Iraq: now fight for a labour law!

Submitted by martin on 16 March, 2010 - 2:15 Author: Martin Thomas

Full results from Iraq's 7 March parliamentary election are not due until the end of the month. Best guesses so far are that the "State of Law" slate of Nouri al-Maliki - prime minister since 2006 - will win the largest chunk of seats, though nowhere near a majority.

Iyad Allawi, the former Ba'thist and CIA favourite who was the US-appointed prime minister in the "interim government" of 2004-5, but has since been in eclipse, is said to have done well, especially in Sunni-Arab-majority areas, with his Iraqiyya slate maybe winning the second biggest block of seats.

The Iraqi National Alliance, the Shia-Islamist coalition which was the biggest electoral force in Iraq in 2005, has been depleted by Maliki separating off from it. Though it brings together a wide variety of groups - from the movement of Moqtada al-Sadr, which has boasted of a militant anti-US stance, through the Islamic Supreme Council (a Shia-Islamist group originally sponsored by the Iranian government), to Ahmed Chalabi, who was the Pentagon's favourite in 2003 when Allawi was the CIA's - it is reputed to be running third.

The Kurdistan Alliance - KDP and PUK - can be reliably predicted to sweep most of Iraqi Kurdistan, and be the fourth party. All the guesses are provisional. But a few things can already be said.

A new government will only be formed through complex haggling. The process may not be as long as in 2005-6, when it took five months after the election to choose a prime minister, but it will be sordid.

Allawi's group has already alleged electoral fraud. It certainly suffered before polling day by having many of its candidates disqualified on the grounds of alleged Ba'thist links.

The Iraqi government has ignored a parliamentary mandate to organise an (already-postponed) referendum on the deal about US troops signed by Maliki and Bush in late 2008.

In 2008, the USA started off bidding for a treaty that would have allowed the US armed forces to remain as a veritable parallel government in Iraq for an indefinite future. Maliki baulked, and in the end the Bush administration, evidently anxious to get some deal, any deal, before the US presidential election, signed a document committing the USA to put all its military operations in Iraq under Iraqi control; to withdraw US troops from the cities by June 2009 (which it has done, more or less); and to withdraw all US troops by the end of 2011.

Maliki promised a referendum in Iraq on the deal. But, as reports: "7 March has passed with no referendum on the security agreement (SOFA) concluded between the US and Iraq [in 2008]. Iraqis still do not know the Government’s or Elections Commission’s motives for disregarding a law passed by a majority in Parliament...

"During a month-long elections campaign, none of the politicians spoke of a referendum on SOFA. They did not even give any justification or apology for their failure to implement it...."

It is now unlikely there will be a referendum at all. "President Obama has announced the withdrawal of all US combat forces from Iraq by the end of August 2010. There probably won’t even be a [new] Iraqi government by then, let alone a public referendum. The remaining non-combat troops, meanwhile, are to pull out before the end of 2011".

Evidently the Sadr movement, the main group to denounce the deal in 2008, decided to let the issue go.
The Iraqi government's procedure is yet more evidence of how far Iraq still is from a stable and accountable democracy, despite all the formalities. Nevertheless, the 7 March election was an election, in a way that Saddam Hussein's presidential "poll" of 2002 - where he won, not 90%, not 99%, not 99.9%, but allegedly 100% of the vote - was not.

The left had no real presence. The Worker-communist Party of Iraq originally decided to stand - a welcome move, since we in the AWL had argued with them back in 2005 that they should contest the elections then - but then pulled out. The Iraqi Communist Party did stand more-or-less independently this time, rather than joining a coalition with bigger bourgeois forces as previously - but only "more or less" independently, since they presented themselves as the "People's Union", with no distinct working-class or socialist claim. I don't know their vote, but it is unlikely to have been big.

However, there was some political movement in the run-up to the elections, and some beginning of political differentiation as distinct from the jostling of communal blocs. All the main coalitions, apparently, were at pains to present themselves as non-sectarian, nationalist, and at least semi-secular.

Maliki represented a pro-Iranian orientation, Allawi a more Arabist orientation. I don't know how much the Iraqi National Alliance has rowed back from the Islamic Supreme Council's previous advocacy of a federalised Iraq, with a southern region having the same very large autonomy that the Kurdish north already has, but in the past that has been a key differentiation between them and Maliki, who claims to represent a more unified and centralised Iraq.

As far as I know, relations with the USA were not a big issue in the election. Nor was the continuing process of selling off to multinationals licences for shares in production in Iraq's oilfields.

But the "politics" in the election were a bit more like "politics", a bit less like straight communal-bloc haggling.
This does not mean that Iraq has achieved a stable (although limited and bourgeois) democracy, or that the 2003 invasion is vindicated. Between 2003 and now have come at least 100,000 civilian deaths. Each month dozens more are killed by Al-Qaeda-type bombings. Vast numbers have been maimed or forced to flee their homes. Iraqi society has been atomised and brutalised.

Even the formalities of democracy are very shaky in Iraq. Despite the Maliki government's repeated promises of a democratic labour law, the government keeps laws from the Saddam era which give it a legal basis for snuffing out Iraq's much-harassed new labour movement as soon as it feels strong enough to do that.

Paradoxically, a "strengthening of democracy" in Iraq in the shape of a more solid political system, and a government with more credibility and authority, could well bring a rapid risk of the stifling in Iraq of the element of democracy most important for socialists, the ability of workers to organise and agitate independently.

The shifts in Iraq do, however, show that it is (and has been since 2003) important for socialists to agitate and organise on democratic issues within Iraq, rather than limiting themselves to denunciation of the USA. They reinforce the urgency of building international support for the Iraqi union movement's demand for a democratic labour law, codifying the right to organise and to strike.

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