Thursday, April 26, 2007

Iraqi Communist Party (Part 4)

"The call was first sounded by the poet Jamil Sidqi az-Zahawi...In January 1921 in a poem entitled "Life and Death" he greeted the Bolshevik Revolution in these words:

O ye poor do not despair
of a life O ye poor!
Lately over the mount of guidance
has been hoisted for Bolshevism* a red banner** ...

footnotes: * Instead of the word "Bolshevism" only dots appeared when the poem was first published. ** Reference to the poem was made in Iraqi Police File no.289 on "Jamil Sidqi az-Zahawi"."
From Hanna Batatu's "The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movement of Iraq" Saqi Books, 2004 (copyright 1978) pages 395/6.

Hadi Saleh was inspired by the same political ideals which moved the above poet. He was associated with the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) for all of his adult life, until terrorists broke into his home in Baghdad in January 2005, bound and blindfolded him, tortured and burnt him and finally strangled him with electrical cords. They did this because Hadi was highly effective at building working class unity and helping to lay the basis of a tolerant and democratic society.

He had returned from exile on the heals of the Coalition's invasion of Iraq. For he knew that however much he had actively opposed the war, it had created a new situation. This provided both the need and the opportunity to move openly within the country to seek to establish his long term ideal of helping to build a democratic Trade Union Movement.

Hadi Lives On

As a young man, he worked as a printer on the ICP's newspaper "Tareea Al-Shaab" (The People's Path) and was arrested in 1969 after the successful Ba'thist Coup, beaten and tortured and then place on death row for 5 years. In 1973 he was finally released as a consequence of the Ba'thists new relationship with Communist Russia.

He returned to his work as a printer and as a political and Trade Union activist. But when the Ba'thists once more clamped down on the ICP, he fled into exile and founded the Workers' Democratic Movement which then operated in a clandestine way in Iraq.

Back in Baghdad he saw his former newspaper being distributed on the streets and attended the founding meeting of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) which occurred as early as 16 May, 2003 only a fortnight after Bush made the optimistic claim that hostilities had ended in Iraq. Hadi became the International Officer of the IFTU and travelled widely drawing in International Trade Union support.

I was privileged to Chair a meeting he addressed in the Commons and I am proud to be an honorary member of the IFTU. Addressing a memorial for Hadi at the TUC was a humbling experience. It was a privilege and an inspiration to have met Hadi and to work with his comrades.

No To War, No To Dictatorship

The ICP fervently opposed the preparations for the war in Iraq. When it occurred they called for an end to the invasion and the convening of an International Conference under the auspices of the United Nations which would involve Iraqi representatives, for them to gain assistance in the building of a new future for their nation.

Opposition to the invasion did not mean that they were defensive of Saddam's dictatorship, they adopted the slogan "No to War, No to Dictatorship". In their clandestine activities they were part of the widespread opposition in Iraq to Saddam. The details of the scope of this internal opposition never appeared in the Western media, as America and Britain needed to maintain the impression that only their actions could topple the dictator.

The ICP worked for the unity of the underground opposition, but it was unwilling to be part of the Iraqi National Accord (INA) whose work was being facilitated by the British Foreign Office and the American Embassy. It was felt that the INA was being used as part of the American/British strategy.

The ICP were also persistent opponents of the United Nations economic sanctions, which they argued were harming the Iraqi people and were aiding Saddam Hussein's ability to control the internal situation.

Kurdish Connections

In the years prior to the Coalition invasion, the ICP via its sister organisation the Kurdish Communist Party (KCP) was able to operate its Central Committee and Conferences from numbers of meetings in Shaqlawa in Iraqi Kurdistan. The No-Fly Zone had enabled wide areas of Kurdish territory to operate as a fairly autonomous region.

For a period internal conflicts arose in this Region between the main Kurdish political parties the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Popular Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Both the KCP and the ICP worked for reconciliation between these Parties. This emerged and has since grown in strength.

Operating through Shaqlawa, the ICP were able to develop a coherent policy and when the invasion took place they responded to the fluidity of the new situation.

