After Saddam

Though subject to severe repression under the Ba'ath regime, historically the Communist Party of Iraq has retained a mass base. Faced with the impending US-UK military onslaught, the party says it must fight on two fronts - against imperialism and against Saddam Hussein. Henning Böke spoke to Rashid Ghewielib, representative of the CPI in Germany, about the present situation and the prospects for the Iraqi opposition

What is the nature of Iraq's ruling Ba'ath Party? And what are its social and ideological foundations? Ba'athism emerged as the party of the urban petty bourgeoisie. It is based on a nationalist pan-Arabism and has also been heavily influenced by Nazi ideology. In the 1940s the founders tried to incorporate elements of Marxist socialism. However, it needs to be stressed that the Ba'ath Party has been anti-communist right from the start. During the coup of 1963, politically led by the Ba'ath Party, thousands of democrats and communists were massacred in a bloodbath. After that, the Ba'ath Party lost much of its reputation and base. When the Ba'athists returned to power in 1968 they tried to win over wider layers of society. They tried to represent the interests of the peasantry and the middle classes. For example, they introduced land reforms and a law on employment which contained some progressive elements. Of course, with the nationalisation of the oil industry in 1972 a lot of money poured into state coffers. The mass of people benefited from this and the living standard in the 70s was good. With this economic development, a new layer emerged in the Ba'ath Party: the bureaucratic bourgeoisie. In 1979, after Saddam Hussein successfully and bloodily got rid of his rivals inside the party and started to persecute our organisation, the war with Iran started. The state lost its easy access to money. The Ba'ath Party developed from a party of the middle classes to a family and clan party. What forces make up the Iraqi opposition and what aims do they have? Up until 1991 there were four main tendencies: firstly the Kurdish freedom movements; secondly the Arab nationalists (to which one part of the Ba'ath Party, having split from the majority, belongs); thirdly the democratic tendency, the left, of which our party forms the major organisation; lastly the islamic tendency, with its various parties and groups. After 1991 a lot of Iraqis fled the country and formed different organisations abroad. There are three different political perspectives. One part of the opposition - in the main the Iraqi National Congress - wants to work directly and officially with the USA: they totally support the Americans' vision for Iraq. A second tendency wants to deprive Saddam Hussein of his power with the help of the US, without subscribing to the rest of US policy. The Kurdish organisations and the Islamic Revolutionary Council are part of this tendency. A third force is opposed to the war and demands an end to the embargo. This third force is made up of the CP and the Arab nationalist and islamic organisations. All of them demand an alternative to Saddam Hussein based on the Iraqi people themselves. What are the social backgrounds of these forces? The pro-western forces represent the old political layer which was in power during the kingdom from 1921 to 1958 - the children of the great landowners and the rich. The left forces and the communists represent the interests of the working people. However, today's Iraq is not divided along the lines of a 'typical' class structure. The clique which has been in power for the last 20 years, as well as the embargo, has led to the disappearance of the middle classes. There is no real working class as such either, because there is hardly any production - everything has been paralysed. I believe that the islamic, Arab nationalist and Kurdish forces have a similar social and class base, but they represent different political programmes. Do these opposition forces have a joint democratic perspective? Almost all the opposition groups talk about democracy. There are, however, a number of islamic groups who only look at democracy as a means to get to power, not as an end. But there are also forces who want to change Iraq and work towards a democratic future. These forces have suffered greatly from oppression, the embargo and the economic crisis. But they do retain much energy that could be reactivated through Saddam Hussein's overthrow. I believe that a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq will see a number of new political forces. For us in the CP there is of course no alternative to a democratic system. Is there a chance that a new democratic government would be able to exercise national sovereignty when it comes to the oil resources? Saddam Hussein would give the western oil companies everything if he could just stay in power. But with the invasion of Kuwait Saddam Hussein overstepped the boundaries, which were set by the USA. After September 11 the strategic aim of the USA has been the direct control of oil resources in the Gulf region. We on the other hand want