Interview with the Iraqi Communist Party

July 18, 2003

Raid Fahmi is a member of the Central Committee of the Iraqi Communist Party. He represented the ICP at the International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties in Athens, Greece June 19-20, 2003. The following interview was conducted with Fahmi on June 21, by John Bachtell for the Peoples Weekly World and Political Affairs.

Q. Give us a sense of whats happening in Iraq today? What are the political dynamics?

A. Its been 2 months since the regime fell. People are still facing basic problems. This is related to the war but also the fall of the regime, which resulted in the fall of the Iraqi state. Iraqis face big problems with security, economic paralysis, and 60% of the people are unemployed; services have only been partially restored. This is creating immense difficulties in daily life.

Politically, there is a very big disillusion even among forces who worked closely with the Americans and who greeted the occupation. After 2 months there has been a delay in the political process. The UN resolution declared the US and Britain as forces of occupation. This was really a big shock for many, even those who were allied with the Americans. Decisions have been made without any consultation with Iraqis.

The US fundamentally changed its approach. Bremmer decided to create an interim government. The Iraqis were expecting a provisional Iraqi government that would prepare for the transfer of power and a new constitution, etc. Now we have an interim power, which is run by the occupying force. They will designate an Iraqi council that will essentially only have an advisory role.

The transfer of power to the Iraqis has been put off. We have a vacuum of power that has not been filled for two months. It will be filled but not as the Iraqi people expected. Decisions will be made by the occupying force regarding all aspects of life.

Another thing aggravated this problem. Bremmer decided to dissolve the Army in a brutal way. They are taking 400,000 people and telling them to go back home and are giving them a few dollars for their services. (A decision since rescinded.) This has created enormous discontent among a very wide section of the Iraqi army. Things should not have been done like this. They become unemployed and dont know what to do. So the US has a political problem as well. They could have been given another means of subsistence. And we distinguish between the higher and lower ranks of the army.

The same shock treatment has happened with the dissolution of several administrative departments and ministries. With all this and the sidelining of the Iraqis from the decision making process, the level of discontent is rising.

Q. The American people were under the impression the US troops were welcomed as liberators. Now two months later many soldiers are being killed. It looks like a quagmire. Tell us more about the attitude toward the occupying powers?

A. At first when the regime fell there was some relief among the Iraqi people. We were getting rid of this nightmare after 30 years. But as the problems remain and the occupying forces become more provocative, a lot of misgivings have been created.

This must be seen in the context of the existence of remnants of the Iraqi regime. The Baath Party had a million members. Of course many were forced to be members. Many who had important responsibilities, for example in the army, are still there.

Now they have started to foment discontent and defend their own interests. Operations are being carried out against the Americans. The response of the occupiers is creating discontent among people who dont share the objectives of those who are carrying out the attacks. This is creating a climate of tension.

The forces that will benefit are the Islamic fundamentalist forces and remnants of the Hussein regime. This will have a bad effect for all the democratic forces that are working for an alternative – a broad national conference in which all political forces participate, and an authority that is legitimate in the eyes of the Iraqi people.

Q. A major justification for war was the existence of weapons of mass destruction, which havent been found. So Bush is saying, well at least we liberated the Iraqis. The IPC opposed both the regime and the war as a means of liberation.

A. Our party was repressed under the dictatorship and when it collapsed, our party and many others came back to the country. We were in Iraqi Kurdistan and were working underground in the rest of the country. Now we are working publicly all over Iraq.

This is possible because of the absence of any regulation. We want our ability to exist publicly enforced legally by an Iraqi authority that creates democratic institutions. If you have liberty but dont have bread or security, the whole picture changes. People were happy with these liberties early on, now we have terrible insecurity.

We were against the war. We said there were alternative means to pressure the Hussein regime, in accordance with international legalities. There was UN resolution 688, the recommendations of the Human Rights commission, etc. They could have imposed some very fundamental concessions on the regime without resorting to this war.

We were told war is the only way, and that political pressure would be ineffective. Our reply was, lets use it first, lets use all these possibilities that exist. Lets start by exercising pressure not only for the WMD (and we always said this wasnt such a big issue), but pressure on democracy and human rights. We could have mobilized the Iraqi people and used all the opportunities provided by the UN resolutions.

