For the organization of the Iraqi working masses!

by Joseph Green

Down with the occupation regime!
The imperial definition of freedom
Behind the rapid collapse of Hussein's resistance
Nature of the fallen Baath regime
The class struggle and the fight against the occupation
-- Democratization
-- Against neo-liberalism and for economic relief
-- The right to self-determination of the Kurds
-- The issue of Islamic fundamentalism
For a revolutionary-democratic struggle

. The war is over; Saddam Hussein's regime has collapsed; but already a new struggle is developing. Clashes have taken place between American troops and Iraqis denouncing both Hussein and the continued presence of American troops. They want an Iraq free of both Hussein's old Baathist party regime, and foreign troops.

. What there is now in Iraq is not freedom, as Bush boasted on May 1, but occupation. Iraq is to be under a thinly-veiled military rule, with Iraqi advisers taking orders from American overlords. The Bush administration is trying to fashion Iraq into an American base to influence the rest of the Middle East. And the American bourgeoisie is drooling over the prospect of lucrative contracts for rebuilding Iraq or controlling its oil. Elections of some sort are promised for the distant future, but military rule is to continue so long as the Iraqi masses are opposed to US plans. The occupation will last for years.

. Most of the Iraqi people have welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, yet they also want the US out. US troops have suppressed demonstrations in blood in Mosul, Falluja, etc. Will the protests that have already occurred grow into a powerful struggle, or will they die down, so that the occupation regime stabilizes for a perhaps lengthy period of time? This depends in part on whether the occupation regime curbs its tendency to use the iron fist against protesters, and whether its succeeds in providing economic relief to the masses.

. But it also depends on the struggle of different trends and classes in Iraq. This will affect not only the length of the struggle against occupation, but the banners it fights under. This will also determine what an eventual new Iraqi regime, freed from occupation, will look like. Will it be an Islamic fundamentalist state, or a secular democracy? What rights will the working masses have? Will the right to self-determination of the Kurds be respected, and what rights will the other minorities have? These issues depend on the struggle of trends among Iraqis that is taking place now, that will continue under pro-US figurehead regimes, and that will continue in a future independent regime, however long it takes to achieve it. As the most powerful of the present trends range from Islamic clericalism to bourgeois nationalism of various types, the Iraqi working masses face a difficult struggle to develop a revolutionary-democratic alternative. The class struggle in Iraq will not wait until the occupation is over.

. The anti-war movement is by no means refuted by the outcome of the war. On the contrary, the events of the war, and the nature of the occupation regime which is being established, show that the anti-war movement was right to denounce the motives and objectives of US imperialism. But the experience of the war does call for re-examining the slogans and views of various trends in the anti-war movement. It shows that, to be prepared for what happened, it was necessary to oppose both US imperialism and Saddam Hussein, as the leaflets of Communist Voice leading up to and during the war did. The question of the nature of the Hussein regime couldn't be put aside without losing contact with the problems facing the Iraqi masses and without losing the ability to understand the rapid collapse of the Iraqi regime. And today it is necessary not just to oppose the occupation regime, but to help foster the development of a independent trend of the working masses in Iraq.

. Moreover, the war and its aftermath also show the fallacy of regarding multilateralism as a force on the side of the people. Today the French, German and Russian governments still have differences with the Bush administration, but they are fighting over who will control Iraqi oil contracts, extract debt payments, and control the occupation regime; they are not standing up for the rights of the Iraqi people. There is a great gulf between the millions of working people in Europe and elsewhere who protested the war, and the stand of the European governments. Multilateralism, championed through such slogans as relying on international law or the UN, is just as much a form of international imperialism as unilateralism.

Down with the occupation regime!

. What Bush has brought to Iraq is not freedom, but occupation and domination. The overriding concern of the occupation is to make Iraq into a base for dominating the Middle East. What happens to the people is of no concern, so long as they are pacified.

. Thus during the war and afterward, the US and British forces showed little concern for what was happening to the people. The occupation forces guarded certain key military and political objectives, and otherwise allowed near anarchy to reign in occupied areas. The invasion force had planned to knock out the government functions of the Baath regime, but had no plans on how to replace them. This was revealed dramatically during the looting that occurred in Baghdad and elsewhere, where the occupation forces allowed the wrecking of hospitals, schools, museums, government offices etc. It simply wasn't their concern. It wasn't until the Shia clerical forces began organizing to carry out local security and fill the vacuum left by the fall of the Hussein regime, that the occupation forces became concerned.

