Standing beside a banner reading “End the occupation, bring the troops home now” at the Communist Party USA convention in Chicago last month, Iraqi Communist Party representative Salam Ali told the participants, “Your victory is our victory.” The American people’s struggle to bring the troops home, he said, helps the Iraqi people in their struggle for sovereignty.

The Bush administration, under mounting domestic pressure, is trying to give the impression that a gradual U.S. disengagement from Iraq is in the works. But “they don’t want to commit to a timetable,” Ali, a member of the ICP’s central committee, noted in a phone interview last week from London.

Iraqi officials have announced plans for withdrawal of U.S. troops from several cities, but these areas are already effectively under local control, Ali said. “It’s really more like a redeployment, like a maneuver to contain the demands in Iraq for action, and to help the U.S. government domestically,” he commented. “All indications are that the Bush administration is working in the direction of a downsized long-term military presence.”

For Iraq’s broad left and democratic forces, the struggle for sovereignty is playing out in the construction of a new constitution and election of a constitutional government this December. Groups that boycotted the elections last January are now actively involved in this process. How the new state is defined and shaped, Iraqi communists and others say, will determine whether their nation can really rid itself of U.S. domination — not only military, but political and economic as well.

Mufid Jazairy, a member of the ICP political bureau and one of the party’s two representatives in the transitional National Assembly elected in January, told the World, “We know that the U.S. has its interests. We know that the Bush administration is trying its best to ensure those interests” — including control of oil, and geopolitical designs. Those important issues cannot be resolved for the benefit of the Iraqi people under the current transitional Iraqi government, which is dominated by narrow religious political groups, he said, speaking by phone from his home in Baghdad.

If Iraq’s democratic forces win a constitution and election process that include basic rights, separation of church and state, a federal structure and recognition of Iraq’s multiethnic, multicultural character, that will change the political balance of forces in the country. Under these conditions, said Jazairy, the coming Parliament will be able to negotiate a real U.S. pullout, and ensure that the Bush administration cannot use Iraq as a permanent military base.

The winners of the January election, a coalition of religious Shiite groups, have failed to improve the disastrous conditions facing the Iraqi people — lack of security, basic services, and jobs. Knowing that their popularity has plummeted, these groups are making an all-out push to consolidate their power now, said Ali. “They think they’ve reached their peak, and this is their chance.”

The Islamic parties failed in their effort to get a six-month delay in the political process, to help them strengthen their hold on power, Ali said. Now they are trying to eliminate nationwide proportional representation in the upcoming elections, thereby disenfranchising smaller parties and independent groups. They are doing this because they know that in a broadly participatory election they are likely to lose numbers and influence, he said.

One big issue is the status of Kurdistan in a new state. Kurds are about 20 percent of Iraq’s population, concentrated in three northern provinces. Communists, Kurdish parties and others are pushing for a federal structure that recognizes the Kurds’ special national character. “We can’t go forward to establish a real democratic regime without recognizing the right of the Kurdish people,” said Jazairy, who spent years in Kurdistan heading the ICP’s underground radio and newspaper work during the Saddam Hussein regime. “While we recognize the right of nations to self-determination,” he said, “federalism fulfills the democratic demands of the people of Kurdistan at this stage.” It’s the best solution in the current situation, he said, “because we want to stay in a united Iraq.”

He warned against the danger of rushing to divide the entire country by region or province, as some advocate. Decentralization is needed, but should be done carefully to prevent the country’s dismemberment, he said.

“We can’t exclude the possibility that other countries or political formations might wish to see Iraq divided,” Jazairy said. “They are afraid of a united, democratic, modern Iraq.”

The ICP is focusing on uniting “all democratic parties, movements and personalities” around a common goal of blocking the advocates of an Islamic state and establishing a secular democratic state, Jazairy said.

“We respect the feelings of our people, the majority of whom believe in Islam,” Jazairy said. “But we believe the state should be separate from the influence of religious parties.”

One word in the proposed constitution has generated a lot of heat. Iraq’s secular forces call for recognizing Islam as “a main source” for legislation. But Islamic parties have pushed for naming Islam “the main source.” That could mean, for example, forcing women back to a subservient status based on 1,300-year-old religious rules. It has sparked a wave of activism by Iraqi women, including demonstrations in Baghdad’s famous Firdous Square that have put the Islamists on the defensive.


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.