Interview with Comrade Salam Ali, member of the Central Committee - Iraqi Communist Party

salam.ali

 

 

The following interview (on 21st March 2012) with Comrade Salam Ali, member of the Central Committee of the Iraqi Communist Party, was conducted by "Nameh Mardom", the central organ of the Tudeh Party of Iran. It was published in its edition No. 891.

The interview dealt with the situation in Iraq 9 years after the US war and occupation, and the policy of the Iraqi Communist Party.

 

 

 

1- At the end of last year, it was announced that the military forces of the US exited from Iraq and its bases were closed down. Did the occupying forces really leave Iraq, or parts of them are still there to pursue their occupying mission?
The withdrawal of American forces, completed by the end of 2011 was an important step along the path of regaining full national sovereignty and independence. It is also important to point out here that this came about as a result of a unified popular stance and a national consensus. Obama also abided by his earlier electoral pledge to withdraw forces from Iraq. At one time, there were 166,000 troops (in 2007) in Iraq. His administration, and the Pentagon, tried to keep behind, in Iraq, a small “residual force” but eventually couldn’t. Our party had rejected all attempts to maintain foreign military presence on Iraqi territories, under any pretext or title, including military training. 
It should be pointed out, however, that the military withdrawal does not mean an end to the American presence and influence in Iraq, although the ability of the US to influence the situation has been reduced.
Also regarding the US influence that remains behind in Iraq, we now have the biggest American embassy in the world (with an area equivalent to that of the Vatican). The plan was to keep 16,000 personnel (diplomatic, administrative, intelligence and military). This is what the Neo-Cons had planned for when they were a dominant force in the US, as part of their plans for Iraq and the Middle East. But Obama administration has announced on 7th Feb. 2012 that will cut the size of its embassy staff by half. There is also deep concern about the so-called Security Companies. In the past, there were 106 such companies with about 50,000 employees. Then the number was reduced to 54 companies and 36,000 employees.
In addition, if Iraq is to regain control over its national wealth, it has to come out of the obligations under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which are part of the harsh international economic sanctions imposed after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. For example, Iraq continues to pay 5% of its oil revenues to Kuwait as war reparations. 
So, the issue of national sovereignty will continue to be one of the top priorities, with important relevance for Iraq’s future. It will continue to be closely interconnected with the big political, social and economic challenges facing Iraq. 

 

2- What was their plan and objective in the invasion of 2003? Why are they leaving Iraq now and how successful they were in achieving their goals?
The Neo-Cons in the US had planned, before the invasion and war in March 2003, to occupy Iraq and achieve direct control of future developments in the country as part of their “vision” for the area. The pretext for the invasion was the “war on terror” and the threat of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. The occupation was seen as the first step to re-shape the Middle East in accordance with the strategic interests of the US and to impose its hegemony. It is in this context that the Bush administration later on developed its Greater Middle East Project which was widely rejected in the Arab world. 
The catastrophic consequences of the war, especially for the Iraqi people who were the main victim, and fierce popular opposition to the occupation, contributed significantly to the Neo-cons’ miserable failure to achieve their plans. It was also a crucial factor in the Republicans’ defeat in US elections and the victory of Obama who had pledged to end the war and withdraw US forces from Iraq. The cost of America’s war, as well as its human losses, was an additional factor especially with the deepening economic crisis. According to the US administration, the Iraq war cost over $1 trillion. American Economic experts (Professor Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes), however, have put the cost at well over $3 trillion. 

 

