Iraq: still far from democracy

Submitted by AWL on 18 July, 2003 - 8:50

By Clive Bradley

The American and British forces now occupying Iraq originally promised a quick move to government by the Iraqis themselves. Now a 25-member 'Governing Council' has been formed, meeting for the first time on 13 July. The chief US administrator in Iraq, L Paul Bremer III, has a veto over all its decisions.

It inaugurated the new era by banning some Ba'thist public holidays. In a country where many workers have not been paid for weeks, where there is often no electricity or basic services, and where even the semblance of public order has yet to be restored, most Iraqis must have heard of this declaration with a bemused shrug.

There will now be a new holiday to mark Saddam's downfall.

Bremer claimed that he had made a number of 'tactical adjustments' to meet the demands of Iraqis, one of which was to grant assurances that the majority of the council's members would be Shiites, who are a majority in the country.

The body will appoint and supervise a council of ministers that would run the government, send diplomats abroad to represent Iraq, establish a new currency, set fiscal and budget policy and, perhaps, take a prominent role in national security even as the country remains garrisoned by American and British troops.

'If they appoint a minister and he doesn't perform, they can fire him,' Mr Bremer said. 'That's pretty executive.'

The so-called Iraqi Blogger, Salam Pax, writing in the Guardian (15 July), raises doubts about this rosy picture. He managed to get an invite to Sunday's meeting. But 'to get in, all you needed was a foreign ID. But true to the ways of the new Iraq, Iraqis were second-rank; I had to be with a foreigner to see my new government's first press conference. Very tough security procedures all the way through; my ass was grabbed three times, and when a soldier was told I was a translator, he said Ôso you speak French'. Had to remind him he was in Iraq.'

The council consists of 13 Shi'a clerics, five Sunnis, five Kurds, an Assyrian Christian and a Turcoman. Three members are women.

It includes most of the best-known political leaders and forces in Iraq opposed to the ousted Saddam regime. Ahmad Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, and favourite of the neo-cons in Washington, is there. But so too is Abdel Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) - the brother of its leader - and the older Islamist Dawa Party, along with several other clerical leaders.

Both the chief Kurdish leaders - Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani - are on the council. There is Iyad Allawi, leader of the Saudi-backed Iraq National Accord (and an ex-Ba'thist, responsible for the supervision of public hangings before he fell out with Saddam), and Adnan Pachachi a prominent political figure since 1958, who was in the government overthrown by the Ba'th in 1968.

Hamid Majid Moussa, secretary of the Iraqi Communist Party, is one of the council's members. Among the more respectworthy are Dara Noor Alzin, a judge who was sent to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison for declaring one of Saddam's edicts to be illegal; and Abdel Karim Mahmoud Al-Mohammedawi, known as the 'prince of the marshes', an Islamist (his party is called Hizbollah), but a courageous leader of the resistance among the poverty-stricken, and foully persecuted, 'marsh Arabs' in the south.

These 25 people represent an impressively wide array of political figures, and a success for the Americans.

In north Baghdad on 11 July, thousands demonstrated in protest that the Organisation of Islamic Action was not represented. Baghdad's slum area was formerly known as Saddam City, and now informally as Sadr City after a murdered cleric, whose son, Muqtada al-Sadr, has developed a firm base there.

Al-Sadr, who in some accounts has the largest Islamist movement in Iraq today, is also not represented in the council. (It is not clear what the relationship is between the al-Sadr movement and the OIA, which is linked to Ayatollah Mehdi Modaressi, who from his name is Iranian.)

That SCIRI and other, moderate and pro-Iranian Islamist groups, actively sought to participate is highly significant. Iran wants to maintain friendly relations with the United States, so it follows that its allies or agents in Iraq will play this role.

Whether remaining outside the council will prove more popular with the disaffected Iraqi masses remains to be seen. There is no clear timetable for a transition to an elected government, though it will certainly not be before 2004.

There are the beginnings of workers' organisations now in Iraq. The Worker-Communist Party has initiated an unemployed workers' union which reportedly organised a demonstration of 10,000 at the beginning of July, as well as a women's organisation.

The Communist Party, which has a long tradition of organising unions going back to the 1940s, has launched a Workers' Democratic Trade Union Movement. Struggles over the payment of wages, and over permanent contracts, have begun to take place.

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