Supporting a new Iraq

This article by Harry Barnes MP appears in the current edition of Socialist Campaign Group News


Although the Iraqi elections took place in circumstances not of anyone’s choosing, millions of Iraqis relished the chance to vote in what was a magnificent display of defiance against those who threatened to kill them.
The Iraqis’ long delayed struggle for democratic reform has only just begun. The open question is whether the next votes, on the constitution and the election of a new government, attract more voters in more peaceful and better organised conditions.
Marginalising the “resistance” and reassuring the broad mass of Iraqi people will be made easier if three conditions prevail.
First, Iraqi sovereignty must be fully restored, with foreign troops staying or going strictly on Iraqi terms.
Second, federalism and Iraqi unity must be protected in the formation of the new government and the framing of the new constitution.
Third, the growth of a just and non-sectarian civil society, including independent trade unions.
It is argued by many that the presence of foreign troops fuels the insurgency. There is some truth in this, but it is not the whole picture. Most Iraqi parties recognise that the premature withdrawal of the occupation forces, without a sufficient Iraqi security capability, would benefit those who wish to reinstate Baathist rule or to turn Iraq into a medieval theocracy.
Most Iraqis would like to see the back of foreign troops. Who can blame them? That does not, however, translate into their supporting violence or “troops out now.” We should listen to all Iraqi voices, not just the ones that fit our own prejudices.
A clear understanding that all foreign troops will go when requested is vital to undermining the notion that Iraq is just a military base and/or petrol pump.
Iraq was dominated for decades by a minority of the minority Sunni population. Those who abused power, privilege and wealth are loath to
lose it but the new Iraq and Ayatollah Sistani seem keen to develop an
inclusive society.
This is why so much rides on winning Sunni participation in the new government and protecting Sunnis within the new constitution. Some Sunni groups now regret their electoral boycott and wish to participate in the UN-sanctioned political process.
A key issue will be the role of religion in the constitution. Those who say that Islam should not be the only source of wisdom ought to be heeded.
Stabilising Iraq’s fledgling democracy is not merely a military matter; after years of totalitarianism, it requires a new kind of politics.
An Iraqi friend once told me that oil was a bane rather than a boon to Arab society, because it allowed ruling elites to rely on terror and ignore civil society. But we have seen an appreciable growth in Grassroots Iraq in the last year or so.
A key part of Iraq’s new civil society is the free trade union movement, in which the biggest component is the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). It has put down deep roots within Iraq and has won support from major national and international trade union centres.
It has built 12 individual unions and attracted at least 200,000 members – no mean feat against a background of massive unemployment, dislocation and terrorist intimidation and murder.
Trade unions in Iraq can help activate civil society and, by uniting workers on class and economic grounds, increase the force of non-sectarian influences.
They can also ensure that the new Iraq isn’t fleeced and that the workers enjoy a fair share of the country’s wealth and decent welfare provision.
Solidarity shouldn’t be seen as doing favours for Tony Blair and George Bush. It is supporting our natural allies in Iraq. Left-wingers should examine for themselves what different Iraqi labour movement forces say. But we should not be found wanting when it comes to solidarity. A new Iraq is being born and the unity and strength of its labour movement is a vital concern to us all.
We should respect the Iraqi voters, unite to pour in huge moral and material solidarity to Iraqi unions, including via the TUC’s appeal.
Harry Barnes is a Joint President of Labour Friends of Iraq
(www.labourfriendsofiraq.org.uk)