Interview with Fateh Sheikh and Mohsen Ebrahimi on a Post-Saddam Iraq

WPI Briefing: In end-April, the USA began the process of forming an interim government. In a month's time, a meeting will be held to select a transitional government, which according to Jay Garner, the US administrator in Iraq, will be a 'democratic government, which represents all people, all religions and tribes'. In reality, how 'democratic' is this government going to be? A 13-point statement issued by the USA earlier this month stressed that the 'future government should not be based on communal identity' though the USA is doing just that by bringing together reactionary Kurdish nationalists, political Islamic factions, local and tribal leaders as well as mullahs. Rather than a democratic future, won't this balkanise the country? Does 'democratic' mean a government must have representatives of all religions and tribes? Also, how come when it comes to representation, progressive groups, communists, secularists and so on are not deemed representative of people in Iraq but the most reactionary groups are?

Fateh Sheikh: As an Imperialist super-power, the USA has always been, both intentionally and practically, apt to wage war, to kill, and hence to cause physical destruction and socio-political problems rather than to build anything to the advantage of people and humanity. This is the case in Iraq as elsewhere. For the US' military power, pounding Baghdad to the ground and getting rid of the Ba'ath regime were easy while imposing a Pentagon-shaped puppet regime in a country devastated by bombs has shown not to be as easy as they had thought in their imagined world of Imperialist arrogance and narrow-mindedness.

The difficulties that have emerged during 'the process of forming an interim government' in meetings in Nasiriyah and Baghdad are not simple problems of technicality or time. All parts of the bourgeoisie, both the occupiers and the local ruling class, face a substantial political-ideological problem in running Iraq after Saddam's despotic rule. In the aftermath of the US-led war, there has emerged a huge power vacuum in Iraq in both political and ideological terms, which in the short term cannot be filled by pro-US forces like the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and Kurdish nationalist factions or by Islamic sects. In its war for 'regime change' and overthrowing Saddam's dictatorship, the USA has let several conflicting currents come to the surface jointly, making Iraq's political scene chaotic and unpredictable:

- First, the imprisoned giant of the oppressed Iraqi people got out of the bottle, raising their decades-long suppressed demands amidst their outrage against the USA as an occupying force, rather than a liberating one, as the Bush Administration tries to portray itself. - Secondly, a can of worms was opened; reactionary Islamic sects and Arab nationalist trends emerged on the scene each with many rivalling gangs among their ranks and none of them able to impose hegemony and leadership upon the others. Simultaneously, some other reactionary nationalist factions and tribal warlords came on the scene, raising tribal, ethnic and communal identities in a country with a long history of ethnic clashes as well as a dirty record of the government's mass-suppressing and mass-killing in Kurdistan. This has resulted in 'the Kurdish question', which of course demands an urgent solution. - Thirdly, the USA and UK occupation of Iraq has provoked many complicated dilemmas in the Middle East and highlighted the double standards in their regional policy both regarding the Israeli government's everyday crimes against the Palestinian people and the pro-US Arab states that violate people's political and civil rights in the Gulf and Arab world, disclosing the real nature of the 'democracy' they are calling for in 'the future of Iraq'. Have a look at the 13-point statement issued by the US in the Nasiriyah meeting and you will see only much ado and tautology about nothing. They issue such statements to amuse others and go it alone behind the scenes. They want to shape a puppet regime with a combination of tribal, ethnic and sectarian Islamic 'leaders' and groups to give a superficial 'legitimacy' to the USA's long-term military occupation of Iraq. This of course makes a real basis for the long term divisions and bloody ethnic and sectarian conflicts for which ordinary citizens across the country will have to pay the price. Via its permanent occupation, the USA is going to reproduce the dark scenario haunting Iraq since the occupation was accomplished.