3- Are we faced now with a puppet regime in Iraq as a legacy of the occupation, or the anti-imperialist struggle of the people of Iraq during this period has been able to regain the independence of the country to some extent?
It is of utmost importance, first of all, to undertake a deep analysis of the complex situation that has developed in Iraq over the past 9 years in order to avoid a reductionist and simplistic approach. 
Iraq is facing heavy legacies, not only that of occupation, as well as enormous challenges ahead. 
- First: Iraq is still facing the heavy legacy left behind by Saddam’s regime after decades of fascist-type dictatorship. Part of it was two destructive wars, including the 8 years long Iraq-Iran war. There were also the most severe international economic sanctions which destroyed Iraq’s economy and infrastructure, decimated the middle class, and also, in addition to American policy, provided a fertile ground for the rise of political Islam and sectarian politics.
Therefore, Iraq was already a fractured society when the war and invasion took place in 2003. 
- Second: The legacy of war and American occupation, including human losses. According to recently published Iraqi government figures, 69,000 people were killed, over the period 2004-2011. But this is a gross under-estimation. The real figures could be well over 100,000 – including the victims of the sectarian conflict during 2006-2007 and barbaric acts of terrorism by remnants of Saddam’s Baath party and Islamic extremists and militias. 
- Finally: the legacy of the policies of ruling political forces that have dominated successive Iraqi governments since 2004; especially sectarian politics and rampant corruption. The root-cause of the continuing deep crisis is the ethnic-sectarian power-sharing system that has existed since 2003. 
It has to be pointed out that occupation authority, the so-called Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), came to an end in June 2004, and transferred power to an appointed Iraqi interim government. A new constitution was approved in a referendum in Oct. 2005. The first national legislative elections took place in Dec. 2005 (with 75% turnout), initiating Iraq’s first permanent government. The second elections took place in March 2010 (with 62% turnout). It is the Iraqi government led by the prime minister Maliki that negotiated, with the broad support of the Iraqi political spectrum, the withdrawal of American forces and reached an agreement in Dec. 2008. According to this agreement, US combat forces withdrew from Iraqi cities in June 2009, before finally withdrawing from in Dec. 2011. 

 

4- One of the stated reasons for the military occupation of Iraq was to take possession and control of the oil resources. In reality, how successful the imperialism has been in privatization and acquisition of energy resources, and oil in particular, in Iraq?
The Bush administration did not profess the control of Iraqi oil resources as one of the aims of its war and occupation, although that was clearly one of the major objectives of the Neo-cons plans for Iraq and Middle East. Iraq's oil reserves of 112 billion barrels ranks second in the world, only behind Saudi Arabia. Its production has recently increased to 3 million bpd, the highest for 30 years. The government aims to double the oil output over the next three years and has a long-term goal of 12 million bpd.
But the internal political developments and the failure of the occupation authority to consolidate its grip over the country meant that such American objectives were initially obstructed. Later on, as part of the Iraqi government policy to increase oil production (which provides the main source for state revenues) and the urgent need to rehabilitate a dilapidated oil industry, it organised 3 rounds of open bids for licences in oil and gas (a fourth round will take place in May), with service type contracts given (rather than Partnership Sharing Agreements, PSAs, which can be very profitable for oil companies). The first round took place in June 2009, with a mix of supermajors, national oil companies and majors taking part, including Shell, ExxonMobil, BP and the Chinese CNPC. Others that have so far won contracts, sometimes as consortiums, include Russia’s Lukoil, Italy’s Eni SpA, Korea Gas Corp and Malaysia’s Petronas. American oil service companies have also expanded their presence by winning the largest portion of the subcontracts to drill for oil. 
Legitimate questions have been raised about the time scale of these contracts, and the mechanism for verifying the cost, etc. The amounts to be produced will also exceed Iraq’s quota under OPEC. Some of these contracts give big foreign oil companies the principal role in the administration of more than 70% of Iraq’s proven oil reserves, and for a period of 20 years that can be extended. Questions have also been raised about Iraq’s ability to ensure its control over the performance of these companies and proper implementation of contracts.
Oil is a strategic commodity as it provides the main source for Iraqi state revenues (more than 92% in 2012 budget) which are needed for Iraq’s reconstruction and resumption of economic development. National interest therefore dictates that Iraq should exercise full control over this wealth and its revenues. Our Communist Party’s position is that direct national investment in this sector should be given a priority, and efforts must be made to re-establish the Iraqi National Oil Company. In addition, Iraqi expertise in this field, which is quite big, should be fully utilized.
It is worth mentioning also that the distribution of oil revenues and signing of contracts has been another outstanding problem between the central government and the federal region of Kurdistan. There is no agreement yet about the Oil & Gas Law which should be presented to the parliament.

 