to build a sovereign Iraq that can use its resources, especially oil, to aid the mass of the people. But the current political situation in Iraq and worldwide is not favourable towards the left and progressive forces. There will be a hard fight. Democracy is one of the main pillars of your programme? Of course. Iraq is a country with many nationalities and religious groups. Without democracy, without freedom of expression, without freedom of organisation there will be no solution. The USA is only interested in bringing into power another dictatorship, which will make a bad situation a lot worse. Do you think Saddam Hussein enjoys wide support in the population? Saddam Hussein's terror regime has been very successful in defeating the forces of the opposition. Those form a large part of the population. The Kurds - against which Saddam Hussein waged his war in the 1980s - make up a third of the Iraqi population. There is certainly no sympathy for Saddam amongst them. Roughly four million Iraqis live outside the country. Most of them would not have left the country, had it not been for Saddam Hussein's terror, along with the war and the embargo. Most of those people do not think too highly of Saddam Hussein either. However, the uprising in March 1991, where a majority of the population moved against Saddam Hussein, is for me evidence enough that the Iraqi people do not support his dictatorship. How about the other Arab countries? Saddam Hussein is attempting to influence public opinion in three directions. To the Arab populations he poses as a nationalist who wants to liquidate Israel. To the islamists he poses as the 'believer', although he and his party have historically had nothing to do with religion; and many leftwing organisations in the world believe in his 'anti-imperialism'. The more the USA supports Israel, the more successful will Saddam Hussein be with this tactic. Sharon's terror against the Palestinian population is aiding Hussein's demagogy. He cynically exploits their desperation. Like other leaders in the Arab world - who have nothing to do with democracy either - he uses the Palestinian question for his own purpose, to remain in power. What solution does the Iraqi opposition present for the conflict between Israel and Palestine? Since 1947 our organisation has been arguing for a democratic solution that is based on two states, both of them with the right to self-determination. We do not support the radical nationalist demand for the destruction of the Israeli state or the call to "drive the Jews into the sea", which was a common slogan in the 1960s. Israel would like to play an important role in the impending war against Iraq. But that would not suit US tactics, because direct Israeli involvement in this war would complicate the situation dramatically. Saddam Hussein has never seriously fought against Israel and he will not start now. 1981, during the war between Iraq and Iran, Israeli planes bombed a nuclear station near Baghdad and there was no retaliation. During the 'Black September' of 1970 Saddam Hussein did not support the Palestinians against the Jordanian king. Instead, he killed many PLO leaders and fighters. During the second half of the civil war in Lebanon he militarily supported the fascist forces, who were well known allies of Israel. There are also rumours of secret meetings between representatives of the Iraqi and the Israeli governments. Apparently, Saddam Hussein has offered to recognise the Israel state if the US in return abandons the attempt to depose him. What will happen to the Iraqi opposition when the USA and their allies attack? Are there plans for united actions? Despite the many differences between our forces we have always had good relations with all the main organisations in the opposition, especially the Kurdish and the islamic parties. We have always made clear that we would not defend Iraq when the USA attack the country. However, we will also refuse to be part of this war or to support the US project - we will not play 'Northern Alliance' for them. Politically and militarily we are too weak to prevent a war, but we will not cease to fight for our progressive positions within the Iraqi population. We are planning to make active propaganda in all Iraqi cites and towns. How do you intervene in the newly emerging, if still hesitant, attempts to build global networks between leftwing and progressive forces throughout the world? We have always fought for a socialist system as the only real alternative to capitalism. On this basis we welcome the growing anti-capitalist movement and are glad that it has developed to a strong force in such a short time. Our comrades in Italy took part in the European Social Forum in Florence. However, people must appreciate the difficult circumstances under which we operate. For 34 years we have been oppressed by a terrible dictatorship, for 20 years we had to cope with war and for 12 years we have suffered under an embargo. We are arguing that the left and communist parties must fully cooperate with all other forces fighting against capitalism.