Power struggle continues in Iraq

Final results of Iraq’s Dec. 15 elections are not expected for at least two weeks, as investigations of vote fraud allegations continue. Meanwhile political deal-making is under way. Controversial preliminary results gave the Shiite Islamic coalition, which dominates the current government, a lopsided lead, but short of the two-thirds needed to form a new government.

A wide range of secular and Sunni parties have charged the elections were badly flawed by widespread intimidation, violence, fraudulent ballots and other violations.

In a Dec. 26 statement, the Iraqi Communist Party said the violations “included threatening voters and preventing them from going to the ballot box, killing several candidates and political activists and the infringement of the supposed neutrality of state organs, especially the security forces.”

The rush to release preliminary results before addressing the fraud charges sparked wide condemnation and street demonstrations.

Some Sunni groups had demanded the elections be re-run. But this week, one Sunni coalition, the Iraqi Consensus Front, said it would accept the final results once fraud investigations are resolved.

The current balance of forces in Iraq, heavily dominated by sectarian interests, some of them U.S.-allied, makes it impossible to re-do the elections, ICP Central Committee member Raid Fahmi told the World.

The ICP called for recounts in problem areas, cancellation of “suspect” ballots and holding accountable those “infringing upon citizens’ rights.” Fahmi said, “The message we are trying to convey is that the forces that have rigged the voting should not get away with it.”

In its statement, the ICP called for an end to “the policy of sharing power along sectarian and ethnic lines, and attempts to marginalize, exclude and eliminate others.” So far, Fahmi said, the Shiite religious groups’ definition of “national unity” seems to exclude secular parties. The U.S., heavily involved in the political maneuvering, also talks of a national unity government, but one based on sectarian and ethnic divisions.

“The U.S. doesn’t want a strong central power to emerge in Iraq,” Fahmi said. “Their strategic objective” is a kind of sectarian-based federalism that would effectively weaken Iraq’s national sovereignty and make it easier to control.

That is different from the kind of federalism advocated by Iraqi and Kurdish communists, which recognizes the special national character of the Kurdish people, while maintaining the national unity of Iraq.

Islamic Shiite groups likely agree with the American vision, Fahmi said, because it allows them to control the south. It suits Islamic forces in Iran as well, because it increases their influence, he added.

But a “main concern” of the Bush administration is to limit the dominant position of the Shiite Islamic coalition primarily because of U.S. fear of Iran gaining influence, ICP spokesperson Salam Ali noted in an earlier interview. That explains why the U.S. has been avidly courting Sunni leaders, including those connected with armed groups, as well as former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi. The U.S. “works with different horses,” Ali commented. Meanwhile, he said, the Shiite religious coalition has been trying to reassure the White House that they will not endanger U.S. interests.

Right now, Fahmi said, the U.S. is trying to put in place a kind of national unity government that “allows them room to maneuver.” But he emphasized that a truly legitimate government will be measured by whether it meets people’s needs. Despite the official “handover” of political power by the U.S., Iraq does not control its security or its economy. “Iraqis have to be fully empowered,” he said. “This is a battle.”

Ending the occupation requires a united “national will,” Iraqi communists say. To this end they are working to build and widen a “national democratic project” — a very difficult task right now, given the crippling sectarian and ethnic polarization, said Fahmi.

The ICP called on its members to participate in demonstrations that took place around Iraq over the current government’s recent decision to triple oil prices.

That decision was an accommodation to dictates of the International Monetary Fund. The Iraqi people, with widespread unemployment, rely on state-subsidized low-cost oil, food and other necessities — a form of social distribution of the nation’s oil wealth.

“It’s basically part of an attempt to remove subsidies for basic commodities, not just oil,” said Salam Ali. He noted that previous attempts to end food subsidies had to be retracted because of enormous opposition.

Iraq has $120 billion in foreign debt incurred by the Saddam Hussein regime, mostly for military purchases. The U.S.-dominated IMF is insisting that to win partial debt cancellation and new loans, Iraq must implement economic “reforms” including slashing social programs and reducing the role of the public sector.