The 'democracy' they are calling for has nothing to do with democracy in Western terms. They mean a 'pluralism' in the term of diffusing local power between tribal, ethnic and sectarian religious bands and imposing them on the people who have come to the scene for their genuine demands for freedom, justice and prosperity after getting rid of Saddam's regime. They pursue their Imperialist interests by safeguarding their long term military presence in Iraq. Won't this balkanise the country? It probably will but above all it will deny people's right to build their own political future, and ignore the communists, secularists and so on. They won't succeed. Regarding economic, political, social and civil developments, Iraq is among the most developed countries in the Middle East along with Iran and Turkey. They won't be able to impose a puppet regime on Iraq. The Iraqi people and forces like the Worker Communist Party of Iraq will deny any legitimacy for such a US-sponsored regime.

Mohsen Ebrahimi: Let me start with the US claim that, with the devastating bombing of Iraq, they intended to 'liberate' the Iraqi people and establish 'democracy' there as a model for political change in the Middle East. It has to be clarified first that with the word 'democracy' we are talking about a political structure that would best fit the US' plan for a New World Order, i.e., paving the way for USA supremacy in the world. In order to achieve this cause, democracy like all other post-war political institutions must be adjusted so that it will facilitate the US agenda in the region. Democracy must be stripped of any level of human rights or freedom that humanity has been able to impose on current Western democracies. Democracy in Iraq must help the US reach the following goals:

- It must block the way for any degree of people's involvement in shaping the political future of Iraq. - It must undermine any progressive element in society, from secularists to communists. The architects of the New World Order are fully aware that any degree of influence by progressive forces, in particular communists, is in conflict with and detrimental to their real cause. - It must reflect various tribes and religions instead of people's will. To put Iraq in the hands of religious, ethnic and tribal leaders is an effective way of isolating, silencing and eventually preventing people from having a voice in the political future of Iraq. - It is clear that with the US engineered 'democracy' in Iraq, this country is to be used as a springboard to advance the US government's new world agenda.

As you have rightly implied in your question, as a direct result of US militarism in Iraq, Balkanisation has already begun to cast its grim shadow across Iraq. In an economically desperate, socially devastated and politically shattered society, Balkanisation is the most probable scenario. In a Balkanised Iraq, the religious, ethnic and tribal reactionary factions that consider post-Saddam Iraq as a corpse would do everything possible to grab the biggest share. These vultures are capable and ready to launch a bloody battle, even bloodier than what humanity witnessed in the former Yugoslavia.

WPI Briefing: USA government officials, namely White House representative Zalmay Khalilzad, have often reiterated that the USA wants Iraqis to establish their 'own democratic system based on Iraqi traditions and values'. A recent article in the New York Times has also called for an Islamic democracy in Iraq. This is usually the culturally relativist code word for denying Iraqis universal rights and standards and justifying reactionary governments. Please comment.

Fateh Sheikh: They are trying their best to drag from their graves all pre-modern rightlessness rooted in tribal relations in order to deny modern civil and political rights to the citizens who have long been freed from tribal identities. Worrying about people's enjoyment of today's universal rights, they deny these rights especially women's equal rights in the name of 'culture' and 'traditions' and by their cultural relativist policy as you have precisely pointed out.

Mohsen Ebrahimi: Obviously, the USA is doing everything at its disposal to control Iraq's future through gangs of tribal and religious leaders, thereby preventing Iraqis from true political freedom. They characterise the Iraqi people with religious, ethnic and tribal identities because this is one of the most effective ways to deprive them of universal rights. This is a political technique to fabricate world public opinion to embrace a handpicked administration comprised of a bunch of religious and tribal leaders. So far, the US government has not missed any chance to promote this scenario. As a telling example, the US government used the recent pilgrimage to Karbala as a golden opportunity to set the ground for this agenda. The CNN and BBC kept airing it continuously; they showed the graphic parts of this religious showdown generously and without any censorship - as some pilgrims were savagely self-flagellating themselves. White House spokespersons shamelessly labelled this religious masochism as Iraqi peoples' enthusiasm to enjoy their freedom. One wonders why instead of well-known universal rights, such disgusting religious rituals of self- harassment symbolize freedom in Iraq. In fact, with this distorted image of freedom, they are saying that freedom for Iraqi people must not mean freedom to publish newspapers, freedom to criticise, freedom to organise, freedom for workers to have their mass organisation, and so on. They are well aware that any degree of universal freedom would raise people's expectations and would work as a breeding ground for secular and progressive ideas.

