Iraq is in a constitutional limbo. Adil Abdul-Mahdi has resigned as prime minister, but he is still in office, as a caretaker. On 26 December Barham Salih, the president, refused to accept the nominee of the ruling bloc of Islamist parties. Salih threatened to resign himself.
There is deadlock, and both Abdul-Mahdi and Salih are still in office.
The entire ethno-sectarian political regime of Iraq is in a deep crisis though the power is still in their hands. The ruling Shia political Islam parties and their militias and intelligence forces have so far killed hundreds of the people of the uprising and injured thousands of them. In their ongoing terrorist campaign against the activists they have so far assassinated, kidnapped and arrested hundreds of the activists.
From the beginning of the protests in October, we’ve faced a contradictory situation. The movement has called for the overthrow of the regime; but the people are not ready for taking power.
With the progress of the uprising this issue has become more urgent to be resolved.
There is majority support for the uprising, even if not majority participation.
In Mosul and Samarra and Ramadi, there is no movement on the streets, because people see it as too dangerous. I would assume they aren’t sure as what the consequences will be if they rose up; but they support the uprising.
Despite all the repression, the movement is still strong in almost all the central and southern cities of Iraq. The movement is strong, and mixed, in Baghdad, which is a mixed city. The population of Baghdad has grown again, after dipping at the worst time of the sectarian violence in 2007-08.
We have raised the slogans: all power to the people of the uprising, and for the formation of councils (majals) everywhere. We had until recently a 30-metre-long banner on the Turkish Restaurant in Tahrir Square, in Baghdad, with our slogan.
We have also put out a platform on the way forward, including a 20-point programme of demands and objectives.
We say this movement has created a deep crisis and huge crack in the rule of political Islam in Iraq. It has opened political space.
The people on the streets are male and female young workers, workers with precarious jobs or unemployed, or young graduates who don’t have jobs and students.
They have a logistical capacity to communicate and coordinate, but they don’t have committees or councils.
We, as the Organisation of the Communist Alternative in Iraq, go regularly to Tahrir Square in Baghdad, where there is a permanent protest camp, and do “debating meetings”. We do the same in other cities, for example Diwaniyah and Shamiya.
People of the uprising say this regime must go; so the immediate task is for the people to organise themselves for power. And to organise not just in Tahrir Square, but in all sections of society.
The workers must organise round their demands and political objectives, the women, the young people, the students, to build up from the base.
Sometimes we get more than 100 people at those meetings, and many people agree with our message.
We have tents in Tahrir Square, and we’re working with other groups.
I’ve been in a big popular movement like this twice in my life — now, and in 1991, when we succeeded in forming a councils movement in Iraqi Kurdistan, in a situation created by the collapse of Ba’thist authority in Kurdistan.
Then, we had been preparing from January 1991 to when the uprising began in March 1991. And we had had seven years of preparation and clandestine political activities as a communist organisation. This time, it’s only one year since we split from the Worker-communist Party of Iraq.
Activists close to us have done sixty issues of a bulletin called Voice of the Uprising and distributed between 600 and 1,000 copies each day in Tahrir Square.
Women activists who are close to us as well have put out a newspaper called Women’s Uprising, which has had a very good response, with 600 copies distributed twice a week.
In the earliest stages of the uprising young women were quite active. As the killings increased, fewer women came out. But now more women are coming back on the streets.
So, in Tahrir Square on an average day there might be 20% women, but that increases to almost 50% for some special festivals. Women struggles for achieving equality and freedom and raise demands for putting an end to violence against women and so called “honour killing” and for abolishing Iraq’s anti-women laws, for example the laws permitting polygamy, child marriages, etc.
Among young women in Tahrir Square, I would say about half are not wearing the hijab. Some come to the square wearing hijabs and then take them off once they are in the square. Hijab-wearing is more enforced in Basra and the southern cities.
In the square, I believe that there are three sections. There are the reactionaries: the Sadrists and some people linked to the old Ba’thists or Arab nationalists. There are the reformists of various kinds — the Communist Party of Iraq, and groups of reformist intellectuals.
but the third main section, the core of the action, is the young people, aged from 17 upwards, who have fought on the streets and continue to fight even though hundreds of them have been killed.
