By Rhodri Evans
Sunni Arab groups, some of them on the fringes of the armed “resistance” gangs, will participate much more largely in the new elections in Iraq, on 15 December, than they did in the poll to elect the current Assembly, on 30 January.
Then, the only Sunni-Islamist group participating was the Iraq Islamic Party (Iraqi offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood), and it was only half-participating. (It said it wanted to boycott the election, but had made the decision too late to remove its candidates from the voting papers).
The greater participation is a hopeful sign for the stabilisation of some working political structure which allows the new Iraqi labour movement a little room to breath. However, there are many more unhopeful signs.
The killings by the Sunni-supremacist “resistance” groups continue unabated, and have an increasingly sharp anti-Shia sectarian edge. Shia leaders continue to urge calm, but Sunni Arabs say, and they are probably right, that the official Iraqi police and army are actually being used for sectarian retribution.
A poll carried out by Iraqis on behalf of the British in southern Iraq found 45% of the population saying that attacks against British and American troops were justified. The pro-bombing percentage ranged from 65% in the Maysan province (controlled by allies of Moqtada al-Sadr) to 25% in Basra.
No fewer than 82% are “strongly opposed” to the presence of coalition troops. And these, remember, are the supposedly-happy Shia of southern Iraq, not the openly insurgent Sunni Arabs of the centre.
Bitterness has increased markedly since a survey in the same area in March 2004 which found more saying that the US/UK invasion had improved things than that it had worsened them.
The recent survey also found that 71 per cent of people rarely get safe clean water, 47 per cent never have enough electricity, 70 per cent say their sewerage system rarely works and 40 per cent of southern Iraqis are unemployed.
Billions (mostly of Iraqi oil revenues) have been spent by the US occupation authorities and by the US-backed interim governments, but official US audits show that a large proportion of it has simply disappeared into the pockets of (mostly US) contractors and their Iraqi sub-contractors, with nothing to show for it in improvements for the Iraqi people.
Iraqi press speculation has it that Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the main Shia leader, may after the 15 December 15 election begin a civil disobedience campaign to demand a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
US-based analyst Juan Cole comments: “A lot of sentiments are attributed to Sistani that he later has to deny, so we should be cautious... This report... would suggest that Sistani is confident that the Iraqi police and military are strong enough to protect him and the other members of the current Iraqi political class [which is unlikely; but] if Sistani gives the fatwa for a US withdrawal, the Bush administration will simply have to acquiesce”.
In the meantime the current Iraqi transitional government has asked the United Nations to extend the UN mandate for the US/UK troops, currently due to expire after 15 December, for another twelve months, with a proviso that the Iraqi government can if it wishes demand withdrawal before then.
The American military is doing what it can to edge into the background. It has handed over control of 27 of its 109 bases to Iraqis. But the Iraqi army and police are still extremely fragile, and the political credibility of the dominant cooperative Iraqi political parties, the Sistani-ite United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish coalition, is diminishing by the day.
The final figures for the 15 October constitutional referendum show 78% backing the text and 21% against. The rule mandating rejection of the constitution if three provinces voted two-thirds against (originally coined to placate the Kurds) was not activated, because although Al-Anbar province voted 96% against and Salahaddin 81% against, the official figures for Nineveh province showed only 55% against.
The constitution is subject to revision (through processes as yet unclear) by the new assembly elected on 15 December.
Critically, things are not good at present for political self-assertion by the new Iraqi labour movement. The Worker-communist Party of Iraq looks no more likely to contest the 15 December elections than the 30 January poll which it boycotted.
The Communist Party of Iraq ran on 30 January, not under its own name but under the title “Popular Union”, supposed to represent a broad cross-class coalition but actually comprising little more than the CP itself. For the 15 December election it has submerged itself even further, joining a coalition with Iyad Allawi (former CIA favourite, and head of the 2004-5 Interim Government) and Ghazi Al-Yawer (president of that Interim Government and head of one of Iraq’s traditional landowner families from the period before the 1958 revolution).
Only a bold and assertive labour movement can provide a reliable force to lead Iraq out of the mire of sectarian breakdown, incipient civil war, and brutal foreign occupation.