5- What were the tactics and strategies of the Communist Party of Iraq during this period (prior to invasion, during the war, and during the “construction” period)? Based on what you’ve learned since 2003, and considering the recent developments in the world, how does the ICP evaluate the policies it took regarding the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US?
Our party’s position was that war and foreign invasion were not the proper and effective way to depose the dictatorship. The war has had grave consequences for the situation in the country and people's lives and for building democracy and the country‘s reconstruction. Iraqi Communists were therefore correct when they stood against the war, while rejecting the dictatorship and striving to overthrow it. The slogan "No to war .. No to dictatorship" correctly summarized the position of the party. It considered that the right path leading to building a unified democratic federal Iraq was by toppling the dictatorship through the unity of patriotic forces in a broad alliance, based on a clear program to mobilize the people, enjoying legitimate international support in accordance with the UN Charter. 
From the moment the dictatorship ended, our Party sought to unite our people’s forces and their patriotic energies to regain the sovereignty and independence of our country, through an integrated range of measures and means of struggle. In the forefront was the call for a national conference giving rise to a national unity government. This was to provide leadership to get rid of the legacy of the past and re-build Iraq according to the interests of its people and on a democratic basis. But occupation based on UN Security Council Resolution No.1483 (May 2003) and the formation of the occupation authority (CPA) prevented the Iraqis from running their own affairs in accordance with their national interests. That was the beginning - despite all political and legal changes – for committing thousands of crimes and errors which our people paid for with blood and material devastation.
Those dramatic and difficult conditions provided the context for terrorism and sabotage. The activity of an alliance of Islamic extremists with remnants of the dictatorial regime, including criminal pro-Saddam Baathists, escalated to spread havoc. This situation was further aggravated by the external interference of regional powers, turning Iraq into a battlefield for their agendas and proxy wars.
The party has always viewed the struggle to end the foreign military presence and regaining national sovereignty and independence as being closely interconnected with the struggle for the unified federal democratic Iraq.
It is important to point out that the intensified struggle among dominant Iraqi political forces that has been continuing over the past 9 years has revolved about the content and form of the Iraqi state that would emerge. This struggle is not yet resolved. The ongoing political crisis is one of its manifestations.
A major task for the Communist Party immediately after the war and the collapse of Saddam’s dictatorship, and also throughout the past 9 years, has been rebuilding party organisations and extending and consolidating its influence in society. 
This process has been closely interconnected with being engaged in organizing and participating in mass activities in defence of citizens’ rights and expressing their interests and aspirations. It has involved spreading progressive and humanitarian thought, and introducing the values and ideals of socialism. Communists also participated in the election campaigns for the National Assembly, the constitutional referendum and the Parliament, thus gaining experience in open work, proper practice in democratic elections, defending the values of freedom, independence, and rejection of the occupation, confronting the sectarian-ethnic power-sharing system and hated sectarian practices, terrorism, and expressing the demands of the masses in unions, associations and other civil society organizations. They have also contributed to whatever that helps the country to rebuild itself economically by advancing their views, opinions and proposals, or by participating in various state institutions and provincial and municipal councils, or through the party media and various public media forums.
In the aftermath of the withdrawal of American forces, our Party and the democratic forces consider it to be a priority to combat political sectarianism, dismantle the sectarian-ethnic power-sharing system, and to lay the foundations of the real democratic national alternative: a democratic, modern civic state, based on law and institutions, upholding human rights and freedoms, and ensuring social justice. A state where all Iraqi citizens are equal before the law; regardless of their ethnic, religious, political, or ideological affiliations. 
To achieve this objective, the Iraqi Communist Party has exerted relentless efforts to unite the democratic forces. The Democratic Current, which is an umbrella movement that encompasses various political and social organisations and figures, was launched in Baghdad last October. Branches have been set up in most Iraqi provinces as well as among Iraqi communities abroad. Among the short-term objectives of the Democratic Current is amending the anti-democratic Election Law, to enact a democratic law for political parties, and to set up a new independent Electoral Commission, not based on sectarian-ethnic power-sharing. There should be a public census, as a basis for the electorate instead of the flawed food-ration-coupons. 
It is also of utmost important to consolidate the rights and freedoms stipulated in the Constitution, especially the rights of expression and assembly, human rights, and women’s and trade union rights, and combating all forms of discrimination. 

 

