Iraqi self-determination: Solidarity with resistance

Ian Donovan calls for class support for workers' struggles in occupied Iraq

Iraq is rapidly becoming a quagmire for the US-UK coalition, in more ways than one. That is the message signalled by the sharp upsurge in violent resistance to the coalition and its allies over the past few weeks. The truck-bomb attack on the United Nations compound in Baghdad last week was a highly effective act of armed propaganda by whoever carried it out (remnants of the Ba’athist regime or islamic fundamentalists being prime suspects).

This attack, in which UN chief envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello died, was greeted in Britain, the United States and elsewhere with a wave of media-stoked indignation. The UN and its personnel are portrayed as modern-day saints who tirelessly work for peace and justice the world over - to all intents and purposes they are in reality the supranational arm of imperialism. And in service to imperialism the UN imposed murderous sanctions on Iraq between 1990 and 2003, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, especially children, from starvation and disease due to lack of food and medicine. Frankly, in comparison to that, the deaths of a score or so UN personnel are a drop in the ocean.

The Anglo-US coalition has now openly admitted it is facing an effective, but so far fairly low-level guerrilla insurgency, which it has proved incapable of quelling. From the mainly sunni area north of Baghdad around Tikrit, where US troops have suffered a steady stream of casualties since Bush officially declared ‘major combat’ over at the end of April, to the environs of the mainly shia second city, Basra, in the south-east of Iraq, where the British army lost three men in a daring drive-by ambush on Saturday, casualties are beginning to mount.

Of course, the number of Iraqis being killed, both by the occupation forces and the consequences of war and occupation, is far greater. Iraqi society has suffered for decades under sanctions and a Ba’athist-imposed war regime (Iran and then Kuwait were invaded). Now virtually the whole of the state has been decapitated. The US-UK coalition brought not only the humiliation of foreign occupation, but a huge wave of lawlessness and gangsterism. Theft, rape, kidnapping and casual killing is routine.

Nevertheless the notion, recently pushed by George Bush’s administration, that it is criminal gangs who are responsible for a string of attacks on US troops is hard to take seriously. Criminal bosses are more likely to seek an accommodation with the powers-that-be than risk a head-on confrontation with them. Equally threadbare is Bush’s statement that Iraq is still the front line in his ‘war against terrorism’, because supposedly thousands of islamists have infiltrated into Iraq from Saudi Arabia and Iran to engage in a new jihad against the coalition. Resistance can, of course, draw in many strands from Iraqi society and beyond, but there can be no escape from the fact that the primary motivational factor behind it is national.

Certainly the main enemy of the Iraqi people is the US-led coalition. Its very presence means shootings, missile strikes on cars and buses and random brutality. More to the point, the occupation of Iraq visibly denies its people the possibility of exercising self-determination and freely deciding their own future. Class politics tend therefore to be spontaneously subsumed into national politics. Every grievance, every interest finds itself coming up against the US occupation rather than the clash of class against class.

Without a fully rounded programme - which alone provides the means for the working class to link pressing daily demands for security, work, food and electricity to the perspective of a democratic republic and socialism - the result can only but be disorientation and in certain cases paralysis. A problem much exacerbated by the decades of severe oppression suffered by the left and the workers’ movement under the Ba’athist dictatorship. Generation after generation of left activists have been forced to flee, either to the relative freedom of the Kurdish north or abroad to western Europe. As to the mass workers’ movement - which has in Iraq a proud history going back to the 1920s - it was forcibly incorporated into the Ba’athist state. For at least the last 20 years the only trade unions that operated were state-controlled.

Hence in the present situation the immediate likely conduit and beneficiary of national resistance against occupation are indeed the islamists - the mosque, though rigidly policed by the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein, continued to function and provided both an alternative ideology and social security system.

So what should our attitude be towards the resistance? We do not and cannot simply cheer on those forces which appear to be conducting an armed fight against imperialist occupation without taking into account their politics. Many of these forces are deeply reactionary in their overall social programme, certainly in terms of remaining supporters of Saddam’s regime and various different types of islamists, whether sunni or shia.