Unfortunately this was not done. Not because it was not effective. The war was indispensable for the US for objectives that go far beyond our country. Iraq was the first step in reshaping the political and strategic situation in the entire Middle East. And this requires the military presence of the US.

Bush said the war was waged to eliminate WMD but also for regime change. But we passed from regime change to state collapse. Now they are recreating an Iraqi state not merely changing the regime. The restructuring of the Iraqi state and economy requires the presence of the US army. They think they can control all aspects of this process.

Q. Do you think the state of chaos is welcomed by the Bush administration? Does it help in their objectives?

A. The collapse of the Iraqi state didnt happen during the war. The real collapse happened after the war. When the regime fell on April 9, if the occupying authority had ensured a minimum of security it would have been much easier to restore normal life.

After April 9, there were tremendous acts of looting and vandalism. Some of this was expected after so many years of repression and people thought of revenge. What was not understandable was why the US occupying force did not react. They looked at these things with a certain distance, without intervening. We remember what Rumsfeld said, this is freedom, such things happen. That was looking cruelly at what was happening.

If you relate the end result of this collapse – the chaos and destruction and the collapse of the Iraqi state – to the American objective that Iraq should be a free economic country, etc.- then it seems this chaos has a positive role from the American point of view. With the collapse of the Iraqi state it is easier to create the new state in accordance with this vision. Is all this absolutely arbitrary? It may not have been deliberate but they probably said why not, it would facilitate the objectives for what is designed for Iraq in strategic terms.

Another element is the slowness of the political process, the creation of the state. They are approaching these things very slowly to let this new Iraqi state emerge according to the model they have in mind.

We believe Iraq is undergoing a fundamental restructuring and the cost to the Iraqi people will be enormous. The Bush administration is aware of these costs. This is the time frame they have in mind. Its not the same as the time frame of the Iraqi people. They think these are acceptable costs, but in Iraqi terms these are enormous costs. And they might lead to political consequences that they have not taken into account.

Q. The ICP was the first to hit the streets with its newspaper Tareeq Al-Shaab. This got a lot of attention in the US media. Whats been happening in the first few months with the Party?

A. The ICP has been in total opposition to the Hussein regime since the end of the 70s. And over the 80s we waged a struggle against the regime using multiple forms. We were inside the country and in Iraqi Kurdistan.

We suffered in a very brutal way from the repression. We had many martyrs. There are still many people who disappeared, and we dont know what happened to them even now. After the regime fell we recovered from the security offices lists of hundreds of communists who were executed. So the party suffered heavily from the repression.

In the 90s the Party reconstituted itself in Iraqi Kurdistan and after the Gulf War in 1991 the Party worked publicly there. We had our own headquarters, publications, several radio stations and a television station. Our newspaper is in Arabic and the Kurdistan CP, which is part of the Iraqi CP, participates in the local government there.

The Party has reorganized. We had a large number of comrades abroad. We were present in practically every European country and everyone was doing an enormous job. We had an underground structure that was working in Baghdad and southern Iraq. So when the regime collapsed, the Party was able to be on the ground very rapidly. Because we are already publishing our paper in Kurdistan, we could rapidly get it to Baghdad. We are now starting radio broadcasts from Baghdad.

The Party works openly and has been well received by the population. We are well entrenched in the Iraqi political reality. Our party is now 70 years old. It is the oldest party in Iraq, with oldest tradition, with the oldest major political role. So all this makes us an important political force. Everyone, friends and enemies, recognize this.

In many areas former communists and sympathizers have taken initiative to create party offices even before the Party got there. In Baghdad where the first Party office opened, we had people coming from the rest of Iraq – peasants, workers, and all sections of Iraqi society. It is an extremely busy place. Some people who are not communists come because they want to know who are the communists. So there is a friendly attitude.

People have been humiliated under the Iraqi regime. Now they want to restore their memories, their dignity, the ideals they had for so many years yet were forced to keep silent on. Now they have the possibility to express them.

The Iraqi Party is considered by people, even those who dont share our program as an important force for balance and diversity of the political scene and as a countervailing force against fundamentalism.

Immediately after 1990 and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, our party was among the first to study the experience and draw conclusions about what went wrong, and what remains valid in actual life. At our 5th Conference in 1993 we started a process of democratization and renovation.

We started this process within the party structure and it affected our political and strategic program. The main conclusion is that we consider democracy the fundamental element in all social and political transformation. We believe we cannot transform society if the basic beneficiary of this transformation is not involved.

We call for a national democratic program under our slogan, Democracy for Iraq, a united federal Iraq. And we believe federalism will solve the Kurdish question. The Kurdish people will be able to exercise their national rights and aspirations in a way that maintains Iraqi unity on a democratic basis.

With all the changes in the world, we are very much at ease with all issues related to democratic and human rights, and enforcing them with legal structures. We consider ourselves a consistent advocate of this perspective. We are ready to work with all other forces in this respect. The future Iraqi government should be independent and democratic, and draw its legitimacy from the Iraqi people through an electoral process.

Q. What other forces are you working with? What is the role of the Islamic movements, including the fundamentalists?

A. When we describe the Iraqi political scene, we describe it first in terms of political currents. There is an Arab nationalist current, and a Kurdish nationalist current.

The basic expression of the Kurdish nationalist current are the two Kurdish national parties the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, with of course the Communist Party of Kurdistan.

In talking about the Arab nationalist current, there was the official one represented by the dictatorship, which repressed the other forms of Iraqi national currents. Other smaller political forces also represent the nationalist currents.

And we have the democratic current, in which the ICP is considered one of the major parties. The position of the ICP within this current has not been self-proclaimed. Other parties made this designation.

In addition to that there are a large number of small parties who emerged after 1990 and some of them are around individual personalities and intellectuals. Many of these parties were created abroad and now we will see how they will fare.

And there is the Islamic current represented by a number of political parties. They also suffered repression and their leadership was exiled. The major parties are the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, the DAWA party, but there are others.

We were in direct contact and close cooperation with these parties against the dictatorship. For example in 1990 there was an alliance in which the SCIR and DAWA and later on the first Iraqi National Congress in 1992 adopted a joint declaration. We were part of this congress and the declaration represented a vision for Iraq, which called for a democratic federal Iraq. The Islamic forces also adopted this declaration.

At one time these Islamic parties didnt work with us. This current has evolved over the years and come to accept many precepts involving the Iraqi state. They now accept differences and work with other parties like us that are considered secular.

During this period there was another Islamic movement inside the country with contact abroad. Because of the very ferocious repression of the regime they evolved distinctively from the movements abroad. They resorted to means that combined clandestine and legal forms and used all the mosques, the religious structures that existed to spread their influence, and to create a network of opposition to the regime.

After the collapse of the regime this movement was the first to hit the ground and organize demonstrations. Some of these movements have a fundamentalist approach, and they tried to impose politics not shared by the official Islamic movement abroad.

And secondly, we have to recognize that over the past 20 years the people under repression and with the absence of perspective and hope, turn toward Islamic faith. There was a general tendency of people toward religion. But that doesnt automatically mean they are for fundamentalism. But of course in this state of chaos, they create the basis for the Islamic movement to spread their political influence. So when the regime fell the fundamentalist forces capitalized on this.

Q. What is the balance of forces among the Islamic religious forces? How strong are the fundamentalist forces? Is there a danger of a theocratic state?

A. I dont believe fundamentalism is the dominant force within the Islamic current. This current was really played a marginal role over the past 15 years. There are the Shiites and the Sunnis and the fundamentalist movement exists more in the Sunni, but also within the Shiite. Whenever there are difficulties this current uses them. Whenever you have economic and social difficulties, or the heavy presence of foreigners, which the Iraqis have not seen for ages now.

All these elements can provide the basis for the spread of populist opposition. Fundamentalism could disguise itself as a populist opposition and really thrive on these difficulties. However I would not over emphasize this threat.

The solution to this problem is not repression. The response has to be political, to act rapidly with the people to start a political process of transferring power to the Iraqi people, addressing the immediate problems with the involvement of Iraqis in ensuring their own security, not having Americans patrolling in the neighborhoods, in ways that are provocative.

Q. What is the relationship of the ICP to the Iraqi National Congress (INC)? What is the relationship of the US to the INC?

A. The INC was born after the first Gulf War. At the beginning it was considered an umbrella organization and we were part of it. We were a part because all other political forces were a part of it.

It is true Chalabi and others had the support of the US government. But their political influence didnt emerge from their position within the Iraqi political movement. They had enormous resources and emerged as a major force within the Iraqi opposition, with support from the Americans.