WPI Briefing: The lack of women's rights and their continued oppression in the future Iraq is probable given the status of women in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban and how Western governments' view women's status in the region. In the 13-point statement announced earlier this month on women, it merely stated that 'Iraq must be built on respect for diversity including respect for the role of women'. What does this mean for women's rights and status in the future Iraq? How can this be averted?

Fateh Sheikh: There is nothing but general neutral phrase like this on 'the role of women' in the 13-point statement issued by USA in the Nasiriyah meeting of 15th April. It will be up to succeeding political developments and the balance of power to interpret the role of women in a future Iraq and above all it is up to communists, secularists and advocates of women's equal rights to guarantee that these rights are implemented in political practice and subsequently in terms of constitutional and civil laws in Iraq.

Mohsen Ebrahimi: The first and most important factor to promote any degree of women's rights requires a clear declaration of full, complete and unconditional equality among men and women with regards to civil and individual rights; an unambiguous declaration of respect for women as free citizens of society and an absolute abolition of any trace of religious and tribal regulations and values from civil laws of society. Yet, this mere declaration does not guarantee that these rights will be respected in reality. Law enforcement bodies must be established to supervise and enforce these laws in practice. Anyone who violates these laws with the name of religion, tradition and tribal values or any other justification for that matter must be prosecuted for violating basic human rights.

WPI Briefing: What will be the consequences of the USA's plans for a post-Saddam Iraq for the Iraqi people? We have stated that a dark scenario is unfolding. What does that mean? How will it affect the region and world?

Fateh Sheikh: As mentioned before, they want to erect a puppet regime out of tribal, ethnic and sectarian Islamic factions and this will obviously lead to deep long term divisions and bloody ethnic, sectarian conflicts, the precursors of which have already been seen in Baghdad, Najaf, Mosul, Kirkuk and elsewhere. A permanent US occupation will reproduce the dark scenario about which we had already warned before the war began.

Mohsen Ebrahimi: The current power vacuum, with the unleashed reactionary religious and ethnic forces, is definitely a breeding ground for a dark scenario. What do we mean by a dark scenario? A society with a shattered social and political fabric sunk into bloody conflict among religious, ethnic and tribal warlords. In such a situation, ordinary people are the first and most desperate victims that are ready to embrace any form of power which is capable of ridding them from their ordeal. The success of establishing such a scenario in Iraq can be a dangerous precedence and spread out to the whole region.

WPI Briefing: How can this dark scenario, the chaos, rightlessness and a civil war be averted?

Fateh Sheikh: By putting immense international pressure on the USA to withdraw its forces from Iraq immediately, that it be provisionally substituted by UN forces leaving the Iraqi people to be politically prepared for choosing their future political order and government. The UN forces must maintain all political freedoms, including freedom of speech and expression, freedom of all political parties, freedom of religion both in terms of belief in and/or disbelief in any religion. The Iraqi people, who have gotten rid of Saddam's atrocious regime, deserve full enjoyment of these rights including the undeniable right to determine their own political future. What is needed to achieve this goal is of course, a freedom loving, sharp-visioned political party with enough force to mobilise people inside Iraq and attract the most vast support outside Iraq to make such pressure on the USA and UN feasible. This party does exist and is actively present in the political scene in Iraq right now; I mean the Worker Communist Party of Iraq which deserves every support from all socialists and freedom loving people all over the world.

Mohsen Ebrahimi: I have touched upon this subject in response to other questions. In order to re-emphasise I must say that this scenario cannot be averted unless people in general and progressive, secularist and communists in particular come to the political scene in an organised manner.

WPI Briefing: We have called on the United Nations to intervene? Isn't that organisation an extension of the USA? When they have intervened, e.g. former Yugoslavia, haven't they made people's lives bleak as well? Why them and what should be the limits of their intervention and for how long?