Principles And Practical Politics

Whilst the Secretary of the ICP joined the Governing Council established by the Coalition, he and his organisation pressed for a planned withdrawal of the occupying forces. Something which they have always sort to achieve. But the pressures they have exerted to further this end have always been political and never as part of the insurgency.

An armed fight against Coalition forces they believed would only advance a culture of conflict in which terrorism, sectarianism and criminality would come to the fore. Which is. of course, what has happened and is to the serious detriment to the well-being of the people of Iraq.

As an alternative the ICP have persistently advocated a comprehensive programme to tackle unemployment, destitution and the lack of basic supplies; including electricity, water and even oil. They have also sort to prevent budgetary restraints being imposed by the IMF and moves to privatisation.

Since the invasion the ICP have always operated within the newly established institutions, whilst continuing to press their programme. They stood in the two General elections of 2005, pressing for a federal and democratic Constitution and then for the reality of its operation. They currently hold a Cabinet post and (with the KCP) a limited number of parliamentary seats.

What's Left?

Given a quarter of a century of violent oppression under Saddam Hussein, the stimulation by him of tribal and clan divisions, the rise of politicised and militant Shia Islamic forces and a Sunni rebellion against its loss of influence in post-invasion Iraq; it was not to be expected that the ICP would hold on to the base of the mass support it enjoyed back in its peak on May Day 1959.

Yet it still has an involved and committed base, as is shown here and here. The IFTU quickly established a membership of 200,000 and developed close links with the even larger Teacher's Union and its Trade Union brother and sisters in Iraqi Kurdistan. The ICP is the nearest thing to the political arm of this development.

Unfortunately, Iraqi State legislation currently places serious blocks on Trade Union and NGO activity. Trade Unions even have their funds sequestrated. The struggle for the repeal of these measures is at the top of the ICP's agenda.

Assistance for both the political and industrial wings of the Iraqi Labour Movement should be at the forefront of commitments in Iraq by the British and wider international Labour Movement. To its credit, the TUC and many of its affiliates recognise and respond to this in giving practical support and solidarity to the Iraqi and Kurdish Trade Unions.

Separate Development

The KCP is in a different position in Iraqi Kurdistan. Political life is easier for them. There isn't the same terrorist threat, because the community mobilise against it. Whilst the Kurdistan Workers' Federation, the large Teacher's Union and their other Trade Unions are not subject to the legal restraints experienced in the rest of Iraq.

The Kurdistan Region is also a source for exporting hope and expertise to the rest of Iraq. The KCP links in with these developments, but local politics is dominated by the KDP and the PUK. The KCP, however, plays a key role in seeking to maintain and advance the Governing Parties socialist commitments.

In the remainder of Iraq, everything is to be played for. The only serious Labour Movement potential rests with the ICP and the IFTU-based Trade Union Movement which now covers others within the new Iraqi TUC, known as the General Federation of Iraqi Workers.


In Part 1, I dealt with the events leading up to the establishment of the ICP in 1934 and its subsequent development up to its high water mark in 1959. Basically the British formation, occupation, then influence over Iraq led to an industrialisation which stimulated the growth of an impoverished town-based working class. These are essential for the growth of a Marxist inspired Labour Movement.

Part 2, covered a packed 5 year period from 1958 to 1963 when General Qasim was in office following a revolution against the ancient regime. At the time, the ICP was at its highest point for membership and support, with the ability to pressurise the Government. At the end the regime was overturned in a bloodstained Coup. If the ICP had won through, the subsequent history of Iraq could have been dramatically different.

In Part 3 started with the Ba'thist/Nationalist Coup of 1963 and its year of the slaughter for the Communists. Although the Ba'thists were then expelled from the Government, they responded with a successful Coup of their own in 1968. The ICP were allowed to operate reasonably openly from 1973, but this was only a prelude to the oppression that was in full swing when Saddam Hussein became President from 1979-2003. The struggle of the ICP in exile and its clandestine activity is dealt with in that period, when a whole host of Saddam's errors led to the collapse of Iraqi living standards in an era of repression.

Part 4 above has dealt with the ICP's approach to the Coalition invasion in 2003 and activities since then. We are left with questions about the ICP's prospects as it is a much smaller organisation then in the 1958-63 period. Yet it draws emotionally and intellectually from that high-water mark and remains the main political expression of the Labour Movement outside of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Comments and Sources

I would welcome comments. Especially on errors and omissions. Plus references to the other sources than those I mention below. Arguments against my analysis are, of course, what comment boxes are for. I will now read this book and return to the topic later.

The main sources I have consulted are the mighty Hanna Batatu, Charles Tripp, the Slugletts and Abullah Mushin & Alan Johnson. A major source for the current Part 4 has been the ICP's English Web-site. Misinterpretations are all my own work.


Anonymous said...

A striking finale, Harry!

After having taken a look at the content of the links which you have provided along these articles way as well as on the right side of your blog, I can't help but to ask a few questions.

1)I'm sure this is frequently asked, but what is the actual difference between the LFIQ, which, if I am not wrong, you preside, and LAtW? Both seem to have rather sensible aims and the latter includes good MPs such as John McDonnell.

2)Is the LFIQ intending to make any recommendation concerning the upcoming Labour Leadership elction? As far as I know, the LAtw will eventually take a stance on the issue.

3) This last question is slightly more unrelated to the topic of Iraq, but here I go: Now that any hopes of a Hain leadership ticket seem to have sailed, do you nonetheless support his bid for deputy? Also, do you share my feeling that the natural "Left" ticket would, under the present circumstances be a "McDonnell/Hain" ticket as opposed to a "McDonnell/Cruddas" as some comrades have suggested? Having said that, i don't harbour any particular illusions in Peter Hain, though I can understand your case for a "Hain leadership bid".

Thanks Comrade,


Harry Barnes said...

On your questions.

(1) I was a founder member of LAtW and was on the platform at its launch in the Commons. But once the invasion took place, I knew that the situation had changed and took a line (not unlike that of the Iraqi Communist Party) of trying to assist developments such as that of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions. I was astonished that many left Labour Movement activists were not taking a similar line. I was concerned as they were about the British and American Imperialism, but I was not willing to accept that any enemy of Imperialism was to be excused even when they engaged in acts of insurgency, terrorism, Islam extremism, Ba'thist revenge and criminality. It is possible to be anti-Imperialist without being soft on fascism at the same time.
The leaderships of the Stop the War Coalition were adopting the stance I criticise above. And LAtW reflected this (certainly under Alan Simpson's chairmanship). I, therefore, resigned from them. I am aware, however, that John had more understanding of the needs of Iraqi Trade Unionists and went to Downing Street concerning the ill treatment of Iraqi Mebers of the Journalist Union.

(2) LFIQ concentrate solely on issues related to Iraq. We have attempted to unite Labour Movement people whatever line they took on the invasion if they would now assist the Iraqi Labour Movement. So it would be difficult to get agreement on a candidate for Leader, even if we were into that. We can act under different hats on that issue.

(3) I will not make my mind up on the Leadership issue until I see the official list of runners, My suggestion of Peter4Leader allows me to argue a position on what Labour needs at the current juncture. he argument is more important to me than the individuals and I agree that it is almost impossible to imagine Peter doing what I want.

I will be giving the blog and the computer a miss over the next week or two to get on with other pressing matters, for the Communist stuff took up a lot of time. But I will then follow up what anyone has come up with.

Will said...


Another excellent (re)source is "Republic of Fear" - by Kanan Makiya. Mainly, chapter 7 covers the same ground you have here, also with an analysis that covers the development of Ba'athism in relation to the ICP and vice versa.


Harry Barnes said...


Thanks. I have a mainly unread copy on my book-shelves and it was used by Cohen in "What's Left?". Time for me to do my homework.

Will said...

If memory serves me right Makiya's analysis doesn't differ greatly from your own (I think he gives more weight to cold war context/adhering to the 'Soviet line' that the ICP took as explanation for mistakes). Would have to re-read to be sure. Long time ago I read it.