6- Around the same time as the Arab Spring in the Middle East and in the Northern Africa, the people of Iraq took to the streets too, that was brutally suppressed by the Iraqi security forces. What was the position of the ICP about these protests and the suppressions? And what were the consequences of that position for the ICP? How is the situation in Iraq now?
Our party has supported the popular protest movement that had developed even before the Arab Spring, and its legitimate demands for radical political reform, against rampant corruption and deteriorating services and security. 
The popular protest movement is also very important for developing political and social consciousness. It cuts across the sectarian-ethnic divide, and therefore helps to strengthen the Iraqi national identity, and national unity, against sectarian politics. 
Communist and democrats were active participants in the mass demonstrations which took place on 25th Feb. 2011 in Liberation Square in central Baghdad. Repressive measures were used by security forces and 17 people were killed in Baghdad and other provinces. Similar demonstrations came out in June 2011, and thugs were sent out against the peaceful protesters. A number of youths, including party activists, were detained and harassed, but the authorities were forced to release them after an effective solidarity campaign.
On 9th September 2011, demonstrations were organized in Baghdad and 9 provinces, with tens of thousands of people demanding an end to the sectarian-ethnic power-sharing system, early elections and the full withdrawal of American forces by the end of 2011.
As democratic forces, we pin hopes in the ongoing fight for democratic change on what can be described as dynamic and vibrant forces in society, including youth, women, workers and intelligentsia. In this respect, it is important to note the distinguished role of youth in the protest movements. In recent days, there have been several demonstrations and sit-ins by university and college students, including those in medical technical colleges. There have been also several strikes organised by workers in the oil and electricity sectors. 
Some facts are very important to take into account here: 68% of Iraq’s population (estimated at about 32 million) are under 30 years old. Unemployment is highest among youth, reaching up to about 50%, well above an average of about 30%. 
It is also important to note here that a protest movement, against corruption and for political reforms, also developed early last year in the federal region of Iraqi Kurdistan, despite the fact that it enjoys greater stability, both security-wise and economically, compared with the rest of Iraq. 

 

7- What is ICP’s assessment of the popular risings and the recent events in the Arab world, and where do you see the position of the communists, and left in general, in this?
No country in the Middle East has been immune to the impact of the storms of change that have swept the region over the past ten months, although each country has its own particulars and details. 
The peoples of Tunisia and Egypt have achieved major successes in their quest for salvation from their regimes of tyranny and oppression. We have also witnessed the collapse of Gaddafi’s dictatorial regime in Libya. Other peoples in our region have also marched along the path of freedom, democracy and social justice, to ensure a decent living and respect of human rights. The region has witnessed a wave of demonstrations and protests, and other forms of mass action, in order to achieve these goals.
The mass popular uprisings and movements in some countries have undoubtedly achieved successes and have overthrown regimes that had seemed well entrenched. Despite the challenges and obstacles still facing these movements, it is now certain that the situation will not return to what it was before January 2011. But there is still a long path ahead for the popular masses that have risen up. It is a difficult path, full of struggles between those who want to exploit, parasitically, the fruits of the people’s struggle, and those who want to lead the mass popular movement to its victorious end, through ripening it and turning it into a real revolution, and achieve the alternative desired by the people: democratic civil regimes with social justice. 
This broad movement has demonstrated once again that the big, radical and fundamental events and transformations are made by peoples with their own free will, when they become aware of their interests. People were, and shall remain, the makers of history.
The internal factors also remain the main driving force. But there is no doubt that external factors have their impact and influence too, but they come next to the internal factors and interact with them. What has happened is not, on the whole, spontaneous but the result of a long and prolonged accumulation.
There is no doubt that the popular mass action and uprisings were not in isolation from the crises caused by the policies of economic "openness" and neo-liberalism, and the running of the economy according to the recipes of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which have produced the phenomena of polarization of wealth, the marginalization of millions of people, the spread of unemployment and deteriorating living conditions.
As pointed out in a joint statement issued by our Party with the Communist parties of Egypt and Jordan, the Palestinian People’s Party, and the Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine (issued in Amman, Jordan in late May 2011), utmost vigilance is required towards the schemes of imperialist, Zionist and reactionary quarters which aim to sabotage the revolutionary upsurge of Arab peoples. 
Therefore, it is of utmost importance to reject and resist all attempts by US imperialism and its allies, through NATO or other means, to instigate wars and military intervention to achieve hegemony and subjugate peoples to their designs. 

 

8- What is the ICP’s opinion about the role of the foreign interference, particularly from Turkey, Iran and NATO allies?
The violation of Iraq's territorial integrity, and attempts to influence the course of internal struggle, has been clearly manifest over the past nine years. But what is more serious and more important is that some neighbouring states sometimes facilitate and support, and at other times deliberately turn a blind eye to, the infiltration of foreign terrorist groups, and provide them with material support, logistically and morally. Some justify this with their desire to settle scores with the US administration which proclaims its wish to overthrow their regimes. But unfortunately these scores have been settled on Iraqi soil and with the lives of Iraqis and at the expense of the country’s security and stability. 
In the aftermath of the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, and what has been perceived as reduced US influence, this has meant that major regional players (such as Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia) now exercise more influence. This is helped by internal divisions and attempts by some Iraqi political forces to lobby the support of their regional backers. It is opening the door for greater interference in Iraq’s internal affairs. This is an extremely important factor, especially against a background of increased sectarian polarization in the region. It presents a major challenge to peace and stability in Iraq, especially with the type of political system, based on sectarian-ethnic power sharing, which now exists. 

