Iraq’s working people have been carrying out an extraordinary mass uprising in Baghdad and the south of the country since October 1 with a three-week break.
By Hassan al-Barazili
The crackdown has been brutal. There are already 261 dead and more than 5,000 injured. Internet services are being repeatedly interrupted to prevent communication among protesters.
In Baghdad there is a permanent concentration of thousands of people on Tahrir Square, the starting point for the clashes over the Martyrs’ Bridge and the Republic Bridge that connects the square with the so-called green zone, the security area where the federal buildings, foreign embassies and the American administration are concentrated. Students and trade unionists thickened the movement. All bridges that connect to the green zone are blocked by security forces.
In Najaf the protesters tried to occupy the Iranian consulate, in the same city where the strong pro-Iranian Badr brigades are concentrated.
Farther south, near Basra, protesters have blocked since November 2nd the Umm Qasr harbour, the country’s main entrance for imports. According to the government, losses reached US$ 6 billion. Furthermore, protesters are working to block oil extraction and exports. On November 6th, they blocked Nassiriya oil refinery, causing shortages in the southern Dhi Kar province. The refinery is operating at half capacity.
These are not the first mobilizations of the Iraqi resistance. In fact, since the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. in 2003, there have been popular mobilizations against both American occupation and its results such as poverty, austerity and corruption. These mobilizations to this day have prevented an American victory. But in the last two years there has been a qualitative change in the demands, expressing a new awareness.
First, the protesters identify not only US imperialism as their main enemy but also the Iranian regime and its allies in Iraq. This leap is very important because major sectors of the Shiite bourgeoisie supported and associated themselves with the American occupation creating illusions among the Shiite population that the occupation might be beneficial. These illusions quickly dissipated, but only in the last two years has the Iranian regime started to be held responsible for the crisis together with the American occupation.
Secondly, the protesters advocate the end of the sectarian regime that was created by the American occupation with the support of major sections of the Shiite and Kurdish bourgeoisies. This corrupt regime in practice regulates the division of oil income, public jobs, and other state businesses among the Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish bourgeoisies. Right now the entire economic, political and religious elite are being held responsible by the protesters without exception.
Third, protesters seek to disrupt key economic activities and occupy strategic areas to enforce their claims.
American Occupation: Oil Plundering, State Dismantling and Sectarian Regime
Protesters’ demands directly address the policies imposed by the US occupation since 2003:
- a) the assault on oil wealth that is behind unemployment and impoverishment of the population;
- b) the dismantling of public services including healthcare, education, social assistance, provision of electricity and drinking water, in addition to the application of neoliberal “minimum State” policies;
- c) the imposition of a new constitution and a sectarian regime on the Lebanese model based on the division of the population into Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
Iraqi Bourgeoisie Aboard American Tanks
The American invasion and occupation (called coalition forces as it included troops from the United Kingdom, Italy and Australia, as well as the support of various countries) brought not only their direct agents like Ahmed Chalabi but also some bourgeois sectors as the Shiite bourgeoisie linked to the Iranian regime (Dawa party and the Iraqi Supreme Islamic Council) and the Kurdish bourgeoisie (the Barzani’s KDP and Talebani’s PUK parties).
These bourgeois sectors became the Iraqi partners in the American-promoted assault on national wealth.
There were bourgeois sectors that opposed the U.S. occupation mainly between the Sunni bourgeoisie linked to Sadam Hussein’s regime and a minority sector of the Shiite bourgeoisie represented by cleric Moktada al-Sadr.
Moktada al-Sadr: Against American Occupation but Allied with Iranian Regime
Cleric Moktada al-Sadr, a member of a traditional bourgeois clerical family, strengthened his popularity opposing the American occupation and denouncing the corruption of the regime.
Its strength also comes from its social base among the Shiite popular neighborhoods of Baghdad and the southern cities, and from the militias it organizes: the Jeish al-Mahdi (2003-2008) formed with Iranian support and now Saraya al-Salam (Companies of Peace).
He stands for an Islamic Republic on the Iranian model based on both Shiite and Sunni Arab population (his position on the Kurds is unclear).
In the last elections, his electoral alliance with the communist party was victorious defeating both Dawa party candidates (Al-Abadi who proclaimed his victory against Daesh, and al-Maliki) as well as the leader of the powerful Badr militias, Hadi Al-Amiri, which came in second place.
However, even though today, in the heat of the demonstrations, Moktada al-Sadr advocates the end of Iranian influence on Iraq, he maintains strong relations with the Iranian regime and the Lebanese Hezbollah.
In addition, in spite of his speech in favor of Shiite-Sunni unity, their militias are accused of participating in sectarian actions against the Sunni population both in 2004-2006 sectarian conflits and more recently in Jurf al-Nasr (2014) and Tikrit (2015) claiming to be in war against Daesh.
The Iraqi Left and the Occupation
The Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), the main left-wing force, has in fact given critical support to the American occupation and has influenced the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) to follow suit. IFTU is the only one recognized by the government and has exclusive rights to have public employees as union members.
The Iraqi Workers Communist Party (IWCP), on the other hand, opposed the occupation and is one of the main governing forces behind the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI).
In 2000, the IWCP’s sister party in Kurdistan was harassed and repressed by the Kurdish bourgeois party, PUK.
There is also the Federation of Oil Unions of Iraq (FOUI) that opposes the occupation and organizes the workers of all major oil companies.
The Iraqi Resistance Can Win!
The force of mobilization leaves no doubt. It is possible to overthrow the regime, expel US and Iranian military forces, and nationalize oil production and other economic activities to meet the needs of the population: employment, clean water, electricity, healthcare, education, and social assistance.
There are four initiatives that can strengthen the revolution.
The first initiative is to bring the organized working class into the people’s uprising. IFTU, FWCUI and FOUI trade union federations have to call the general strike with special attention to oil workers who have the potential to take control of oil production and exports. It is important to remember that the workers’ general strike was decisive in overthrowing Shah Reza Pahlevi’s regime in the 1979 Iranian revolution.
The second is to make a call for the Sunni and Kurdish working class to join the revolution. The 2014 Fallujah people’s uprising with its independent councils have already demonstrated its revolutionary potential. The nationalization of the revolution will increase the chances of victory.
The third is international solidarity. There is a revolution underway in Lebanon and in other parts of the world. It is necessary to connect these struggles in addition to calling on the combative Iranian working class to stand up against its own regime in defense of their demands and in solidarity with the revolution in Iraq.
The fourth is the formation of councils that unite the forces of revolution with those of trade unions, the student movement, and other sectors to come in, particularly the Sunni and Kurdish working classes. The formation of these councils is crucial to vying for power against the bourgeois parties that today run the Iraqi government at the behest of the United States and Iran. Only a new power born of people’s and working class’ revolution can meet the demands of the population.