Crowds pack Iraqi Communist Party celebrations

Some 10,000 Baghdad residents packed a sports stadium March 31 to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the Iraqi Communist Party. It was the first mass event in Baghdad in years by any secular democratic group.

Similar events took place around the country. In Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, 2,000 overflowed a cultural center for a celebration featuring music, poetry and dance.

The response in Baghdad was so great that the party issued an apology to those who could not get into the filled stadium. The throng, including many families, children and youth, was mobilized on three days’ notice due to security precautions. The party, seasoned in organizing through decades of repression, distributed invitations carefully via e-mail, printed notices and word of mouth.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who heads one of the main Kurdish parties, and Speaker of Parliament Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, of the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front, sent representatives who read greetings. Representatives of a wide spectrum of political parties and civil society organizations also participated. Well-known poets and singers performed, including the head of the Iraqi Writers Union.

As crowds arrived outside the stadium, a jubilant atmosphere prevailed, with traffic policemen helping participants snap photos of each other. The event “had a tremendous uplifting impact on the political mood,” said ICP spokesman Salam Ali.

The huge turnouts in Baghdad and elsewhere point to a “change of mood among the people, especially the young, towards the Islamic parties,” Ali said. “People are just fed up” with sectarianism and violence. “The Communist Party appeals to people because it is not tainted with corruption and does not have blood on its hands from sectarian killings. People are seeing the party as hope, as a potential alternative, something different.”

Slogans for the celebrations emphasized demands for social and economic improvements, women’s rights, sovereignty and ending the occupation. They called on the people to fight for their rights, against sectarianism, for national reconciliation and unity.

A reporter for the Arab-language newspaper Al-Hayat noted that the big, youthful turnout and culture-rich program in Basra, in southern Iraq, was in sharp contrast to the repressive environment imposed by Islamic parties there. It indicated that young people have “had it” with social and cultural suppression like the smashing of stores selling CDs and movies.

Celebrations also took place in Najaf, Karbala, Nasiriya, Diwaniya, Omarah, Nineveh and Wasit provinces and elsewhere. At least 1,000 turned out in Alqosh, in the northern Nineveh plain near Mosul, a predominantly Christian Chaldean and Assyrian area.

The response to the celebrations shows the “gradual rise of the democratic forces as a distinct political pole in the Iraqi political spectrum,” Ali said. Before the U.S. invasion, he said, Iraqi politics had three main trends, which he identified as democratic — left and liberal, Islamist, and nationalist Arab and Kurdish. Under Saddam Hussein, the Baathists dominated the nationalist camp, liquidating other pan-Arab nationalist groups. Both the democratic and nationalist trends were weakened by the U.S. occupation’s fanning of sectarian division. “Once the American presence is out or weakens, the old political map will come into play — these big political groups will gradually come back,” he said. “This is the real Iraqi political scene. All the nonsense of ‘Shia vs. Sunni’ doesn’t hold much ground.”

On April 9, the anniversary of the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces, the Shiite Islamic organization led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr mobilized tens or hundreds of thousands for a march in the holy city of Najaf protesting the U.S. occupation and calling for Iraqi sovereignty.

The mass march tapped the nearly unanimous Iraqi opposition to foreign occupation. Many commentators saw it as primarily a move by Sadr, whose forces have displayed fractures recently, to show rival Islamic groups that he is still a force to reckon with. Sadr was not present at the march and his whereabouts are unknown.

Sadr’s militias are reviled by many Iraqis for brutal sectarian killings and ethnic cleansing, seen as contributing to destabilizing the country and helping perpetuate the occupation.

The ICP sees national reconciliation and unity as necessary to ending foreign occupation and regaining political and economic sovereignty. Sadr draws support from among the poorest and most marginalized people of the countryside and Baghdad’s Sadr City. In the Iraqi Communists’ view, this underscores the fact that security and sovereignty require immediate economic and social measures to meet the needs of the people including the most downtrodden.

The ICP’s Baghdad celebration received wide coverage in the Iraqi media. An Internet search found not one word about it in the U.S. corporate media.

suewebb @



Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.