'Foil Attempts to Maintain an Open-ended Military Occupation,' says ICP

6-14-07, 9:07 am

Interview with Comrade Salam Ali, member of the Central Committee, about the 8th National Congress of the Iraqi Communist Party. The interview was conducted by 'Nameh Mardom,' the weekly newspaper of the Tudeh Party of Iran.

Q: We know that you have just concluded your 8th Congress successfully in Baghdad. Please explain for our readers how the party managed to complete the preparation for the Congress considering the situation in the country. Was the Congress preparation and participation of your base organisations affected because of the security situation?

SS: The 8th National Congress has acquired special significance in our party's life, coming after 31 years of holding its last congress in the capital Baghdad (the 3rd Congress in June 1976). It is worth mentioning that since the campaign of bloody repression launched by Saddam's fascist-type dictatorship against the Iraqi Communist Party in the late 1970s, all its congresses were held inside the country, in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The decision was taken to hold the Congress in Baghdad despite the extremely difficult security situation there, with intensified struggle over power and influence, and enormous suffering of the population as a result of terrorist and sectarian attacks, continued occupation and deteriorating basic services. It was therefore an exceptional event in the Iraqi political scene, demonstrating once again the spirit of challenge characterising Iraqi communists throughout their history, and giving real hope for national salvation. Meticulous preparations by the party leadership were necessary, and security for the Congress was provided by party comrades. It was a big challenge, considering that there were about 250 delegates and observers attending the 4-day event.

The Congress culminated months of preparations and discussions in party organisations throughout Iraq. Drafts of the new programme and inner party rules were launched for public discussion at a press conference held in Baghdad on 6th September 2006. A theoretical document was also widely discussed inside the party in the following months.

It is important to point out that this process also involved internal elections on all levels, thus giving strong impetus to the process of Democratisation and Renewal launched by the party's 5th National Congress in 1993. This marked a qualitative step in the process of rebuilding the party after the demise and shameful collapse of dictatorship in April 2003. Delegates to the 8th Congress were also democratically elected.

Thousands of Iraqis, of all walks of life, joined in discussing the Congress documents, in public meetings and through various media outlets, thus enhancing the party's prestige and democratic credentials among the people. The whole process was therefore a truly rich experience for the party cadre, members and supporters. Q: What was the assessment of the congress about how has the party addressed, and faired, in its functioning, operation and overall activity, in the face of the continuing occupation and extremist violence and the constant threat that they pose? SS: The performance of party leadership and organisations, over the period since the 7th National Congress (August 2001), was closely scrutinised and evaluated at the Congress The delegates critically discussed a detailed report covering political, ideological and organisational work, mass and democratic work, trade union activity, national and international relations, the Kurdistan Communist Party, media work, as well as various specialised committees and administration.

While expressing high appreciation for the overall performance of the party under extremely difficult and complex situation in the country, and the successes achieved in rebuilding the party during the past four years, there was no room for complacency. There was a prevalent sense of the enormous responsibility shouldered by the party in the challenging period ahead. It was stressed that greater efforts should be devoted, and more attention be given, to developing the level of party cadre, and the work of party organisations among the people, providing leadership for their national, political and social struggles. It was felt that the party should exert more efforts among women and youth, addressing their plight and mobilising them in defending their rights. Q: How did the congress evaluate the current spectre of the sectarian issue that is dividing Iraqi communities, its source and how would the party address this issue - what are the solutions, if any, to this problem? SS: Sectarian tensions in Iraqi society were instigated by Saddam's dictatorship, and were further aggravated by the policies and measures of the occupation powers, by manipulating sectarian and ethnic divisions. Some Iraqi political groups also used the sectarian polarization for their narrow political ends, competing for power and wealth, as seen during the elections, with disastrous consequences.

