Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Interview about the Iraqi parliamentary elections on 30th April 2014

Interview with Iraqi CP about the parliamentary elections

 on 30th April 2014

The following interview, with Comrade Salam Ali, member of the Central Committee of the Iraqi Communist Party, was conducted by "Nameh Mardom", the newspaper of the Tudeh Party of Iran, and was published on 5th May 2014. 

1.   Were the Iraqi parliamentary elections on 30th April free and democratic, in terms of ability to campaign and to vote?

The current parliamentary election campaign has been launched in the conditions of the ongoing deep political crisis, deteriorating relations among the influential and ruling political forces and mounting terrorist activities. Therefore, there is a general feeling that the outcome of this election will have a very significant impact not only on the shape of future government, but also on the principles and the basis that have governed the political process so far, since 2003, and consequently on the underlying  rules of power-sharing that determine the formation of the government. These high stakes, together with the tense political situation in the background, the deteriorating security situation in some provinces, have created uneven conditions for the electoral campaigning. In some provinces, e.g. in Anbar and in Salahadin, and in some parts of Nineveh and Diyala provinces, the possibility of conducting an open and free election campaign, have been severely limited, if not reduced to nearly clandestine conditions. However, in the rest of the country, despite the violence exercised by militia-type armed groups, there is a wide scope of free movement for election campaigning.  A number of candidates of different electoral lists have been the targets of terrorist operations in addition to political assassination. 

2.   What were the main political groupings that participated in these elections? Is the political landscape still dominated by religious and ethnic divisions, as it has been in the last few years?

In these elections107 electoral lists are participating. They include lists that represent coalitions and alliances as well as single parties or political figures and individuals. We find in these electoral lists the same major political groupings, based on ethnic and sectarian identities that have dominated the political scene in Iraq and shared power over the past decade on the basis of sectarian-ethnic power-sharing. However, a number of new features characterize the elections this time.
First, the three main political blocs that reflect the ethnic, religious and  confessional divisions of Iraqi society, namely the Arab Shiite, Arab Sunnis and the Kurds, are not only entering the elections under different and separate lists, but also with serious differences and conflicts among them. This applies, to a larger or lesser extent, to all the three main blocs.
Secondly, it is significant to note that practically all Islamist and sectarian lists are presenting themselves under neutral or “civic” titles or names. Among the 36 electoral coalitions approved by the Independent High Electoral Commission, not in a single one figures the word Islam or any sectarian reference. Furthermore, the number of religious figures among the candidates has shrunk significantly to a very low figure.
Thirdly, the democratic civil political groupings, including the Iraqi Communist Party, have succeeded in forming a broad and big coalition that has presented itself to the electors in a single electoral list called the Civil Democratic Alliance. This is a very significant development since it is the first time that the civil secular political groupings have managed to unite themselves in one list. In past elections they participated in the elections in separate lists and some of them joined sectarian coalitions. Thanks to this list, the democratic civil forces can claim to be presenting a credible political alternative with a clear and broad national democratic program. As the past month of political campaigning has showed, this broad alliance has had an encouraging and mobilizing impact on large sections of the electorate and has produced a kind of dynamics that we hope will be translated into promising election results.

3.   Were the recent bombings on the days leading to the elections part of a terror campaign, and who is behind these crimes and what is their objective?

The bombings are certainly part of a terror campaign aiming at further destabilizing the country, deepening sectarian tensions, with the aim of causing the total collapse of the transition process towards a democratic system. It should be noted that this transition process itself is a complex process fraught with inner contradictions, and sometimes opposing tendencies among its constituent political forces reflecting their narrow interests. The more immediate objective of the terrorist acts is to prevent people from participating in elections, particularly in the predominantly "Sunni" provinces and districts. The terrorist groups; Al Qaida, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant  (ISIL), members of Saddam's special security and armed forces, and other groups of similar nature, receive significant material, financial and logistic support from neighbouring countries, whether directly or through non-governmental organizations and groups. They have also local and domestic incubators that thrive and expand as the infighting and conflicts intensify among the influential forces that are in power.

4.   What were the key elements of the Islamist groups’ programs to resolve Iraq’s problems, that would differentiate them from each other (where and how do the Islamist groups draw their strength?)