. The situation arose whereby what Bush and company regarded as minor and unimportant things, such as providing services to the people, are often left in a state of anarchy. It isn't even clear which US official is responsible. In-fighting goes on between former general Jay Garner, who was said to be in control of the US administration of Iraq; former State Department official L. Paul Bremer, who is a special envoy to deal with Iraqi affairs; and Lt. General David McKiernan, head of ground forces in Iraq. Garner lost big and will be leaving Iraq later in May, and this itself is giving rise to a new personnel shuffle.

. Meanwhile it is all hustle and bustle when it comes to things that matter to the Bush administration, such as providing lucrative contracts or making use of Iraq as a military base. The Bush administration made haste to turn Iraq into a bastion to apply regional pressure. Baghdad had barely fallen, and the occupation forces didn't yet have any plans about how to restore essential services to the masses, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced that the US was closing down an Iraqi oil pipeline to Syria. This pipeline was of economic value to both the Iraqi and Syrian people, but it had to be stopped because Bush wanted to apply pressure to Syria. So much for the pretext that Bush would preserve Iraqi oil for the Iraqi people.

. The US occupation was immediately used as a stronghold of American imperial reach. The pipeline shutdown was only a small part of a series of threats issued to Syria and Iran. And there was also immediately talk of establishing four US military bases in Iraq. The occupation is to serve oil and empire -- these are its priorities.

. Indeed, Iraq has become a piece of meat, to be parceled up to award this or that country. It is now planned to divide Iraq into three occupation zones, with not only Britain and the US but even Poland to have a slice. These zones are not to coincide with any particular geographical or political boundaries, but are designed simply to award each country its share on the basis of its place in American plans. In the case of Poland, it is to allow Bush to reward the "new Europe" as opposed to the "old Europe" of France and Germany.

. Iraq is also being set upon by a myriad of multinational companies, eager for rich contracts. Even before the war, arguments had broken out between the US, Britain and other powers over who would get oil and reconstruction contracts, and what oil deals with Hussein would be canceled. As the war and then the occupation proceeded, the struggle for contracts proceeded. Who would get the contract to run the port at Umm-Qasr? Who would get the contracts to put out oil fires? Who would get the oil? Who would make money off rewriting Iraqi school books? And lo and behold, firms associated with Vice-President Cheney made out like bandits in this competition. Indeed, privatization and neo-liberal market reforms will be a key part of the occupation of Iraq, and this will increase the number of contracts to be handed around.

The imperial definition of freedom

. None of this is to be subject to the approval of the Iraqi people. These changes are to be imposed on Iraq, and only those Iraqis who consent to them are to be allowed to take part in governing Iraq. And even then, the local Iraqis are only to serve as advisers to the US overlords for an indefinite period, perhaps many years.

. But who could serve in this role? Donald Rumsfeld and vice-president Cheney have backed the long-time exile Ahmad Chalabi as the next leader of Iraq, although Chalabi is so unpopular in Iraq that he has already faced at least two assassination attempts since returning. But there are other plans as well. Most recently, the Pentagon is sending to Iraq a team of 150 exiles, the "Iraqi Reconstruction and Redevelopment Council", to serve as advisers or technocrats. They have not been chosen on the basis of being representative of the Iraqi people. Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz describes one of his chosen exiles as a man who Iraqis would view "as an agent or a spy" and says that "maybe in five or six years they'll [Iraqis] understand that this guy is a good guy. " (New York Times, "U. S. -backed Iraqi exiles return to reinvent nation", May 4, 2003. ) Wolfowitz regards imposing such a leader on Iraq as a bold step for democracy in Iraq. "Iraqi freedom", in the eyes of the Bush administration, doesn't mean that Iraqis are free to chose their own government, but that the Bush administration is free to impose whoever it chooses on Iraq.