Our strategy is to help that core be organized, and to make them aware of their class interests and adopt a political agenda that is compatible with their emancipatory objectives.
The reformists want to find a compromise with the regime, and focus on arguing about things like early election, changing election rules and appointing an independent person as prime minster.
The Sadrists play a reactionary role and want to control the uprising (intifada) from inside. They say they want to change the government, but they lie as their aim is to abort the intifada. They participated in electing Abdul-Mahdi as prime minister.
They try to lead prayers in the square five times a day. Most of the young people aren’t interested in that. They tried to ban singing in the square under the pretext of faithfulness to the victims of the uprising, but they were unsuccessful.
One day the activist’s bulletin had an article criticising Sadr. The Sadrists tried to grab the bulletin from our distributors, but they failed.
On another day there was fighting between the Sadrists and some of the young people. They attacked one young man, but he came back with more than 70 friends and fought them off. We had a meeting that evening. Sadrists came, carrying metal pipes to threaten us. In fact, they did nothing just stayed watching us.
Iraqi flags, and the slogan “I want my country back”, are popular in the uprising. Another slogan is “Iran, get out! Iraq is free!”, or “Baghdad is free!”
They reflect patriotic feeling. The flag is seen also as anti-sectarian, as opposition to Shia-Sunni divisions.
At the same time, the flag-waving and so on is influenced by nationalists and Ba’thists and by the media financed by UAE and Saudi Arabia.
There are “Sunni” sectarian trends in Iraq with a pan-Arab nationalist agenda, but they don’t present themselves openly in this uprising. They operate under cover of Iraqi patriotic slogans.
The reformists have a slogan “I have come to claim my rights”. There are also slogans against corruption.
The Sadrists have a bloc with the Communist Party in Parliament.
The Sadrists are strong in the Thawra City suburb of Baghdad. That’s due to their suppression of the people and the control they have on the streets, and the access they can offer to economic resources like jobs, rather than coming through the mosques and religious beliefs.
The Communist Party’s alliance with the Sadrists has alienated many young people. But often the mood is “against all parties”. The bourgeois international campaign against “communism” has weight among young people.
The mood in the uprising, I’d say, was neutral on the Islamist militia attack on the US Embassy. Some of the young people have illusions that America will help them get rid of the Islamic parties, but in any case, they don’t support that militia attack. The common view is that they want a country free from intervention both from Iran and from America.
In general terms, the movement is socially left-wing. It has the potential to deal a blow to political Islam across the region. We have to take responsibility for doing our best to develop the movement and change the direction of it, to help define the meaning of victory for the movement and work hard to help the uprising triumph and fulfil its emancipatory and progressive aims and objectives.
The demonstrators have called for strikes, and there have been some, in government services. But that’s limited.
Although the struggle of different layers of the working class for immediate demands are taking place continuously even in the circumstances of the uprising but the moment has not come yet for these two sides of the movement to be consolidated in one working class mass action. The trade unions are weak, and the working class is not strong enough politically and organisationally.
The major union federation has a regressive leadership, linked to the Sadrists and ex-Ba’thists. It has tents in the square and declares itself part of the movement, but its leader has met Abdul-Mahdi to seek a compromise.
We have links with other trade unions like the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq, but they face many restrictions in organising working-class masses.
Street-market traders and people like that have some sympathy for the cause of political reform but are not engaged in the movement.
The oil workers in Basra are potentially powerful, but they’re highly controlled. They may join the movement later, but in the absence of a real alternative to the government, most workers may still prefer waiting over participation.
Students strongly support the uprising and engaged in it. Every Sunday tens of thousands of students from the universities, schools and polytechnics in Baghdad come to Tahrir Square to support the uprising. Similar kind of support and engagement takes place by the students of other cities in the south of Iraq.
Many universities including University of Baghdad have still not opened since October, and many lecturers support the students.
I remember Lenin’s slogan from 1917: “patiently explain”. We have to convince people. We’ve convinced some, many are doubtful, some oppose us.
We’ve had some good results for enrolment to our organization — new activists who are not just isolated individuals but have influence on others.
The Worker-communist Party of Iraq are in Tahrir Square, too. Their evaluation is different from ours.
• Muayad Ahmed is an activist with the Organisation for the Communist Alternative in Iraq. He talked with Martin Thomas from Solidarity.