Vague public trends in the chaos in Iraq

Mundher Al-Adhami*
How are the results of the recent Iraqi elections be interpreted from the anti-occupation perspective? No short adequate answer is possible, since it has to note the upheavals and evolution in several broad and multifarious political fronts. But the general theme is the increasing flux, or rather the deepening political fragmentation and chaos. No point in pretending otherwise, even though the hope remains that we will not sink to another bout of sectarian atrocities like those of 2006/7.

The fronts to look at are: US plans, the Iraqi collaborator class, the regional politics, Iraqi armed resistance forces, and then the bulk of Iraqi population having to survive and find their ways within the mounting chaos. Within each of these there are conflicts with complex dynamics. And all the fronts are really fields that overlap, rapidly influencing each other if sudden shifts occur

Therefore only vague trends with relative persistence are possible to detect. And I address myself here to these at the Iraqi public level, and how it sees the other fronts.

Same divisions?

These are contradictory tends. On the one hand we have sectarian-ethnic entrenchment, shown by people mostly voting as largely sectarian and ethnic groups, as promoted by the occupation. One complication is that more of the Sunnis, who boycotted the 2005 election have participated mainly supporting the secular cross-sectarian ‘Iraqia’ list headed by a self-admitted CIA agent, Ayad Allawy.

This outcome emerged despite most of the politicians and the public decrying such divisions. But the trend is continued with the various groups within each camp coalescing back in what seems like the 2005 elections. This is largely been achieved by the Iraqia list being portrayed as a cover for the US switching sides and resurrecting the Ba’athists to counter the Iranian influence, dominant on their erstwhile allies in the Shi’a religious parties.

The US have for a few years now openly supported reintegrating the Ba’athists and the tribal and local Sunni resistance groups opposing the Qaida, and betraying the national armed resistance. The US reasoning is obviously to coerce the shi’a parties, currently close to Iran, to their will, or as recognition that they cannot militarily defeat the resistance or create a stable neo-colonial set-up without a coalition of sectarian groups that approximately reflect population weights. But that change of US direction was skilfully portrayed, mainly by Ahmed Chalaby and others, as a threat of a reversion to the assumed dominance of the Sunnis over the Shi’as.

The real threat is to the multi-billion dollar worth of squandered Iraqi wealth gained by the shi’a groups in the years since the occupation, some of which trickled down to local groups, who now recognise themselves as accomplices or unworthy takers of positions in the vast government employment at the expense of more qualified people, they now simply dub as Ba’athists, Saddamists or terrorists.

The same political or sociological attitudes, based on current short term material interests can be observed amongst the Kurdish sections of the population. On the Sunni side the parallel attitudes in some sections deciding that they have lost much in not accommodating the occupation, which is temporary, and the advantages of making temporary deals either to survive, or to protect people, or even as a tactic, including accepting US choice of Allawi as a counter balance to the Shi’a party. Similar attitudes prevail amongst the large population of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced. For many of the principled anti-occupation people and supporters of the resistance, these tactical positions amongst the Sunni, Shi’a and Kurdish sections seemed understandable human survival attitudes that perhaps do not necessarily affect the outcome, especially since it exposes some myths and disrupts the political scene, as indeed it did, including those of security or services.

It seems difficult to see how Iraq can heal from this civil decline, exemplified by such wide-scale corruption of morals covered up in ethnic and religious garbs without much pain, and without some regional and international visions that aid Iraq to revive.

Different parliament?

A counter trend to the ethnic sectarian entrenchment is the major changes in the personalities elected to the new parliament through the open list system. Over 80% of the previous assembly members have lost their seats, and they were across spectrum of the occupation sponsored political class. Spectacular failures included ministers, including those of defence (Ubaidi) and interior (Bolani), leading figures in the main Shi’a Islamic Council and Badr, such as Alsaghir, in the Sunni Islamic party, all the communist candidates, and those form secular groups which advocated openness to Israel or the US in general.

The election results, regardless of the assumed manipulation by the various forces, reflect the general disdain and mistrust of the whole political class so far. This is more than the cynicism common in the West, and reaches general anger and public despise as shown by citizens on cameras.

The vote for both the main Shi’a lists (Alliance and State of Law) was much smaller than they expected, and confined to the southern provinces. Within the Alliance list the previously dominant Islamic Council had lost most while the Sadrists, who had selected candidates through the innovation of ‘primaries’ in locales, became dominant. Mliki’s (the Prime Minister) State of Law list suffered from a noticeable minority switching to the secular Iraqia, not only in Baghdad but also in the south. Maliki still does not accept this and that refusal, three months after the elections, is the cause of a deepening crisis and much public scorn.

The two Kurdish nationalist parties suffered from the rise of the disenchanted vote, with Talabani’s half losing heavily in its base in Suleymania to ‘Taghyeer’ (The Change) list, and Barzani’s half to losing to Islamic lists seemingly benefitting from the Turkish trade. Like that of the political Shi’a, the Kurdish overall presence was trimmed from what they expected. The overall composition of the new parliament in these gross terms seems less distorted than the previous one, and a correction of perception is endured by all the players. They all sound less strident and much chastised in their interviews.

Official figures for participation, which few people take as true anyway, indicate that 38% of these eligible have boycotted. Abstention takes courage in a situation where about one billion dollars were spent and all resources were put to ensure such participation in a country almost entirely dependent now on the state revenues and employment. Amongst the over two million Iraqis abroad, over 80% abstained from voting. It tells you something about what they feel about this politics, and even about Allawi’s Iraqia list which placed their return as a priority.

People Adjust

Iraqis recognise that they are passing through a stage of adjustment of perceptions about their identities including sudden recognition of the Sunnis of such an identity. The odious sectarian practices and rhetoric of the ruling Shi’a collaborators with the occupation is creating a slow and profound reaction against the Shi’s which indicates many difficulties ahead for social peace. The massive bombing in public places, and the violent language of the pronouncements attributed to Qaida following the discovery of torture and rape in secret government prisons is one face of such a shift. This is entangled with racialised language about Arabic and Persian identities that not only diverts from the anti-occupation struggle but also hinders the alliance of the nations of the middle east against imperialism and Zionist settlements.

All that Iraqis can hope for the Iraqi resistance forces to navigate the regional currents and force their own peace. The armed resistance remains active, and directed solely at the US bases were the troops are now mainly conduct their business, included with invited Iraqis, and the few patrols still conducted. The monthly average US casualties is about half of last year’s average, itself a fraction of those in earlier years. This is a staggering but media - ignored resilience by forces that have absolutely no outside support. In the meantime the resilience of Iraqis as a nation does in fact allows them to get by in their daily chores. It is a long haul to full liberation and justice and equitable citizenship while all the imperialist designs are thwarted.

London May 2010

* Dr Adahmi is an Iraqi pedagogue and political activist. He was born in Baghdad in 1942 and studied geophysics in Moscow and England were he has been teaching for the last 35 years.

Adahmi is member of the Iraqi National Committee for media and culture. Until 1969 he had been member of the Iraqi Communist Party which he left because of the weak position of the Soviet Union on Palestine. He joined the Iraqi Revolutionary Bloc and co-edited its organ An-Nassier (The Partisan). In 1990 he participated in the founding of the Committee of Iraqi Democrats against the Blockade. He has been active in the support to the Iraqi resistance and in the construction of a political front against the occupation.