 

9- Considering the relationship between the IR of Iran and part of the ruling circle in Iraq, on one side, and the exit of the American forces, on the other side, it seems that the ties between the two states is now closer and broader. Under such circumstances, what do you think the position of the government of Iraq would be about invading Iran? Would Iraq stay neutral or will it lean towards one side or another?
The Iraqi government has openly declared its opposition to foreign military action against neighbouring Iran, and that it will not allow Iraqi territories to be used for such purposes. This position is shared by all the major political forces in Iraq. A new war will have dangerous repercussions for peace and stability in the Middle East and the world. But it will have catastrophic consequences especially for Iraq. 
It is worth mentioning in this respect that a contingency plan has been set recently by the Iraqi government to deal with any potential crisis should Iran close the Strait of Hormuz, which would halt about 80 percent of Iraq's oil exports. A committee in the Iraqi Parliament also called for talks related to an oil pipeline to Saudi Arabia that was shut down after Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990.

 

10- How the position of the ICP among the people of Iraq has developed and how has been your popularity in the past decade? And why?
Communists have enhanced their position among the Iraqi people despite enormous challenges as a result of the extremely complex and difficult conditions after the war and occupation in 2003. It had also to face the heavy legacy of decades of fascist dictatorship and the bloody anti-communist campaign that was aimed at physically liquidating the party. 
Iraqi Communists are therefore proud of the achievements made in the face of these enormous challenges and difficulties. Today thousands of cells, and hundreds of committees, and dozens of party headquarters and offices, exist across the length and breadth of the country. This has not been achieved without great sacrifices. Dozens of party cadres and members were martyred in the past nine years, many of whom were victims of cowardly assassinations and terrorist attacks. 
The policy of the party against the war has been vindicated and has thus enhanced its credibility among the people. Confronting sectarian politics, and the infamous sectarian-ethnic power sharing, the Communist Party has embodied, in policy and practice, Iraq’s national unity. When taking part in government, in charge of the Ministry of Culture and, later on, the Ministry of Science and Technology, it provided an inspiring example of integrity and upholding higher national interests rather than pursuing narrow political gains. It is the only major political force that has not been tainted with corruption, whether in government or out of it. Communists have therefore deservedly been described by the people as those with “Clean Hands”. 
The party’s consistent struggle in defence of women’s and trade union rights, and of freedoms and rights of all citizens, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion, in a unified democratic and federal Iraq, has won it wide respect and prestige. 
The results of the national elections in March 2010 did not reflect the real influence of the party for a number of reasons. Among these factors were the anti-democratic amendments to the election law that were introduced on the eve of elections. As a result, about 1 million and 400 thousand votes were transferred to the big political blocs, i.e. equivalent to about 40 seats. There were also flagrant violations and an Electoral Commission that was set up on sectarian-ethnic sharing. Another scandal is the fact the electoral register is based on the food-ration coupons, in the absence of a public census. The trade minister revealed a few months ago that 2 million such coupons were found to be fabricated! 
The dominant political blocs and parties have also used state resources and receive lavish “political money” from their regional backers, in the absence of a law properly regulating political parties. They also resort to sectarian agitation in election campaigns, and during political crises, to mobilize their supporters. In addition, they enjoy the use of numerous satellite TV stations and mass media, which are denied to the party. 
On the other hand, several weaknesses have also been pinpointed, especially the fragmentation of the democratic camp and the lack of broad unity. The recent launching of the Democratic Current is an important step that can provide a potential electoral alliance, as well as developing a mass democratic movement.
We have no illusion about the enormous challenges and tasks ahead. Putting an end to the sectarian-ethnic power-sharing system, and achieving the desired democratic change, in Iraqi people’s interest, requires a change in the political and societal balance of forces. It will not happen overnight, but requires a consistent struggle and developing a mass popular movement against sectarian politics and in defence of democratic rights and freedoms. 
In this struggle, Iraqi Communists draw their confidence and optimism from the resilience of the Iraqi people, and their overwhelming desire to build a better future

Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.

Comments

  • We read our comrade┬┤s interview with much appreciation and solidarity. The imperialist crimes being committed on Iraq and its peoples will history for ever condemn. Can only say, be strong brothers and sisters, from lands also under invading genocidal forces for 500 years.

    Posted by leiva rodrigo, 04/20/2012 11:19am (6 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments