said Ali, is to establish a broad alliance.

“There is a big battle of political visions of what Iraq will be coming out of this carnage,” he said. “It is very important for democratic forces to unite around a vision.” Islamist and pan-Arab visions “will only lead to further catastrophe,” he said. “They will not provide a way out and an end to occupation.”

“The democratic forces and our party are not yet the decisive forces in Iraq, but we see the potential and we have to fight for it.”

Asked what role other countries can play, he responded, “We support all initiatives for an international and regional framework to make this happen, but it must be done in consultation with //all// segments of the Iraqi people representing the full political spectrum,” not just sectarian-based groups.

The U.S. Congress ought to pursue “real engagement with all political forces inside Iraq,” Ali suggested. “Has Congress thought about inviting a broadly based delegation from Iraq — not just ‘Sunni, Shiite, Kurds’? One should open up and see the real Iraq.”

suewebb @pww.org

A slightly abridged version of this story appeared in the Sept. 1 print edition of People's Weekly World.