There may, of course, also be elements with Arab nationalist politics unconnected to Saddam’s regime, which have some democratic element to their programme and aims. It is not clear to us in the west, as we try to glean the truth through the fog of censorship and military disinformation, exactly what the weight of these forces actually are. What is clear, however, is that there is a crying need for a class axis to the struggle against imperialist occupation - otherwise the struggle against foreign occupation will be dominated by reactionary forces. This means that the Iraqi left must take the political initiative and aim to play the leading role.

In terms of what we currently know about the left in Iraq, there is of course the Iraqi Communist Party, the historic mass party of the Iraqi proletariat. Under the years of Saddam’s dictatorship, the CPI endured savage repression, execution and torture of many militants, but also engaged in sporadic participation in coalition governments with Ba’athists and other strains of Arab nationalism. Integrally tied up with the class-collaborationist politics promoted by the former USSR regime among all its loyal satellite parties around the globe, the CPI has been reduced to a miserable state by this bankrupt form of politics.

The participation of the CPI in US governor Paul Bremer’s puppet ‘governing council’ says all that needs to be said - about the CPI leadership at least. Whether or not the CPI’s mass base, if it still has one after all these years, will go along with this blatant collaboration remains to be seen. This is a party that once had a secular, militant and left ethos, and a real following among militant sections of the proletariat, particularly in the oil fields of the northern Kurdish zone. It also had at least some history as an expression - however deformed and treacherous - of the revolutionary aspirations of Iraqi workers - as illustrated, for example, by its role in the 1958 revolution. Therefore there may still be surviving elements of the CPI who are capable of rebelling against its quisling politics; if that is not the case, this could well spell the end of the CPI as a credible force among Iraqi workers, who are daily coming face to face with the consequences of the occupation.

Much more positive for the Iraqi masses is the role of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq. These comrades, whose organisation was founded in 1993, having grown out of the failed insurrection against Saddam Hussein in Kurdistan at the end of the Kuwait war, seem to have a virtual monopoly of revolutionary politics in Iraq at the present time. Addressing the CPGB’s Communist University earlier this month, their spokesperson, Nadia Mahmood, detailed the work done by WCPI comrades in its attempts to organise unemployed workers into the Union of the Unemployed People of Iraq (UUPI), to struggle against the desperate state to which dictatorship, blockade and now occupation have reduced the Iraqi workers (see opposite).

This WCPI-led unemployed agitation appears to have made a significant impact. Indeed, according to a statement issued by the WCPI on August 3, 55 of its militants, including UUPI president Qasim Hadi, were arrested by US troops for organising a sit-in in front of Saddam Hussein’s former presidential palace in Baghdad, where American troops and administrators are now ensconced. The UUPI claims 85,000 members in Nasiriyah alone. This is a real base, and the job of socialist and class-conscious workers in Britain must be to initiate solidarity of the workers’ movement here with these independent working class organisations in Iraq, who are facing repression and terror - not only from the imperialists, but also from islamists.

One important point of disagreement we have with the WPCI is that, while they have firmly opposed the imperialist occupation, they have at times issued illusory calls for the UN to play a role in ending the occupation, even for the UN to send its own troops to replace the coalition and help organise ‘democracy’.

In our view such calls can only undermine the comrades’ best work and give a political weapon to islamists against them - this could possibly be a sign of some residue of CPI-type thinking and political conceptions among the cadre of the WCPI, despite their heroic activities and agitation that are completely counterposed to the treachery of the present-day ‘official’ CPI. We raise these criticisms with the comrades with the aim of strengthening, not weakening, the independent class movement of the workers in Iraq.

In any case, we call on the Socialist Alliance, and all other socialist, communist and trade union organisations in Britain and internationally, to initiate campaigns in solidarity with these independent, working-class-based struggles in Iraq.