How do Iraqi Communists view the upsurge of violence in Iraq?

There are a number of important interacting factors here. The recent upsurge of violence, which has taken a sectarian form, has been in essence a struggle over power and influence among political forces, mainly Islamic. This has been aggravated by the continued role of militias and the lack of decisive action by the prime minister, Maliki, to take firm measures towards disbanding them despite his declared commitment to do so. Although he says that he wants to exhaust peaceful political means first, his hesitance to act firmly is mainly due to being constrained by the alliance that his Da’wa Party leader — the previous prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari — established with the Sadr movement (led by Moqtada al Sadr, with its militia, the Mahdi Army).

This sectarian strife has provided a favorable climate for terrorist groups associated with the former Baathists (operating under various names and fronts, many with Islamic cover) to escalate their operations. There is a lot of evidence on the penetration of various “religious” armed groups (both Sunni and Shiite, including the Mahdi Army) by former intelligence and security officers of Saddam’s regime. In addition, the new security forces (army, national police) have also been penetrated, mainly due to serious failures in the American-led process of rebuilding these forces that began three years ago after disbanding the old army.

Elements of the ousted regime have managed to reorganize, exploiting internal contradictions, the positions of regional forces, and U.S. policies that accentuate and manipulate sectarian divisions.

Stirring up and inflaming sectarian strife has been one of the most effective tactics employed by terrorist groups to destabilize the political process and achieve their political objectives. Their “success” (measured by mass killings, sectarian deportation, internal displacement) since the bombing of the Askari Mosque in Samarra last February encouraged them to continue and expand this tactic. They have targeted mainly Baghdad (with a largely mixed population) and Diyala province to the north.

The upsurge of violence, especially that instigated by Baathists, has been aimed also at the Americans and the perceived vulnerability of the Bush administration. They think that the U.S., under internal pressure and with increasing calls for an exit strategy, would be more prepared to accommodate them within its future arrangements in Iraq. They have opened up channels and new contacts with the Americans for this purpose. One objective is to undermine the National Reconciliation Plan announced by Maliki, which received broad political and popular support in Iraq.

Finally, there has been increasing criticism, inside the Iraqi government, of the military and security policy of U.S. forces in Iraq. This policy has been seen by these critics as attempting to keep a certain balance between government forces and those opposed to the political process, for counterbalancing purposes and maintaining control over the country.

What kinds of political struggles is the ICP involved in to achieve national unity and sovereignty?

Our Communist Party is guided by the interests of the Iraqi people, toilers and workers.

In parallel with the fight for the big issue, of ending the occupation, Iraqi Communists are playing a prominent and a leading role in social struggles, defending the rights of workers and people, as recently demonstrated by the wave of strikes by tens of thousands of teachers that swept many provinces all over the country.

In addition, there is the continuing fight against privatization of state enterprises, against neo-liberal plans and the diktat of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and to keep the oil wealth under Iraqi control.

These social and class struggles cut across the ethnic-sectarian divide, and therefore also contribute significantly to strengthening the Iraqi national identity and national unity.

What is the ICP’s opinion of statements by prominent U.S. and U.K. figures about Iraq splitting into three parts?

This is not a new idea. But it has resurfaced recently in the U.S., advocated by some foreign policy experts (most notably, Peter Galbraith, author of a recent book entitled “Death of Iraq”). Bush has thus far dismissed this idea.

It is not difficult to see the consequences of such a scenario of splitting Iraq along ethnic-sectarian lines into three small statelets. It would lead to an increase in violence (ethnic groups live in mixed areas throughout the country) rather than diminishing it. In addition, it would intensify rivalry and conflict over power and resources in each area. This would invite intervention by regional powers, for example, Iran, as a result of the ensuing instability. In addition, the general Iraqi popular mood is still strongly opposed to such an idea.