. Aside from the 150 technocrats, the Bush administration is also trying to set up an "interim authority" in Iraq. The plan is for it to be a mere figurehead, while the real decisions are taken elsewhere. The US determines which groups are allowed to take part in the discussions leading to the interim government, and what the interim government will be allowed to do. The US hopes that this will be useful in giving some legitimacy to some pro-US leaders such as Chalabi and in buying off those Iraqi groups that will be allowed to take part. So far, however, even many participants in these talks have balked at some of the US plans. Nor is it clear whether they will agree among themselves. The very formation of this Iraqi authority is still up in the air.

. How can military rule and the forcible imposition of unpopular administrators on Iraq be regarded as a step towards democracy? Well, many establishment ideologues are now polishing up the time-honored imperialist theory which redefines the imposition of authoritarian regimes upon the people as freedom. Thus earlier this year there was a fuss among bourgeois commentators on foreign policy over a new book by Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International and one-time managing editor of Foreign Affairs. It is entitled "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad". Fareed pays lip service to an eventual goal of having countries run by "open, free and fair elections", but he is afraid of what the people in various countries would do with the vote. Therefore, in the name of creating the conditions for democracy, he endorses authoritarian governments if they would enforce marketplace rules and strict order. In practice, this means that democracy need never be allowed to peoples who are opposed to US imperialism, but now this denial can be called real liberty, instead of mere "illiberal democracy". And why restrict this theory to foreign peoples who oppose the dictates of the multinational corporations? Fareed goes on to suggest that the US itself has too much democracy, and it could do with more constraints on the masses. In short, "liberty" consists of freeing the ruling bourgeoisie from the bother of worrying about rigging elections, whether at home or abroad.

. In practice, this is what the US has been trying to do in Iraq for over a decade. Papa Bush looked towards replacing Saddam Hussein with another strong man, preferably one of Saddam's generals. Baby Bush has now overthrown the Baath regime altogether, but he has preserved the general idea by replacing Saddam, with a military occupation.

. Dealing with the fear that the Iraqi people might vote in a Shiite fundamentalist government, a number of commentators have suggested that the US should try to institute the Turkish model. Turkey is one of imperialism's favorite models of what it regards as a moderate or democratic country. In fact, it is a model of a country where the military holds the final reins of power under a thin veneer of parliamentarism. It is a repressive regime which denies basic rights to the people, throws people in jail for expressing their views, and represses organizing by the working masses. It has also waged a war against its own Kurdish minority. Nor is it a model of how to handle religion, since it enforces secularism by harsh edicts that can amount to religious persecution, while being so callous to the suffering of the Turkish masses that it inadvertently pushes them into the small safety net provided by Islamic charities. But Turkey is a pro-West market regime, and so this makes it a model.

. So democracy is to be set aside, unless and until the occupation regime can be assured that the Iraqis will vote right. What about the issue of the right to self-determination of the Kurdish people? This too is set aside. US imperialism does not respect democratic principles. It is built around assuring a regime strong enough to keep the masses in line while they suffer the economic hardships of neo-liberal exploitation.

Behind the rapid collapse of Hussein's resistance

. The occupation regime shows the unjust nature of the US invasion. But the war was unjust from Saddam's side as well. His Baath party regime fought for the same reasons that it had fought previous wars -- to become a regional power, and to maintain its oppressive rule. Saddam tried to dress up his war as a defense of Iraqi independence, but his regime fought to maintain exploitation and domination of the Iraqi masses. Even as the war proceeded, the Baath regime continued its old methods of rule. It sent its militia not only against the American invaders but to forcibly suppress any sign of disloyalty among the local population. It sought to keep the Iraqi masses cowed but loyal by threatening them with reprisals. And it didn't dare discuss the real situation of the war with them.

. But why deal with the real class motives of the Hussein regime, it might be asked? After all, his regime has died. But the events of the war, and especially the rapid collapse of the Iraqi forces at the end of the war, cannot be understood without dealing with the nature of the Hussein regime. And examining the class and political situation in Saddam's Iraq helps prepare one to deal with the class and political relations in post-Saddam Iraq.

. Saddam's regime had boasted about the urban warfare it would carry out in every street in Baghdad. Some people outside Iraq wondered if Baghdad was to be the new Stalingrad. But when the war reached Baghdad, the regime faded away. No doubt, this is partly due to the tremendous military mismatch between the Iraqi regime and US imperialism. The US forces had tremendous firepower which they didn't hesitate to employ against entrenched enemy positions.

