Iraqis intent on ending occupation, rebuilding country

Violence in Iraq has escalated sharply since a new government was named in early May, with an average of 30 Iraqi civilians killed every day. Joblessness, power cuts and lack of sanitation and health care remain at crisis levels and in some areas have worsened, with cholera and tuberculosis on the rise.

Some 700 have been killed in suicide bombings and similar attacks in the last two months. At the same time, civilians have been killed and wounded by U.S. troops who mistake them for “terrorists.” U.S. military actions have destroyed homes and entire communities.

Despite the violence, Iraqi democratic and progressive groups are doggedly pursuing their twin aims of ending the U.S. occupation and building a democratic, secular society. They see the path to sovereignty in rebuilding the country’s political and civil society organizations, fighting for economic and social rights, and creating a democratic culture. Their efforts are largely unreported by the western commercial media.

For example, without consulting the elected National Assembly, Iraqi officials recently asked the UN Security Council to extend its U.S. occupation mandate, due to expire at the end of the year. This week, 82 Assembly members signed a letter objecting to that action, and demanded a clear timetable for withdrawal of troops. The signers spanned the political spectrum, including the Iraqi Communist Party.

A political realignment is under way, ICP spokesperson Salam Ali said in a recent interview. Groups that boycotted the January elections have decided to join the political process, “for the simple reason that the elections made clear there is no project in boycotting, and no alternative for ending the occupation.

“Some who thought continued destabilization would help serve their interests now see a danger they will lose their influence in the new government.”

Under UN Security Council Resolution 1546, a new constitution is to be ratified this fall, and a new government elected under that constitution at the end of this year, with the U.S. occupation mandate expiring at that time.

The ICP says this schedule must be adhered to. The current government should come up with a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal to begin this December, with UN involvement, Ali said. “At the end of the year, the U.S. mandate ends,” he emphasized. “The new government that is constitutionally elected at the end of the year should be able to bring the occupation to an end.”

The resurgence of violence has helped those who want to leave the U.S. occupation open-ended, Ali said. “Public opinion is distracted. So those who advocate continued presence of foreign troops get away with it, using the escalated violence as a pretext.”

Iraqis see creating a democratic culture as vital in the unfolding political struggle for security and sovereignty. In mid-April, an unprecedented conference of cultural workers and intellectuals in Baghdad drew 1,000 to the opening session. The conference, supported by UNESCO, was initiated by Mufid Jazairy, a leader of the Iraqi Communist Party and culture minister under the previous interim governments.

Jazairy, 66, who led the party’s underground radio and newspaper work in the 1980s and ’90s, is one of two ICP members elected to the National Assembly in January.

The purpose of the conference, Jazairy told the World in a phone interview from Baghdad, was “to try to answer the question, what to do in this situation.”

In 16 workshops, filmmakers, dramatists, critics, writers, poets, archaeologists and others discussed topics like cultural pluralism, women in literature, and financing culture.

“It was something amazing, beautiful,” Jazairy said. Saddam Hussein’s regime waged a “war against culture,” he said. “Cultured people are dangerous for a dictatorship, because they think.” The idea now is to begin to develop a democratic, pluralistic culture independent of government control.

In the political battle over the constitution, key issues are the relationship between religion and the state, federalism and decentralization, women’s rights, and Iraq’s identity.

Ali said the Shiite Islamic coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, contributed to sectarian strife after the January elections, with its policy of dividing government posts along sectarian lines.

Iraqi communists characterize Iraq as a multiethnic, multicultural entity, composed of Arabs, Kurds, Turkomen and others. That differs from some who want to define Iraq as Arab or Islamic.

The ICP calls for separation between religion and the state, respecting the Islamic identity of the majority and ensuring respect for all other religions and their right to practice their beliefs.