An interview with Salam Ali, member of the Central Committee of the Iraqi Communist Party, on the continuing political impasse in Iraq, and the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces. The interview, slightly edited here, was conducted Aug. 25 by Nameh Mardom, the official publication of the Tudeh Party - Iran.
Q: Almost six months have passed since the parliamentary elections in Iraq but a new government with a popular mandate has not taken office yet. It seems that the election has exposed the complexities of the political situation in Iraq. How do you evaluate the situation?
The failure to form a new government has created a deep crisis with grave consequences for the Iraqi people, compounding crises that had already existed, on political, economic and security levels. The political impasse caused by the results of the elections on March 7, 2010, with none of the main four electoral blocs winning outright majority, has led to mounting popular anger and resentment. The political vacuum has contributed to a worsening security situation, while basic services continue to deteriorate. The shortages of electricity (with people getting only few hours of intermittent supply in summer temperatures soaring to 127 degrees) have sparked protests in several provinces. Violent clashes between demonstrators and police in Basra led to the resignation of the Minister of Electricity.
The popular anger has been directed against the dominant political forces that have been waging a fierce battle over power and wealth, driven by their narrow political and partisan interests and trying to preserve their enormous privileges and positions in government. In addition, they are all committed to maintaining the infamous sectarian-ethnic power-sharing system, despite promises given during their election campaigns that they will get rid of it. The political maneuvers of each of the three blocs (State of Law, led by Maliki, Al-Iraqiya led by Iyad Allawi and the National Coalition led by Al-Hakim) have been centered on grabbing the prime ministerial post and marginalizing rivals.
The fierce struggle over political power has also exposed and deepened divisions between major political groups, even within the supposedly united coalitions themselves.
As the political deadlock continues, the possibility of forming a national unity government that would be able to address the urgent needs of the people is becoming more unlikely. Our party has recently put forward, as an alternative to this impasse, the idea of dissolving the Parliament and calling for new elections on the basis of Article 64 of the Constitution. This option would spare the people and country the grave consequences of a continued political vacuum.
Q: Do you think that it is feasible, if the impasse continues, for the United Nations to become involved in the process of forming the next government? In that case, what will be the implications for Iraqi sovereignty?
The role of the UN has been of an advisory nature, so far. Some Iraqi political leaders, as part of their maneuvers, have called for direct intervention by the UN in the process of government formation, invoking Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. But such a role for the UN is not feasible. Chapter 7 (which still applies to Iraq since Saddam's invasion of Kuwait) can only be invoked by the UN Security Council if there is "a threat to world peace."
Q: In a recent article, Raed Fahmi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Iraqi Communist Party, referred to growing foreign interference in the process of the formation of the next Iraqi government. Where does such interference come from?
The political crisis has opened the door for increased external interference, by the U.S. and regional powers, to influence the formation of the government. This interference had already been a big factor in the elections, influencing its outcome. Some political groups received enormous financial support from outside. Hundreds of millions of dollars were given by regional powers, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is an open secret that there is close coordination between the intelligence bodies of neighboring countries with regard to the situation in Iraq. External forces have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in Iraq, keeping it weak and fragmented, to serve their own political agenda and strategic interests.
Q: The severity of a number of terrorist bombings in recent months demonstrates that the security situation is far from desirable. Who are behind these bombings? What would be the consequences of the continuation of such terrorist activities?
The political crisis and delay in forming the government has provided a favorable climate for increased activity by anti-people terrorist groups and also organized crime thriving in rampant corruption. These include extremist Islamist groups such as al-Qaida and remnants of Saddam's Baath party. Their aim is to destabilize the situation, create chaos, ignite sectarian conflict and restore militias. These terrorist activities also serve the agenda of some political groups that use the deterioration in security as a pretext to call for maintaining American military presence.
Q: On Thursday [Aug. 19] the last active combat units of the U.S. military left Iraq two weeks ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline scheduled by U.S. President Barack Obama. In the face of the continuing stalemate in the formation of a viable government, increased terrorist activities and interference from neighboring states, what are the implications of this withdrawal for security and political stability in Iraq?
As mentioned above, some Iraqi political forces had pinned hopes on continued American military presence to maintain their positions and gains. They claim that the Iraqi forces have not yet reached the desired level of readiness to be able to confront security challenges. They also use the recent deterioration in the security situation as a pretext to argue that an early withdrawal of American forces will play into the hands of terrorist groups as well as regional powers such as Iran.
Our party has condemned and rejected such calls, stressing that there should be no compromise over the big national issue: of ending the occupation and eliminating its legacy, regaining our country's full sovereignty and independence, for our people to control their resources and wealth, and decide their own destiny with their own free will. All efforts must be made to provide the necessary political and material prerequisites to end the occupation and ensure the total withdrawal of all American forces by the end of 2011 in accordance with the Iraq-U.S. security agreement.
The task of building Iraqi security forces on the basis of patriotism, professionalism, competence, integrity and allegiance to the constitution and homeland continues to be an urgent task, especially after the start this month of actual withdrawal of American combat troops. Political divisions and conflicts among Iraqi ruling elites must not be transferred to the ranks of the military institution.
As for dealing with the security situation, our party has re-emphasized its position that there should an integrated approach using a host of political, economic, military and security measures to defeat terrorism and acts of sabotage.
Q: Finally could you briefly touch upon the key issues that the Iraqi working class and the Iraqi Communist Party are campaigning for right now?
There are two major tasks facing the party and the democratic forces. The first is to intensify efforts to provide effective organization and leadership to a mass movement defending the fundamental democratic rights and freedoms of the people and striving to achieve Iraq's full national sovereignty and independence.
The second task is to strengthen the role and influence of the democratic current in Iraqi society and political life. Our party has stressed the societal dimension of this current, and the need to mobilize social movements alongside political democratic forces. A number of meetings have taken place recently to discuss these issues and develop effective coordination among various groups. The recent anniversary of the July 14, 1958, Revolution was an occasion for joint activities by democratic forces throughout Iraq. The mass demonstration and rally that took place on this anniversary in central Baghdad, attracting thousands of people, had a big political impact with calls for a speedy end to the political impasse and for urgent action to tackle the severe electricity shortages and deteriorating services. These efforts will be culminated by holding a national conference for the democratic current in the near future.
Photo: An Iraqi police officer stands at a checkpoint in central Baghdad, Aug. 28. (AP/Khalid Mohammed)