By Clive Bradley
In the last days of June, two days before it had been scheduled, the occupation of Iraq officially ended and a new government was installed.
The Coalition Provisional Authority was dissolved, along with the Interim Governing Council it had appointed; US proconsul Paul Bremer flew home and in his place John Negroponte took office as American ambassador with the largest staff in the world.
According to the transition process worked out by the United Nations, elections will be held by the end of January 2005 at the latest. Before then a "National Congress" of around 1,000 notables will elect an advisory body of 100 with power of veto over some of the decisions of the new Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi. (There is a president and two vice-presidents, but the Prime Minister is the most powerful official.)
Allawi has granted himself considerable emergency powers (an Emergency Law was declared, but then inexplicably cancelled: its current status is unclear); he has spoken of a possible state of emergency because of the bad security situation.
Allawi is a former high-ranking Ba'thist who fell out with Saddam: these noises should be regarded with alarm. If the situation fails to improve - or deteriorates - the elections might well be postponed and democracy in Iraq be stillborn.
Already it is pretty feeble. Before departing, Bremer installed his own nominees as inspectors general in every ministry, for five-year terms. An election law established a seven-man commission with the power to disqualify political parties. As Paul Rogers comments in OpenDemocracy: "In short, a US-appointed prime minister with previous CIA links heads a cabinet that includes several members holding US citizenship, and oversees an administration permeated by a 'shadow' inspectorate secured by the departing CPA chief." (http://www.opendemocracy.net/themes/article-2-1987.jsp)
The new government includes many of the personnel of the old IGC; where the individuals are different, they generally represent the same political parties. In effect, the IGC has simply been renamed. And for the most part its constituent elements represent little in Iraqi society. The groups with the largest base are the Kurdish parties, and the Islamist groups which have opted for a more constitutional strategy - SCIRI and the more popular Da'wa Party.
The armed opposition groups, principally the movement led by Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, have been ambivalent about the new government. Sadr has called it a puppet of the US, but suggested he will not oppose it, providing that it calls for American troops to withdraw. Other elements, including those allegedly linked to al-Qaeda, have simply tried to destabilise it ("terrorists" of this kind have been condemned by Sadr and some other "resistance" leaders).
These events tend to be viewed through one of two broad frameworks.
The US government and those who support it (to varying degrees) see the US and its allies as the forces fighting for democracy in Iraq, held back only by the armed insurgency. On the other hand, much of the Left - including figures like journalist John Pilger - see the insurgency as a national liberation movement thwarting the American empire. Both these frameworks are false.
If the current transition process leads to elections it will be, clearly, in the interests of the Iraqi people.
But the forces pushing most consistently for such an outcome are outside the new government, and have never given any support to the occupation - mainly the movement which looks to the more moderate Shi'a leader Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Sistani is not a democrat in the more general sense; but it was his demand for elections which drew thousands onto the streets earlier this year and forced the US to move further, and more quickly, than they had intended.
The new government remains unpopular. In a recent poll, Allawi scored low on the list of popular political figures, way below Sistani, Muqtada al-Sadr, and the leader of the Da'wa Party.
But the "resistance" is a reactionary movement deserving no support from democrats abroad whatever.
There is no doubt that the Sadrist movement has grown considerably in the past few months, not least because of US repression, and to some degree expresses the frustrations of unemployed young men in the slums of Baghdad and other cities. But its agenda is the imposition of Taliban-type rules on people.
Recent reports suggest the position of women in Iraq has deteriorated since the fall of the Ba'th regime, due to the rise of such Islamist movements.
Elsewhere, the "resistance" consists of elements from the old regime, not necessarily loyal to Saddam personally - though in the old Ba'thist heartlands there have been demonstrations calling for his release - but anxious to restore their old privileges. Much of the Sunni "resistance" seems motivated by fear of Shi'a rule. Although there has been talk of Sunni-Shi'a unity, a sectarian dynamic clearly lurks beneath the surface.
There is now in Iraq a space in which the young trade unions, and other grassroots organisations, can grow. But on all sides there are threats to its survival. Our job, through solidarity, is to ensure that it does survive.