. But it was also a sign of how hollow and corrupt the Hussein regime had become. Urban and guerrilla warfare requires mass initiative, mobilization and determination, and most of the masses hated the regime. To maintain a mass resistance after a country's cities are occupied is difficult and painful, but it has been done in other situations, such as the World War II resistance against the Nazis and Japanese fascists in various European and Asian countries. But in the case of the Baath regime, even most of its own military forces abandoned it. Saddam's boasting aside, the regular army wasn't really prepared to deal with anything but a regular war, while the masses abandoned the regime as soon as they lost the fear of its retaliation. After the military collapse, demonstrations did break out demanding that US troop leave, but they were generally directed both against Saddam's regime and the occupation.

Nature of the fallen Baath regime

. Some activists credit Saddam's regime with the development that had taken place in Iraq prior to the decade of sanctions of the 1990s. But this presents a distorted picture of what went on. In 1958, ten years prior to the Baath party taking power, the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown. This ushered in a period of a period of radical changes in Iraq. It laid the groundwork for the nationalization of oil and for the emergence of Iraq as a modern capitalist state. Various political and class forces organized in the turbulent period that followed. The Baath party was hostile to the radical left forces among the toilers, and it also opposed the Arab nationalist government of General Qassim. It assassinated General Qassim and briefly came to power to 1963, apparently doing so in collaboration with the CIA, and then finally established its lasting rule in 1968. It came down with an iron fist against the left-wing forces among the masses, killing thousands of thousands of left-wing activists. While it clothed itself in ant-imperialist phrases, the Baath regime was actually the grave-digger of the revolutionary movement among the Iraqi masses.

. By 1979 Saddam Hussein, one of the top Baath leaders, established a one-man dictatorship in Iraq. While Iraqi economic development, aided by oil money, had continued, he suppressed the political life of Iraq. Moreover, his regime was one of military paternalism. Oil money allowed the Baath regime, and then Saddam's dictatorship, to build up a huge military, while also providing various subsidies to various sections of the population. But Saddam was unable to deal with the growing problems of the Iraqi economy, and looked instead to military conquest to gain further oil revenues and to establish Iraq as a major regional power. This led to the protracted, bloody Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the continual ethnic cleansing of the Kurds from Iraqi oil regions, and the invasion of Kuwait in the 1991. (It might also be noted that the Iraqi war against Iran had nothing to do with anti-imperialism. Indeed, the US government generally leaned toward the Iraqi side of the Iran-Iraq war, regarding Iraq as a bulwark against Iran.)

. During the 1990s, the savage UN sanctions against Iraq caused massive hardship and preventable deaths. But the sanctions weren't the only cause of Iraqi suffering. The conditions would have deteriorated anyway, although the sanctions made this deterioration into a catastrophe. Consider, for example, what happened to Saudi Arabia in this period. Like Iraq, it relied on oil money, and it also had accumulated massive debts and obligations. But, being on the victorious side of the Persian Gulf war of 1991, it didn't face sanctions or reparation payments. Nevertheless, with the moderate oil prices of the 1990s, living standards plummeted throughout the 90s, intensifying discontent with the Saudi regime.

. Moreover, the corruption and hollowness of Saddam's regime developed further through the 90s. While the Iraqi people suffered deprivation, Saddam and a thin top layer of privileged Baath officials lived in luxury and made money from the smuggling that accompanied the sanctions. The system of military paternalism and subsidies continued, providing some relief to the masses while also serving as a means of social control (if you step out of line, you don't get the subsidy). But Iraqi resources were mainly directed to the continuing ambitions of the regime.

The class struggle and the fight against the occupation

. If the class and political relations in Iraq had a dramatic effect on the war, they will have an equally dramatic effect on the struggle against the occupation. There is not simply going to be a united patriotic struggle while the divisions among the Iraqi people are put aside for another day. With the collapse of the Hussein tyranny, the political contradictions in Iraqi society, some of which were forced underground by the general tyranny, are breaking out into the open. Thus the issue of Islamic clericalism has broken out in force; the issue of Kurdish national rights is the specter that won't go away; and underground parties have emerged into the light of day. Different political and class forces are putting forward their claims, and the coming days will show the real power represented by the varying trends. What attitude these trends take towards the occupation; how far they unite with each other; how far some of them unite with the occupation against other trends -- all this depends not just on patriotic rhetoric, but on real class and political relations. The occupation regime will sit on top of everything and oppress the Iraqi people as a whole, but it will seek to play off one section of the Iraqi people against another.