A recent vote on a law on procedures for setting up federal regions (based on the constitution) has revealed the level of opposition to sectarian-based federalism (in particular, the nine-province “Southern and Central Region” advocated by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of SCIRI, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq).

At the same time, our party considers a federal system to be the appropriate form of government for Iraq. For Iraqi Kurdistan, federalism represents a democratic solution for the Kurdish national question in today’s conditions. We support establishment of federal regions in accordance with the constitution. We also support distribution of authority between the center and the provinces.

How do you see the current U.S. discussions about its role in Iraq?

Iraq has become a big internal issue in U.S. politics. The continued failure of the administration’s policy to produce results, coupled with mounting casualties, has forced it to review its Iraq policy. The Iraq Study Group led by James Baker is part of an effort to contain these pressures and look into possible alternatives.

Under increasing pressure, the administration has attempted to shift the blame for the deteriorating security situation in Iraq onto Maliki’s government. However, this has produced mixed results. One important outcome of the recent “crisis” in relations between the two sides is that the administration has conceded that more control, and at a faster pace, over security matters should be handed over to the Iraqi government. This is especially important because the mandate for the presence of occupation forces is due for review in the UN Security Council by the end of this year.

Up to this moment, there is no indication of a change in strategy on Iraq by the Bush administration, but rather an adjustment of tactics.

Iraq dominated the U.S. congressional elections. The question that arises now is: What will be the impact on Iraq and the U.S. policy there?

It remains to be seen how things will develop in the U.S. But already Rumsfeld is gone, and he may soon be followed by the U.S. representative to the UN, the hawkish neo-con John Bolton.

One very important aspect, however, is that pressure will increase for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

A national consensus is emerging in Iraq, among the major political forces, that there should be a clearly defined objective timetable for a speedy withdrawal of the occupying forces, linked to rebuilding the Iraqi armed forces. Up to now, Bush has adamantly refused to be committed to such a timetable, obviously preferring an open-ended military presence and occupation. While an immediate withdrawal is widely seen by Iraqis as not feasible, it is increasingly not acceptable to have an open-ended foreign military presence, especially with the evident responsibility of the Americans for certain aspects of the deteriorating security situation.

This crucial issue will come up for review at the UN Security Council. Such a timetable, and also seizing back effective control over security matters in Iraq, is fundamental to restoring full national sovereignty and speeding up the end of occupation.

How do Iraqi Communists feel about the Saddam Hussein verdict?

The following are relevant points in a statement issued Nov. 5 by the Iraqi Communist Party:

“Iraqi Communists, along with the overwhelming majority of our people, have received with deep satisfaction the news of the verdict on the tyrant Saddam Hussein.

“It is the just verdict that the mass murderer deserves for the massacres and crimes of genocide he committed against hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, as well as the horrors suffered by millions of people throughout the country. And also for the invasion and occupation he brought upon the Iraqi people, thus forcing them to revert once again to fighting for full independence and sovereignty.

“We remember today, as we listen to the verdict on the dictator, the endless ranks of Iraqis who were crushed by Saddam’s brutal fascism and its destructive and unjust wars. We remember the young people whose lives were squandered on the fronts of senseless wars. We remember the thousands, and tens of thousands, of martyrs — Communists, Islamists, nationalists and other patriots — whose lives were unjustly extinguished by Saddam’s dictatorship in execution chambers, mass graves, prisons and detention centers, in torture dungeons, homes, streets and public squares.

“The verdict does justice to these martyrs, to the victims and all those who suffered harm without any guilt.

“It is an exceptional moment in the difficult march continued by our people, with unparalleled endurance, towards building a new Iraq, a just, secure and dignified Iraq.

“It is a moment during which we should exert every effort to prevent the enemies of the people and democracy from achieving their aims, to bring about more convergence and accord among political forces, in order to achieve the national reconciliation that is the only guarantee for establishing a unified democratic Iraq.”

Salam Ali is a member of the Iraqi Communist Party’s central committee and international relations committee.