The sectarian and ethnic parties do not accord significant importance, with rare exceptions, to political programs. They rather practice identity politics, which means that they draw support from the exacerbation of religious, confessional and nationalist sentiments. So the real objectives and intentions are not those which they announce publicly, but should be inferred from their policies and their actual deeds over the periods when they exercised power and from the nature of their political and socio-economic interests. 
Over the past few years, the governing parties have accumulated wealth and gained dominant positions in the economy, mainly in trade and contracting activities, as well as in the financial, banking and real estate sectors. So despite their official condemnation of the actual sectarian-ethnic power- sharing government, they have no real interest in moving towards a citizenship-based governance or to promote policies of sustainable development in the economy. Their interests lie in maintaining the extreme "openness” of the economy as reflected in the rapid and continuing increase in imports, estimated at over 50 billion dollars in the past year. This means, as a matter of fact, maintaining, if not reinforcing, the rentier nature of the Iraqi economy.
On the other hand, in view of the astounding failure of their experience in power in all domains over the past nine years, and the mounting demand of the people for change, these Islamist groups have introduced promises of change in their announced programs, and adopted a discourse that proclaims their commitment to build a civil state, denying they ever wanted to install a religious state which they recognize it does not suit the conditions in Iraq.

5.   What are the main external influences on Iraq’s political development?

The external factors continue to play a major role in Iraqi politics. We can safely say that all neighbouring countries interfere, in one form or another and to varying degrees, in Iraq’s affairs. The major external actors that have strong influence on Iraqi internal affairs and politics are the US and Iran with the influence of the latter growing on both political and economic levels. Turkey and some Gulf states also exercise important influence through their close relations with some sectarian political groupings, in addition to Turkish investors and companies and their extensive presence in Iraq, and particularly in Iraqi Kurdistan.

6.   How did the Left forces participate in these elections, and in particular what was the ICP’s approach to the elections?

As mentioned earlier, the Iraqi CP strove to participate in the elections by broadening its alliances. The party achieved a relative success in the provincial elections last year when it participated in electoral lists constituted by the 'Democratic Current'. The latter is an alliance comprising the party and a number of democratic parties and personalities. Eleven candidates were elected to various provincial councils, five of whom are communists. Moreover, the electoral law imposes the need to create coalitions in order to have a reasonable chance of gaining a seat. So for both, political and practical reasons, the party spared no efforts to build a broader coalition for participating in the parliamentary elections on 30th April, at the heart of which the will be the 'Democratic Current" and with the party being the main driving force.

7.   What are the most immediate objectives in ICP’s program with respect to Iraq’s most urgent needs?

Our major objective is to reform fundamentally the basis of the political process and the ongoing construction of the Iraqi state. We believe it is urgent to move away from the sectarian-ethnic power-sharing system of governance. This mode of governance is the principal source of all the ills in the Iraqi political system. It has proved to be a crisis generating mode of governance. It is totally incapable of building a viable and performing state, to realize security and stability, to achieve reconstruction and economic development and to combat corruption effectively. Our program of action calls for taking concrete measures to get rid of the sectarian-ethnic power-sharing system and move  towards a governance based on citizenship , away from any kind of ethnic, religious or confessional discrimination. We aim at consolidating the democratic federal structure of the state and call for the promotion of dialogue, consultation and a patient solution-oriented approach in dealing with the issues and problems that are still unresolved or with the new ones that may arise.
High in our list of priorities is the introduction of legislations and economic policies and measures in favour of social justice and defending and securing workers and women’s rights.
As for security and fighting terrorism, we call for a comprehensive, integrated multi-sided approach. The security solution on its own is not sufficient, as it should be combined with political, economic, social and cultural measures. Of particular importance is the need to take concrete steps in favour of national reconciliation and healing divisions in the social fabric of Iraq.
In the economy, we lay emphasis on promoting productive sectors and activities, mainly in industry and agriculture, and on stimulating diversification. In the oil sector, we urge the development national capacities for direct exploitation of the Iraqi oil wealth. We also believe it is urgent to reach a consensus on the promulgation of the Oil Law.
The party considers that one of its main priorities is to improve as rapidly as possible the living conditions of the poorer sections of society through a combination of measures, some of which include directing higher levels of social investment to meet the immediate needs of housing, education and health infrastructure, and a comprehensive social security system.
In the domain of civil liberties and democratic rights, a major objective is to ensure the freedom of trade union organization for all workers, including those working in the public sector, by abolishing Saddam’s labour laws and speeding up the promulgation of a just Labour law.

8.   Is the ICP able to openly work in the communities? We were saddened to hear about the assassination of comrade Mehdi Mustafa Wadi in Mosul. What was the motivation for his murder and who committed this crime?

The assassination of the comrade Mehdi Mustafa on 20th April was a heavy loss for our comrades and our party in the city of Mosul (Nineveh province). The martyr was very active and had been campaigning bravely, defying threats and danger in favour of the electoral coalition, Civil Democratic Alliance. He was well-known as a communist and a creative artist, which made him a prime target for the terrorist and obscurantist armed groups.
Mosul is a conservative city where traditional and extremist nationalist and sectarian political groupings are well entrenched. Moreover, the city is relatively close to the Syrian borders. The conflict in Syria and the enhanced presence there of Al Qaida and ISIL has led to increased presence and activity of these extremist groupings and other similar armed groups in Mosul and surroundings areas. Our comrade was a victim of their criminal acts.

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