. Thus the struggle against the occupation regime will be intertwined with a series of political and economic demands of the masses. New alignments among the masses will be formed in the coming months, and the strength of various political trends will be tested. Behind the political trends, lies the class divisions in Iraqi society. Whether the working masses develop their own trend in the coming period, or are subjected to bourgeois nationalist and clerical trends, will determine the overall features of the anti-occupation struggle.

-- Democratization

. One of the key demands will be for democratization. Naturally, despite the rhetoric of freedom and liberation with which it was established, the very existence of the occupation regime is itself the biggest violation of democracy. Every step it takes to install its hand-picked figureheads and technocrats will be a violation of Iraqi will, and so far it hasn't hesitated to come down hard on protest.

. Moreover, the occupation regime has already sought to make use of the old Baath police and administration. The British sought to impose Baathist officials on Basra, while the US forces have made use of the Baathist police. This has been one of the evils targeted by demonstrators; it has been a major source of the early discontent with the occupation regime.

. As we mentioned above, at the end of the first Gulf War Papa Bush hoped that Saddam would be replaced by one of his generals, thus leaving the general apparatus of repression in place. He had considered the worst possibility to be that the masses would take the initiative in demolishing the Iraqi regime. For this reason, the elder Bush had allowed Saddam to crush the rebellions of the Shias and Kurds, believing that this would preserve the repressive state apparatus intact to be handed over to some new, pro-American strongman. This time the Baath regime has been toppled, and Baby Bush is going after the top Baath figures. Nevertheless Baby Bush has no fonder sentiments towards the Iraq masses than his father. The issue remains of the overall system of restraints which has held the masses in subjection and denied them their rights.

. Elimination of the roots of the Baathist regime will thus be one of the issues which the masses will be fighting on in the coming months. The mass anger at Baath, repressed for so long, is being expressed throughout Iraq. This is important to eliminate any remnant of fear among the masses. There may still be sympathy with the Baath regime in certain parts of central Iraq. This would mainly be in areas which had special privileges under the old regime. If so, so long as this sympathy persists, it will tend to separate off such areas from the general movement, which aims to eliminate the remnants of the Baath regime as well as to remove the occupiers. This also shows that the Iraqi masses are right to insist that the issue of the Baathist apparatus and its methods hasn't been settled simply by the fall of Saddam's regime.

. Meanwhile a crucial issue for the working masses is whether they achieve rights for their own class agitation and organization, for organizing trade unions and at the workplace, for the right to publish and broadcast free of censorship, and to develop their own parties. Will they ever get the right to vote on the key political issues in Iraq, previously denied to them by the Baath and now denied to them by the occupation regime? As the occupation regime establishes its own bureaucratic apparatus to replace that of the Baath (or adopts various of the old Baath features), it may come into friction with the masses, who expect something better following the fall of the old regime. Already there are small skirmishes with the occupation regime on the censorship of the media, on the appointment of various Baath officials, on the failure of the occupation to either provide various social services or allow the local population to organize them itself, etc.

. This involves not just struggle against the roots of the overthrown Baath regime, but against both the occupation and backward forces among the present Iraqi trends. The bourgeois nationalist forces among the various Iraqi trends want rights for their bourgeoisie, but they want to keep the workers of their nationality (and all nationalities) in line, and they are always susceptible to deals, whether with the occupation or with other bourgeois powers. Moreover, the influence of Islamic fundamentalism is a major question in Iraq at this time. Islamic clericalism threatens to bring theocracy and a new oppression to Iraq, but appears in liberation colors because it was persecuted under the old Baath regime.