Fateh Sheikh: The UN is actually an extension of the big powers, and not only the USA's, at least up to now. The reason we call on the UN to intervene in Iraq for a while is not that we believe it is an independent international institution. This is not the case but if you want to avoid a dark scenario in Iraq, if you want the USA military presence in Iraq, which is the material basis for the reproduction of the dark scenario to be ended immediately, you have to demand a substitute forceful enough to be able to prevent the bloody scenario; that only means in this situation to demand a UN force for a provisional intervention, provided that under the international pressure of the people across the world, whose potential power had once been shown on February 15th, that political freedoms will be guaranteed while UN forces are operating in Iraq. This is possible and it is the only realistic way to avert chaos, the dark scenario of civil war and so on.

Mohsen Ebrahimi: The UN has always been the extension of the US but the influential powers in the UN are now competing to shape the post-Cold War era for their own interests. The recent rift between France, Germany and the USA regarding Iraq was a good indication that the UN is not an international institution with one voice anymore. Nevertheless, the withdrawal of US military and their replacement with UN forces should be considered only a first step. The UN itself must be pressured to provide a secure and free environment so that all social forces would have a chance to organise and have a say in the political future of Iraq.

WPI Briefing: The Islamists have actively begun vying for political power in Iraq and calling for an Islamic state. What are their chances? What will happen in Iraq and the region if they take power? How can they be stopped?

Fateh Sheikh: They are dangerous but they have no chance to gain the aim they are vying for. The Iraqi people, the region and the world have bitterly experienced both the Islamic atrocious rule in Iran and the atrocities caused and yet can be caused by Islamic terrorism. I can't imagine people who have been freed from Saddam's rule saying: after three and half decades, at last we got rid of Saddam and the Ba'athist hell now let's have an Islamic hell for more decades ahead! Furthermore we hear Donald Rumsfield saying they don't want their war to be hijacked for an Islamic regime in Iraq! So they have no chance neither among the people nor the USA. There may be a chance for them to be used temporarily by the US against Iraqi communists as usual, and in this window of opportunity they will be granted a portion of local power. Any way, all freedom loving people must beware of their danger for the future of Iraqi society.

Mohsen Ebrahimi: To establish an Islamic regime in Iraq, Islamic forces are facing several barriers, the most important of which are as follows: 1- It is a well known fact that 24 years ago, the forces of the Islamic movement could not have taken power in Iran had they not been fully supported by the West. At that juncture, the Islamic movement had a strategic importance for Western states. The West needed them in their war against the Eastern Bloc. With the end of the Cold War, the Islamic movement has lost its strategic importance though the West still needs its reactionary anti-communist capacity. 2- In the aftermath of September 11, people in the world had a chance to get a glimpse of the inhumane face of the Islamic movement and what it means when it takes power! The Islamic movement is now enormously and deeply hated in the world and the US and West would have a hard time selling an Iranian-style Islamic regime even to its own public opinion. 3. One might think that the Islamic movement in Iraq has the backing of a neighbouring Islamic regime. But the Islamic regime in Iran is itself facing downfall. A regime in demise, although it is persistently attempting to strengthen Islamic groups in Iraq, still has major limitations in this regard. Both the heads of the Islamic regime and its puppet clerics in the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq are well aware of these limitations. The recent cautious reactions of the Islamic regime in response to US accusations and the reiteration by the head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution that they have no intention to establish an Iranian-style Islamic regime in Iraq are vivid indications to this effect. 4- The Islamic movement in Iraq is not of a homogenous nature. This movement is suffering from factional rivalries that can turn bloody at any moment. The clash between two factions in Najaf that led to Majid Khoei's death was only a beginning.

In spite of having these weaknesses and barriers, the Islamic movement is one of the darkest forces with a capacity to sink Iraq into a bleak scenario. This movement has already begun gathering momentum and can play a significant role in leading Iraq into a dark future. This movement can invest in the growing nationalist reaction created by the US military presence in Iraq. Moreover, the current power vacuum is a fertile atmosphere in which they can unleash their armed hooligans and make life miserable for people. They can be stopped only if the millions of secularist people in Iraq, in particular the working class and worker- communism get organised and actively involved in shaping Iraq's political future.