On 28 April, Saddam Hussein's birthday, Jay Garner presided over a meeting of those the US has chosen to 'represent' the Iraqi people, a first step, he says, towards setting up a government of Iraqis to replace the US 'interim administration'. When will the Iraqis be able to choose their true representatives in free and fair elections? In Saddam Hussein's time, the safest place to talk about politics was the mosque. So is it any wonder that the most organised political force in Iraq now appears to be religious? Nadia Mahmood of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq spoke to Vicki Morris about the prospects in Iraq for democracy, secularism and a workers' voice in politics.
How did you react to the fall of Saddam Hussein? You opposed the war, but wasn't part of you happy to see Saddam Hussein go?
The way that Saddam Hussein fell doesn't leave us the opportunity to feel happy. All of us wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but the war, the destruction, and the aims behind the US toppling of Saddam Hussein don't make us feel happy, because we knew what is going to happen after. It will bring more threats for the Iraqi people. We are not expecting a political spring, with the US occupation bringing to the political scene nationalists, Kurdish parties, Islamic groups, tribal heads, ex-generals, US agents. All of these groups threaten Iraqi people's aspirations to have a better life.
In 1991 we were against the war. We said that war was not to liberate Kuwait. That was followed by twelve years of sanctions as a way for the US to keep control not over Iraq but over the world.
The war in 2003 continued the process begun in 1991, and, post 9/11, allowed the US to consolidate its superpower role.
When the statue was torn down on 9 April we felt no joy. And the day after the statue was toppled, in the same square people were demonstrating to get rid of the US.
The Worker-communist Party of Iraq (WCPI) was against the war from the beginning. But, unlike some other groups that saw the war as a way to get rid of Saddam Hussein, we knew the aim of the war was to impose US strategy over the world.
Will the US/UK bring democracy? What are the immediate political demands of the WCPI?
We demand: get the US/UK troops out and the United Nations in, in order to supervise political elections for a government elected by the Iraqi people.
We have no illusion about the UN: it is a gathering of all the imperialist forces. But to push back the US we have to have a tool.
UN troops can't act as representatives of one state's interests. They can't express US/UK interests. They have to act as an international body to resolve the issue of government in Iraq.
If we don't have that, we leave it for the US. They plan military bases. They are supporting their agents. The US kept Saddam Hussein in power for 30 years: we will see the same scenario again.
We want the UN there to do this one job: to supervise the elections in Iraq to have an Iraqi government. This will give us at least minimal security. The US troops play a very dangerous role. The existence of US troops will lead to the strengthening of Arab nationalist and Islamist groups. These movements have a very black agenda for socialists, for women, for youth, for progressive, modern and secular people in Iraqi society.
They will lead to an increase in political terror, political liquidation. All the old traditions have appeared again. A black scenario has started in Iraq. Before, we had dictatorship. Now we will have a black scenario with all these groups, tribal groups, and so on.
You don't believe there will be elections?
They told us that we would have "representative government", not one person, one vote. The US have their people, Chalabi, etc. We are struggling to get free elections. While US troops are there, we can't have that. They pay millions and millions to their agents. The US is strengthening them against millions of Iraqi people.
The UN is not going to replace the US/UK though, is it?
This is our solution for the current situation. Our final aim is socialism. But because the balance of power is not in favour of workers and the socialist movement now, we demand secularism; full, unconditional political freedoms; equality between men and women; abolition of the death penalty; cancel all hidden diplomacy, etc.
No party is strong enough to seize power in Iraq now. On the other hand, we have the US following their agenda to set up an interim government. So we have to solve this issue.
If we could succeed in mobilising the anti-war movement or pressurising governments to support the UN going in, it could help Iraqi people to end the US occupation and help Iraqi people to elect their government.
Tell me about the forces on the ground in Iraq: the WCPI, what is it doing?
We were against the war. We stand against US occupation, we stand against the Kurdish parties, we responded to the Kirkuk struggle. Kurdish and Turkish forces were trying to control the city. We said, the city is not for Kurdish people or for Turkish people; we said the city of Kirkuk should be for all people who want to live in it.
Our message was not to define people according to their nationality or religion, but to say that all people are equal. We got a very good response to this in Kirkuk: this is what the people know already.
Bush and Blair, they focus on the divisions, as do the western media, like CNN. In fact, they don't really care about "Kurdish" or "Shia" people. They tried for 12 years to brainwash people, enforcing a false identity.