. At the moment, however, there is chaotic situation throughout Iraq in which mass trends are stirring and various parties and trends have emerged from the underground. The Communist Party of Iraq (CPI), which at one time had substantial influence among the working masses, and the Workers Communist Party of Iraq (WCPI), which is to its left, have opened public offices in various cities and established their own newspapers and journals. Although we don't agree with the political views of these two parties, their emergence is a sign that activists are appealing to the working masses.

-- Against neo-liberalism and for economic relief

. Another major issue is the economic situation of the masses. The war, following a decade of sanctions, has left mass privation throughout Iraq. The occupation regime has dragged its feet in dealing with the restoration of vital services, since it isn't concerned with the needs of the masses. This is one of the main grievances expressed over and over again throughout Iraq.

. Moreover, the Bush administration aims to impose a neo-liberal program of privatization and market reforms on Iraq, thus extending and accelerating the privatization which Saddam's regime had initiated previously. This doesn't just mean privatizing oil, but throwing Iraq open to the full force of market fundamentalism. Contracts are already being given to American firms to deal with this or that governmental function. Even if these contracts only cover a pitifully small section of social services at this time, they still represent most of what the occupation regime has done for these services, and the direction in which it is going. No doubt the neo-liberals will soon discover that the really bad thing about the old Baath regime, in their view, is that it subsidized food distribution among the masses. Meanwhile Bush has set his eyes on a grander goal than merely privatizing Iraq -- neo-liberalizing the whole Middle East and turning it into an adjunct of the US economy. As his first step in this, on May 9 he announced a plan to create a Middle East-US free trade area by 2013.

. Thus, after basic services are restored, the struggle against the economic policies of the occupation will continue, but change its focus. How fast this struggle develops depends in part on whether the occupation provides security and privileges to a section of technocrats, professionals, and wealthier elements. If there is general insecurity for all, then the economic struggle may merge into a general anti-occupation struggle. But if the working masses find themselves opposed by a substantial bourgeois section who have profited by the market reforms, then the economic struggle will depend on how far the working masses have developed their own independent economic and political organization.

-- The right to self-determination of the Kurds

. There is also the question of the Kurdish national issue. The Kurds are a major section of the population in Iraq, about 20%. They are about as numerous as the Arab Sunni population of Iraq, from which the dominant bourgeoisie and ruling circles were drawn under the Baath regime. The Kurdish area in northern Iraq is a major chunk of the country, with a claim on the northern oil fields.

. The Kurdish issue is one of the questions bequeathed to the present by the way Western imperialism helped divide up the Middle East after the defeat of the Ottoman empire in World War I, and its subsequent collapse. The area of Kurdish concentration was divided up between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The bourgeois nationalist governments that eventually emerged in these countries have not respected Kurdish rights, and the result has been harsh oppression of the Kurds. Wars to suppress the local Kurds have been carried out in Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Saddam's regime not only waged such wars, but carried out major ethnic cleansing of the Kurdish, Turkoman and Assyrian populations in the northern oil region and, in particular, from Mosul and Kirkuk.

. Meanwhile, the present main Kurdish groups, the PUK and the KDP, are led by bourgeois nationalists. They have sought to gain at least autonomy, if not independence, by allying over the years with various bourgeois powers, such as the Shah's Iran and US imperialism. And the Kurds have been betrayed successively by one of their "allies" after another. Now the Kurdish leadership led them into the present war as an ally of US imperialism, and they will most likely be given positions in the interim government. This alliance with US imperialism is an act of treachery against both the Kurdish working masses and the Iraqi people in general. It is a major complication for the anti-occupation struggle.

. Meanwhile US imperialism does not support the right of Kurdish self-determination. The most it would consent to is a Kurdish area having autonomy in a federal setup. The bourgeois nationalist trends among the Iraqi Arabs and the Shia clerical trends also won't accept more than this, and perhaps not even this. There is the question of what type of federalism the bourgeois nationalists and clerics will accept. For example, many Shia are upset with the system of rule whereby everything was centralized in Baghdad, and they see federalism as an antidote to this. But the Shia clerics and others say that the federal subdivisions should not divide the country along ethnic or national lines, for fear of creating a base for separatism. This may mean that they want the administrative divisions to carve up the Kurdish areas rather than mark off the Kurdish national area as a region which might at some time separate from Iraq. At the very least, it means that they favor a federal division of Iraq which doesn't recognize that the Kurdish regions have any special significance other than that of any ordinary geographic region. And it seems that some demonstrations led by Shia clerics may have given slogans not just against both Saddam and US occupation, but for Iraq's "integrity", which apparently is a slap against Kurdish "separatism". So what's implemented as federalism might be very unsatisfactory for the Kurds. This lays the ground for eventual conflicts with the Kurdish movement. If there is a satisfactory federal arrangement, this might well be a step forward. But even this might end up only to be a breathing space in the conflict over Kurdish rights. That's because most Kurds probably want independence, and eventually the issue of the right to self-determination of Iraqi Kurdistan has to be confronted directly.