This climate has been exploited by anti-people forces, including terrorists and Islamic extremists, and by militias, to carry out a barbaric campaign of bombings and mass murder, with the aim of enflaming sectarian hatred and pushing the country into the abyss of all-out sectarian war. As a result, the sectarian conflict has dangerously escalated during recent months, threatening the whole political process. Most affected were the communally mixed areas, such as Baghdad, Diyala and Basra. Many parts of these provinces have witnessed sectarian segregation, coupled with blatant violence and sectarian eviction.

It has to admitted that a big crack has taken place as a result, with conflicts of unprecedented intensity flaring up, that are not easy to contain. Urgent action is therefore needed to defeat terrorism and sectarianism. This requires a multsided approache and flexible solutions, backed up with political will, clear positions and reciprocal concessions. Influential forces, especially those sharing power, should be the first to take such steps and make these concessions. All possible action and pressure is needed, wherever is possible, to create a favourable climate for diffusing the critically tense situation and prevent any further dangerous deterioration. Q: What have been the biggest adaptations, if any, and the biggest challenges and priorities of your party in recent times and since being able to work openly in Iraq? SS: The collapse of Saddam's dictatorship marked the end of the one of the darkest periods in Iraq's modern history. But this change came about through war and occupation, with catastrophic consequences, including terrorism, a security vacuum and infighting for political power. Despite this extremely complex situation and ensuing contradictory political process, new possibilities opened up for our party and people. In the first days and weeks, the biggest challenge was to rebuild the party throughout Iraq, having emerged into the open after decades of operating under clandestine conditions, and to reassert its position as a major force in the new political scene in Iraq.

The task of rebuilding party organisations, in a relatively short time in all provinces and districts (other than Iraqi Kurdistan), was a enormous feat to which the 8th National Congress paid special tribute. These emerging organisations, and the new cadre and members, were soon to be tested and steeled in successive political battles, including local and general elections, formulating the constitution, political resistance to the occupation, actively contributing to the rebirth of the trade union movement, and democratic and civil organisations, and mobilising against the diktat of IMF and World Bank, against corruption, sectarian politics ...etc.

In those fierce political battles, tens of comrades were martyred, with many falling victims of cowardly acts of assassinations, as well as anti-people acts of terrorism. Among the martyrs was our party Politburo member, Saadoun, killed with two of his comrades in 2004. The latest martyr was Muthanna Mohammed Latif, the party leader in Nineveh province and an elected Congress delegate, who was assassinated on May Day.

Despite the deteriorating security situation in many areas and the need for greater vigilance and discipline, the party has also been determined to maintain its drive to instil and develop democratic values and traditions in its internal life. This process was culminated by elections at all party levels, from cells to provincial committees, in the period leading to the 8th Congress. Q: What was the decision of the congress about the main strategic target/slogan of the party in this phase of developments in Iraq? In your opinion who are the main deciding forces (domestic and foreign) in the developments of Iraq? SS: The Congress specified a number of major tasks for the party. They reflect the close and complex interaction of a host of factors characterizing the current exceptional stage in Iraq. These tasks include:

- To continue mobilising the people and patriotic forces for restoring independence and sovereignty, ending the legacy of occupation and foreign military presence, and building a unified democratic and federal Iraq.

- To restore security and stability, and defeat terrorist forces.

- To exert efforts to implement the plan for national reconciliation.

- To resist, through all peaceful and constitutional means, any attempts to curtail public freedoms and distort democratic practice.

- To support the efforts of the government to disband and eliminate the militias. - To confront sectarianism, expose the objectives of those behind agitating it, draw attention to the dangers of sectarian polarization and violence… and promote the spirit of citizenship and national identity.

- To support and develop people's struggles for basic services…to continue free provision of these services and subsidies for oil products.

- To support the struggle of the unemployed for the right to work… to commit the government to a concrete plan for combating unemployment and establish an comprehensive social security system.

- To continue the struggle and mobilise forces to confront attempts to undermine the public sector and adopt unrestrained market mechanisms… to halt privatisation moves in the current conditions, and to struggle against the recipes prescribed by the IMF and World Bank for restructuring the Iraqi economy. And to raise awareness of their real dangers.

- To combat all forms of corruption.

- To commit the government to continue providing the people with food rations and improving their content and quality… and resist any attempt to abolish food rations or replace them with cash handouts.

- To strengthen the party's relations with other political forces, and develop joint action, especially with the democratic forces.

- To strive to mobilise broad sections of the intelligentsia and those concerned with civil society… to build the broadest possible relations with the people, mobilising them politically and ideologically, to enable them to deal with the developments and their quickening pace.

Achieving these tasks requires, first and foremost, 'paying proper attention to the party and its organisations, enhancing its status and influence, and its activity, on all levels… developing its links with the people, taking up their demands and defending their interests.'

These priorities are reflected by the central slogan adopted by the 8th Congress: 'Let us consolidate the party ranks and work for uniting the people's patriotic forces, to achieve security and stability, restore full national sovereignty, and build a unified, democratic and federal Iraq'. Q: What are you plans as regards the continuation and extent of your participation in various levels of the government? How does the general public, women, youth, labour, etc view and evaluate your work in the parliament and in the government? SS: The Political Report endorsed by the 8th Congress dealt with the party's stance on the need to set up a national unity government following the elections in December 2005, and its evaluation of the government that was eventually set up, about one year ago, led by Nouri al-Maleki. Its formation, which took several months of tortuous negotiations, was influenced by the climate of sectarian polarization and the policy of ethnic-sectarian quota, especially in allocating the so-called 'sovereign' ministerial posts. The Iraqi National List, a secular democratic and liberal electoral coalition, joined the government and was given four ministerial posts, including one held by our party. Although its program was generally good and endorsed by parliament, the government inherited a heavy legacy from pervious governments, in addition to working under abnormal and extraordinary conditions with organised terrorism, rampant corruption, and fervent attempts to sabotage its efforts.

While expressing its support for government policies and measures that would serve the people's interests and satisfy their needs and demands, the Communist Party has been openly critical of the government failures and shortcomings. The 8th Congress called on the government to take urgent action to fulfil its promises and implement its programme, especially regarding security, national reconciliation, disbanding the militias, providing basic services, reviving the economy, and combating corruption. Bold and firm action are urgently needed to rid the political process of sectarian tendencies and ensure broader involvement of its participants in the decision-making process. The next few months will therefore be crucial for the present government and its performance.

The party's participation and role, both in parliament and government, has so far been a generally positive experience, complementing its work on other levels and among the people, defending their interests. The party's principled positions in both institutions, followed by broad sections of the population through the media, have contributed to enhancing its national status as a unifying patriotic force, that is praised for its honesty and integrity, and untainted with sectarianism, bigotry, violence, narrow political calculations or corruption. Q: How did the congress evaluated the calls for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and various timetables suggested for such withdrawal? Do you think US exit will help peace in Iraq or will exacerbate the violence in Iraq? Does US care for peace and stabilization of Iraq? What domestic political forces are favoured by the US? SS: The 8th Congress stressed the crucial importance of a successful conclusion of the on-going political process for providing favourable conditions and necessary prerequisites for ending the occupation and foreign military presence. It also endorsed the party policy that calls on the government to draw up a timetable for achieving this task, exercise its sovereign right and prevent further violations being committed by foreign forces, regain full control over the country's resources and their use in accordance with the country's needs and priorities, and finally regain full national sovereignty.

One of the most important prerequisites for regaining national sovereignty is taking control of security, running it in accordance with the priorities dictated by national interest. As pointed out by the Congress political report, security has to be dealt with as an integral part of a chain of economic, social, political, military and media measures, that altogether contribute to eradicating the sources of terrorism and help to improve the security situation. 'There is no doubt that achieving progress on these levels will allow clear agenda to be set for the departure of foreign forces, and create the material and political prerequisites for that.'