We keep hearing this term Shia or Sunni in the western media. People in Iraq don't identify themselves as Shia/Sunni/atheist.
Why don't the media and the west talk about women? About workers? About youth? The US and UK want to highlight these national and religious differences to promote some groups and name them as representatives of these people. Tell me, in which elections were the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) elected to represent 60% of the inhabitants of southern Iraq?
If you ask people in Kurdistan about the PUK and KDP, they think they are the same as Saddam Hussein, an equally bad regime.
Is this part of a US/UK plot to divide and rule, or just ignorance?
The US/UK want to use the the question of identity so that they can bring the most reactionary political forces to serve their interests.
For example, in Basra. These "tribal leaders"? There were no tribes in this city. Saddam Hussein used tribes to oppress youth in the city. Youth refused to join the army. In 1991, Saddam Hussein brought the tribes onto the scene to force the youth in the tribes to join the army.
Even before this war, the US contacted the tribes around Iraq to make sure that they will support the US war.
You know, in the 1920s the tribes were finished! There were no more tribes, we had civil society. Early in 1930 we had political parties, not tribes. But now you hear about this. We never saw these people in the city. Bringing them to the city-that's what Saddam Hussein did in 1991.
Regarding the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), they are supported by the US and Iran. Why didn't they take part in the meeting in Nasiriyah?
It was the first such meeting. Some groups like SCIRI did not attend the meeting. There were 20,000 people demonstrating against the meeting. They knew that Iraqi people will not accept the US nor their agents. They knew people's reactions.
How strong are the Islamists? What are their politics?
You can't hear from them what their political programme is. What economic system they propose, what their social programme is. What will they do for political freedoms? What's their position on women and women's rights? You don't get a political agenda from them. For years we heard them saying "get rid of Saddam Hussein". After Saddam, what do they want for the society?
However, I know what their agenda is: we have examples in Sudan, in Iran, in Afghanistan. We have a painful experience in Iraqi Kurdistan, as well.
In 1993 Saddam Hussein began a "Faith" campaign, Islamicisation. Encouraging women to wear veils. Pubs and discos were closed, selling alcohol was stopped. The regime imposed study of the Koran at all levels of the schools. Prisoners could be released early if they learned it by heart.
During Saddam Hussein's regime people had no freedom, they could not think freely. So it's not surprising if people liked to go to the mosque. The government didn't allow people to meet. If four or five people met, it was trouble. So in these dark ages we lived in, how else do we imagine people would think or act?
Having a political atmosphere gives the chance for all political parties to say what they want to do with the society. To say what they are going to do about the political, economic and social system. With political freedoms, we can find out what the Islamists say about these things.
We see what is left to us, the Dark Ages Saddam's regime left us in. The scenes in Najaf and Karbala recently: you saw how the people beat themselves: it's just shameful. Those men are losers, they have nothing, they have no normal life.
Who, if they had a normal life, families, jobs, houses, welfare, freedoms, holidays, would do this to themselves and to their children, bloodying their and their children's heads? Imagine what they are going to do to others if they can do this to themselves.
Iraq is a civil society. It had the strongest trade unions in the region. In the late 1920s, there were big strikes; in 1958, there were one million workers in the streets. No one can tell me they all disappeared.
We had a workers' movement, we had a women's movement, but they were oppressed by Saddam Hussein. They had their parties, their papers, from the 1930s to the 1970s. We had all the institutions of civil society. The idea of communism is well-known in Iraq. Many people believe socialism is the solution. We had women artists, women in government, etc.
These were achievements of civil movements. These people are not highlighted in the western media. These people would make a better leader than this tribal leader who appeared a few weeks ago.
Iraqi society is more civilised than Bush and al-Hakim.
What is the WCPI view on the trade unions, on trade unionism?
Trade unions are one form the workers' movement takes to organise its activities. There are others: it could be shuras [workers' councils]. In 1991 in Kurdistan we had shuras, but the PUK/KDP suppressed them. Women activists are starting to organise themselves. It could come in many ways.
Recently, in Kirkuk, we got an invitation from oil workers. We went. We heard they had been ordered to go back to work but when they arrived they could not get in.
We were contacted by workers from the Lylan factory. They raised the issue of their managers with us, told us the funds of the factory had been stolen. We helped them raise their demands, with other workers we restored the electricity.