. The continued denial of Kurdish national rights by the dominant Iraqi trends will perpetuate a split among the Iraqi masses, and thus undermine resistance to US domination. The occupation regime will continue to maneuver between the different groups, presenting itself one day as a protector of the Kurds and the next day as a protector of a unified Iraq against Kurdish rights. It is necessary for the working masses to support Kurdish rights, including their right to decide on secession from Iraq. It is also important for the Kurdish working masses to struggle against the bourgeois nationalism that has led the PUK and KDP leaders to alliance with US imperialism, and to insist on respect for the minority populations in the Kurdish regions, including the Turkoman, Assyrians (e. g. Chaldeans and Syriacs) and Arab residents of the region. It is legitimate for expelled Kurds to want to return to their home towns and villages, from which they were ethnically cleansed. But it is also legitimate for expelled Turkomans and Assyrians to have the same aspiration. The non-Kurdish residents of Mosul and Kirkuk, including Shias from the South forcibly relocated to this region by the Hussein regime, as well as the local Assyrians and Turkomans, should be respected. If the mistreatment of these minorities is to be stopped, the Kurdish working masses are going to have develop their own political trend to oppose the bourgeois nationalist leaders.

-- The issue of Islamic fundamentalism

. The majority of the Iraqi people are Shia Muslims. Coming originally from the south of Iraq, many have moved to other areas of Iraq, such as Baghdad, or were forcibly relocated into the north of Iraq by the Baath regime as part of a process of ethnically cleansing non-Arabs away from important oil centers. They were persecuted during the years of the Saddam regime, and the Islamic clerics came to prominence as the main opposition force that managed to survive those years.

. After the war, demonstrations by the Shia denounced both Saddam's regime and the occupation. But they also asked for Sunni-Shia unity to achieve an Islamic state. The clerics are moving into the vacuum left by the collapse of Saddam's government and the indifference of the occupation authorities to the welfare of the population; clerics have assumed positions of local power and have organized or influenced local committees that have sprung up to manage local affairs. All this raises the possibility that the anti-occupation struggle will be dominated by the clerics, or that the end of the occupation will be followed by an Islamic government. This depends in large part on whether the mass of Shia follow the clerics.

. Thus one of the major issues facing the Iraqi working people will be to uphold secularism and oppose clericalism and Islamic fundamentalism. This will no doubt have a major effect on the fight against the occupation government. The occupation is presenting itself to the masses as the bulwark against theocracy. At the same time, the Bush administration is seeking to win over various clerics, and it has put out a few feelers about establishing what it calls an "Islamic democracy", that is, a pro-West clerical government. The strength of the Shia clerics may also be behind the fact that some secular groups in Iraq look towards UN occupation as an alternative to US occupation, since they may hope that the UN will shield them from Islamic fundamentalism.

. Any trend that really serves the interest of the working masses of Iraq will have to fight against the clericalist wave. But this justifies neither Saddam's regime, which was a secular state, nor occupation by outside imperialism, whether US imperialism or a consensus imperialism by the UN. For one thing, outside imperialism has no real commitment to secularism, and it may make a deal with the Iraqi clerics, as it has done with Islamic fundamentalist states all over the world. But moreover, it is repressive government that has helped create the ground for the growth of Islamic influence. And occupation in the name secularism will hardly undermine Islamic zeal.