The two comrades representing our party in the Iraqi parliament have recently signed a memorandum calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of occupation forces. There is broad consensus among Iraqi political forces in support of such a timetable that would be closely linked to providing the necessary political and security conditions. The party supports an open debate of this issue in the parliament, with the aim of achieving a national consensus and formulating a concrete policy in this respect, guided first and foremost by Iraq's national agenda. Such a step will help to foil attempts to maintain an open-ended foreign military presence by the US and its allies to serve their own agenda. Q: How did the congress evaluated the role of Iraq's neighboring countries (especially Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria) in the stabilazation or destabilazation of Iraq? How significant is their influence on the internal developments in Iraq? Are they helping or hindering the efforts of the Iraqi people to regain the country's full sovereignty? SS: The party Congress, in its analysis of the factors contributing to the complex situation in Iraq, drew attention to the role of the external factor, including regional interference. Its report said that 'our country has turned into an arena of a vicious struggle, where regional and international interests and strategies intersect and clash, interacting with the internal situation, and acting against the interests of Iraqi people and their aspiration to restore security and stability, regain sovereignty over their territory and wealth, achieve the democratic alternative and speed up the process of comprehensive reconstruction'.

It is quite clear that some regional players have been waging their own proxy war with the US, or their regional rivals, on Iraqi territory, to serve their own national security interests or regional ambitions. Non-Iraqi terrorist groups, whose agenda and objectives have nothing to do with Iraq and the interests of its people, have been used as convenient tools for this purpose. Remnants and supporters of Saddam's regime, as well as extremist Islamist groups, have also received vital external backing to destabilise and sabotage the political process. The principal victim has been the Iraqi people, who continue to pay a heavy price with tens of innocent civilians, including women and children, being massacred every day. The criminal perpetrators of these heinous acts must be unequivocally condemned, and their hollow anti-occupation claims be exposed.

External interference, through backing rival political groups, manipulating sectarian divisions and stirring up sectarianism, has also had a detrimental effect on efforts to achieve Iraqi national reconciliation. In addition, shifting regional alignments are strongly influenced by the US policy in the area and designs for imposing its hegemony in the area.

The recent Sharm el-Sheikh Meeting on Iraq has highlighted mounting concern among its neighbours about the potential consequences of continued instability and terrorist violence in Iraq for their own stability. It remains to be seen whether the resolutions and recommendations taken at that meeting will be seriously acted upon.

Q: Were there any international delegations present at the congress? What has been the level of international solidarity from CPs and Workers Parties and cooperation with the Iraqi CP? How did the congress evaluated this aspect of your efforts?

SS: It was unfortunately not possible to invite international delegations to the 8th National Congress due to the difficult security situation in Baghdad. But several messages of greeting were received after the Congress began its deliberations, and the internationalist sentiments of solidarity that they expressed with Iraqi communists, democrats and people, were warmly received by the delegates.

These included messages from the Tudeh Party - Iran and CPUSA. Many messages have now been received from fraternal parties, including CPs of Vietnam, France, Britain, AKEL - Cyprus, Bohemia and Moravia, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Finland, Hungary, Left-democratic Socialism of Germany, Workers Party of Ireland, CP of Jordan, Progressive Democratic Platform - Bahrain. A congratulation message was also received from the Chinese ambassador in Baghdad.

The Political Report endorsed by the Congress stressed the importance of further developing international solidarity with the Iraqi people and democratic forces. It said: 'In this transitional stage, as contradictions and struggle intensify over the future course of development, it is essential, more than ever before, to secure the multifarious international solidarity of peace-loving, progressive, democratic, socialist and communist forces with the Iraqi patriotic and democratic forces, in their struggle to foil attempts to sabotage the political process and push the country into chaos and internal fighting, and to enable the Iraqi people to achieve a speedy end to foreign military presence, open up prospects of democratic development for Iraq, and enable its people to decide their political future and social system in accordance with their free will.'

--Published in 'Nameh Mardom', the central organ of the Tudeh Party - Iran, on 9 June 2007, No. 766.