For the AWL, the trade union is the most important organisation of the working class, it's there every day in the workplace, it has been the basis for the working class to have a voice-an inadequate one, but a voice-in politics. If we were in Iraq, it seems to us that the first thing we would do would be to organise trade unions. So it seems strange to us that you do not seem to attach so much importance to this question.
We are a communist workers' party. We want a workers' state. But we have to ensure the whole political situation, the whole society: the situation for youth, for women...
Yes, from the workers' alternative point of view, we want socialism. But in Iraq now we don't even have the normal civil rights in bourgeois society. We have to struggle to get even the bourgeois demands. We have to fight for bourgeois freedoms-this is our alternative for the whole society. Everything: women's rights, down to rights for prisoners, to achieve in the long term workers' demands.
The aim is not to get a bourgeois state, but to ease our struggles. Political freedom is a bourgeois demand to ease the workers' struggle.
We are discussing this trade union question at the moment. The workers should make their decision to enter the political field. We are located in the heart of their struggle.
But you do set up women's organisations.
We are women's activists who do this. Maybe some of our members are there in workers' struggles. Maybe in Kirkuk, in the oil workers' struggle. If there are one or 10 of our comrades in a workplace, and they want to establish a trade union or organisation, we will be with them. But we can't substitute for the workers' movement. The real power in Iraqi society is the workers, socialist people, secularists. They should show themselves. We don't go to do a strike for them or establish unions, the social movement should emerge.
What do you say now about Kurdistan?
In Saddam Hussein's time, because his was an Arab nationalist, chauvinist regime, we called for there to be a referendum in Kurdistan on independence. But if we get a non-nationalist government in Iraq now we will not demand independence. But if the people want to do that, we will make our decision.
In Kurdistan after 1991, there were four million people with no normal status; they were not part of the Iraqi state nor an independent state. It was important to let them say what they wanted.
Now the situation is not settled. All people need safety, political freedom, equality.
We are against Kurdistan being used as a military base for the US. The PUK/KDP are hosting Jay Garner because they have always been supported by the US government.
They don't represent the people in Kurdistan. They represent their own interests: they are bourgeois, tribal, nationalist parties.
Government in Iraq should not be a nationalist or a religious one. What we demand for Iraqi people, we demand for Kurdish speaking people. If we end up with a nationalist state again we will raise the independence demand again.
What can people who were organised in the huge anti-war movement in Britain do now to help the Iraqi people?
The movement against the war was against the US and UK governments. So it should continue to oppose government policies we have to chase them out.
The movement against war brought together many different groups of people-trade unions, women, anti-imperialists. They were joined by some reactionary groups-Islamists, Arab nationalists. But the mainstream of the movement was progressive. It gives enormous hope for all humanity in its fight against the US and UK policies.
This movement should be expanded, provided with socialist slogans, a clear agenda.
It needs a plan of action, it mustn't be just a defensive movement against war.
We need a movement that has a positive agenda, one that can make the US retreat.
Ten years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, people are saying, where's our democracy? Where's our peace? Where's our welfare? What they promised us after the collapse of "communism", people wonder where it is. Was it only for the victory of the capitalist market forces?
Now the movement is waking again. This is important and very promising. To move from being defensive to pushing back the US.
This movement shook the world. It didn't stop the war, but it was an incredible movement. It shook the US/UK.
The US wants to push its new world order. We need a movement against occupation and against US militarism. We have to keep chasing them. They can tell us the war has stopped, but it has not stopped. What they plan for us could end in a civil war like we saw in Lebanon for years.
How can we help activists on the ground in Iraq?
US troops out is a slogan to help everyone in Iraq.
We can think of many activities to show our support for workers, for example, the oil workers. Workers all over the world should ally with workers in Iraq, support them in different ways. And show solidarity with workers who will celebrate May Day in Iraq for the first time in three decades.
Isn't there a contradiction there? We came in saying that you could not be happy when Saddam Hussein fell, but here we are talking about May Day in Iraq?
Of course the situation is not 100% black. For the first time there is a tiny opportunity for that to happen. Workers did not have the possibility to have May Day in Saddam's regime, but now we can have May Day. In Kirkuk the workers will celebrate May Day in the biggest part in the city.
But even organising these activities is not easy, because the reactionary groups will try to prevent workers from organising themselves. They are aware of the strength of the working class in Iraq. In 1946 an oil strike overthrew the government. This is a well-known event that showed the strength of the workers.
 Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)
 During the ceremony in Karbala to commemorate Imam Hussein bin Ali, grandson of prophet Mohammed