. In the years following the overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy, it was not Islamic clericalism but the idea of radical change that brought the masses into the street. There was enthusiasm for democratic change, for radical social reforms, and for Arab nationalism, all of which was often conceived of as socialism. The working masses followed various political trends, and to some extent sought to build economic and political organizations to fight for their interests. Clericalism wasn't the main trend, and, for example, the Communist Party of Iraq had much of its support among the Shia. But the years of ferment following the overthrow of the monarchy ended in the Baath regime, with its merciless repression and repeated wars. The misery of the last period of Saddam's rule, the stunting of political life among the masses, and the disillusionment in the various secular forces, paved the way for the growth of clericalism. To follow this by attempting to hold down the Shia masses via occupation, while devastating them economically through the full rigors of neo-liberal economics, is a recipe for cementing the influence of the Islamic clerics.

. The fight for secularism will have to be waged among the masses themselves. It is only the building up of a democratic trend that fights for the interests of the working masses that can provide a real bulwark against clericalism. This struggle will go on not just during the occupation, but afterwards as well. No one will liberate the Iraqi masses from clericalism except the masses themselves.

For a revolutionary-democratic struggle

. The Iraqi masses thus face a complicated struggle. The struggle against occupation doesn't just face the military and economic strength of US imperialism, but the divisions and conflicting class interests among the Iraqi people. What is needed is the building of a political trend based on the working class. Only such a trend can consistently oppose both foreign imperialism and local bourgeois nationalist and clerical trends. Only such a trend can oppose local chauvinism and consistently champion the right to self-determination of the Kurds and the rights of the other minorities, thus providing a basis for a real unity of the common people. There needs to be a truly communist political party based on the working class, as well as trade unions and workers organizations of all types.

. The workers need to organize for their ultimate socialist goal of overthrowing bourgeois society, but also to intervene in the current anti-occupation struggle. When the workers are organized and active in struggle, it encourages the other working masses, such as the poor urban masses, the peasants, etc. Such a proletarian trend could can put forward a program of struggle to unite the working masses in defense of their common interests. This is the only way to build a consistent struggle that will strive to unite the working masses across national, religious and ethnic lines. It is what is needed to link up the anti-occupation struggle with the economic needs of the masses and with a struggle for consistent democratization. And it is the only way to build up a force that can resist both the occupation and the local bourgeois nationalists and clericalists. The working masses must strive to put their stamp on the anti-occupation struggle, and to develop a revolutionary-democratic current within it.

. At present, the main trends of any size represent other class influences. The Shia are dominated by the clerical trends; the clerics also have influence among the Sunni Arabs, and apparently there is also some pro-Baath sympathy among the Sunnis; and the Kurds are dominated by the bourgeois nationalist leadership of the PUK and KDP. There are a number of other groups which are now able to agitate openly throughout Iraq, some of whom appeal to the working masses and urge attention to their needs and respect for the rights of the different religious and national groups. The Iraqi Communist Party, which was once a major force among Iraqis, has a definite prestige due to its long opposition to the Baath regime. But it is not really a Marxist party, but a revisionist one. In its glory days after the overthrow of the monarchy, it served as a left fringe of Arab nationalism; later in the mid-70s it was a left fringe for the Baath party when it took part in a government coalition; and today it calls for a temporary UN occupation as the way to eliminate US occupation. The Workers Communist Party of Iraq is a smaller party that has also begun open agitation throughout Iraq. It stands for "left" communism, but this isn't Marxist either, and it also calls for UN intervention as the solution to US occupation.

. Thus the Iraqi working masses face a difficult struggle to put their own stamp on the anti-occupation struggle, because it isn't just a question of strengthening their own class trend versus the bourgeois nationalist trend. Rather, they have to establish this new proletarian trend. And they have to give a new character to the anti-occupation struggle. The proletariat has to build up a genuinely communist trend, while rallying all the working masses behind the immediate tasks of building a revolutionary-democratic current in the anti-occupation struggle. It is the job of socialist activists around the world to support the class organization of the Iraqi proletariat. Every step towards the further organization of the Iraqi working masses is a true step against both foreign imperialism and local reaction. <>

. Also see the accompanying article from the same issue of Communist Voice:

* Anti-war slogans in light of the outcome of the war
which deals with the questions of the fight on two fronts (against both foreign imperialism and local tyranny), the question of the UN, and the fiasco of "military but not political support" for the Hussein regime (26K)

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Last modified: August 24, 2003.