The INC was an umbrella because there was real representation of the Kurdish parties, Islamic parties, etc., and we believed the representation of so many forces kept the balance and major control of these forces within the INC.

After 1992 this umbrella no longer had the proper involvement of all political forces. Decisions were not really taken by the participating political forces inside. Foreign interference became a bigger factor. We and other political forces withdrew from participation in the INC. Some remained like the KDP and SCIR. But gradually the INC lost its status as an umbrella organization and became a single entity.

We had fundamental differences in orientation with regard to the sanctions, later with the war. We still shared a vision for a democratic Iraq. We didnt have a problem with creating an Iraq with a proper relationship with Islam, but we had a different approach on how to get to the objective, what kind of alliances, how we will deal with the Americans. We felt we should deal with the US on the basis of the program elaborated by the Iraqi political forces. It didnt happen this way; their vision was not the same.

Its true the INC spoke openly about their contact with the US State Department. This is not our view of working out things. We were critical but didnt reach the point of confrontation. This was our view, but others have their own views too. We believe when everyone is against the dictatorship we should not engage in inner struggles.

We had very fundamental differences within the alliance over the war. But now the regime has fallen and these questions dont exist. We look at the new problems that have emerged and ask do we have something in common? Can we work together?

We all share the objective of rapid transfer of power to the Iraqi national forces, the emergence of provisional government that will start the process of elaborating the constitution to be ratified by elections. But do we do it within the limits set by the Americans? Or as Iraqi national forces should we develop a program and then deal with the Americans. There are now negotiations among all these forces.

At the London conference of Iraqi political forces in December 2002, a coordinating committee was established of six parties. Five of them are already members of the INC, but they consider them to be separate entities. This became the political body the Americans worked with.

This coordinating committee became seven with the addition of DAWA party, etc. Later the political forces discussed expanding this committee to other parties. After the appointment of Bremmer, all these political forces, even the US, concluded the committee was not sufficiently representative of Iraqi society. The idea among the Iraqi political forces was to expand it to 13 parties, including the IPC. And it was our feeling that this larger committee should take upon itself to prepare for a national conference. We believe it should act independently of the US. Others are getting closer to this view.

Meanwhile, the US announced it would create an interim council with forces they designate, but as far as we are concerned without sufficient consultation with the Iraqi parties. What Mr. Bremmer says now is that he will designate 25 people to form the interim council. Most political forces have a problem with the idea of the US designating who should be on the council. Instead the Iraqi political forces should designate these forces after a democratic process.

Currently, one track is to negotiate with Bremmer on the composition of the council and its role, which is being carried out by the committee of seven. Some concessions have been won over the political diversity of the council and its role.

We stick to what we said. This track doesnt contradict the enlargement of the coordinating committee to include other parties. Secondly we should stick to the vision of preparing for a national conference.

This is an issue for the Iraqis – to prepare for a national conference to elect their representatives and determine a political platform proper for Iraq. And on the basis of this outcome create the elements of a new provisional government. Bremmer will then have to deal with this authority and platform adopted and supported by the Iraqis.

Q. How does the Party see ending the occupation? What role do you see for the UN? What form will the struggle take?

A. We are for a speedy end to the occupation and the creation of an Iraqi provisional government. It should arrange for the transfer of power from the occupying power and prepare the withdrawal of the troops. Of course if the Americans dont respond, each party could resort to other forms of struggle.

At the moment, we think that political forms are the most appropriate. And I think that all the major political forces that dont share the American view of things are for political forms of action to end the occupation.

The conditions that exist have generated military operations against the occupying powers. At the moment, the forces resorting to this are the remnants of the regime, and some from the regions that have suffered from the collapse of the regime.

If the problems persist, discontent might increase. Other forces might use this discontent to justify more radical actions. The remnants of the regime will thrive on this. They have no interest in the stability or reconstruction of Iraq. The Fundamentalists will consider this proof there can be no end to the occupation other than through armed struggle. The situation then becomes more complex.

We believe the UN should be involved, first to ensure a solution to the humanitarian problem but also politically. The UN could help facilitate the transition to a legitimate Iraqi democratic power. The UN could help ensure security and the economic reconstruction and all major decisions regarding the use of Iraqi national resources.

Who will decide if the Iraqi oil should be privatized or not? Or what contracts awarded to which corporations? In the absence of a true Iraqi authority, decisions about the economic structure of the country should not be taken without the UN.



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