Interview with Salam Ali

Member of the Central Committee of the Iraqi Communist Party
Published by Nameh Mardom, central organ of the Tudeh Party of Iran, 26 May 2006, Issue No. 739
1- The new government of Iraq was announced yesterday. What is your view about the composition of the new government? Is this any near to your concept of the Government of National Unity? What position the ICP will take towards this government?
– The new Iraqi government was formed after lengthy and tortuous negotiations between the various political blocs that won in the elections in Dec. 2005. The idea of setting up a broadly based national unity government was eventually endorsed, though reluctantly by some forces, to prevent a repetition of the policy of allocating posts on sectarian-ethnic basis. That policy had contributed to aggravating the sectarian polarization in society to unprecedented dangerous levels with catastrophic consequences for the people. The “principles of the government programme”, jointly worked out by representatives of the main political groups including our Communist Party, stated that “the principle of participation and representation of Iraqi constituent components” would be employed in forming the government. But, once again, narrow political interests and hegemonistic tendencies prevailed in the distribution of leading positions in governance: President and two deputies, Prime Minister and his two deputies, the speaker of parliament and his two deputies. These positions were divided up, along sectarian-ethnic lines, among three blocs: the Iraqi United Alliance (IUA), the Kurdistan Alliance and the National Accord Front. The democratic and liberal National Iraqi List that includes the Communist Party, ranking fourth with 25 seats (9% of the vote), was excluded from these posts. Attempts were also made to exclude the Iraqi List from “sovereign ministries”, although the ministries of interior and defence will now be allocated to “independent” figures who should not be associated with any particular bloc or party, especially one that has its own militia. The Iraqi List was openly and strongly critical of these steps, indicating clearly that it may not join the government unless its grievances were addressed. After last minute negotiations, the List was offered five ministries: Justice, Human Rights, Science and Technology, Communications and a Ministry of State.
In a statement issued on 21 May 2006, the National Iraqi List said that its “participation in the government is based on its recognition of the importance of consolidating the principle of national unity and Iraq’s security, safety and stability”. It also pointed out that “our participation with a number of ministers who represent a broad spectrum of our people, will help to restore the balance inside the government, strengthen the Iraqi patriotic voice in the Council of Ministers, and curtails the policy of sectarian quota”. Furthermore, it called on the Prime Minister to honour a number of promises and commitments that had been previously agreed. These include the need to remedy the “flagrant shortcoming in the proportion of women’s participation in ministerial posts” (only 4 women ministers out of 37), and to disband the militias and integrate them within state institutions “as individuals rather than organisations”.
It is, therefore, quite clear that the newly-formed government falls short of our Party’s aim and desire for a national unity government based on the above-mentioned criteria. But its composition, which is no longer totally dominated by one single bloc (the IUA) as was the case in the previous Transitional Government of Dr. Ibrahim Jaafary, opens up the potential for greater say in the decision making process. There is a relatively better representation of the political spectrum and diversity in Iraqi society. It is a permanent government with a 4-year term according to the constitution, that is facing enormous political challenges and will have a significant impact on the way a new Iraqi state will emerge.
2- There are those who argue that the ICP should not participate in the government and should instead support it from outside. This view points out that non- involvement of the ICP would have made it certain that it would not be tainted by the actions of a government which in the main is made of forces with a questionable past- and tendency for accommodating anti democratic- anti communist policies.
– This argument, whether or not to participate in in the government, was indeed seriously considered and carefully weighed by the Party, and and also by the broad democratic and liberal electoral coalition, the National Iraqi List. Two important factors were taken into consideration: the government’s programme and the ability to influence the decision-making process. In addition, the composition of the new parliament, as well as the government, has changed, opening up possibilities for a realignment of forces on major issues facing the country, both national and democratic. Inner rules have also been agreed for the Council of Ministers that would help to curtail authoritarian tendencies in policy formulation. A “Political Commission for National Security” will be set up, providing a forum for national consensus on strategic issues among the main political forces.
Iraqi CP’s participation in the government, despite the above-mentioned reservations, will compliment its work in parliament and mass democratic struggles. Strengthening the position and influence of the democratic and secular forces, advancing their vision of a modern democratic state, and consistently combating sectarian and reactionary policies, are essential prerequisites for safeguarding against, and defeating, anti-democratic and anti-communist tendencies. One must also not overlook the urgent need for strengthening national unity and achieving national consensus to be able to seize back full national sovereignty and independence. The ongoing political battle to decide the character of the emerging Iraqi state is closely interconnected with the national task of eliminating the legacy of occupation and ending foreign military presence in our homeland. In all this multifaceted and complex struggle, our Party will be guided, first and foremost, by the interests of the Iraqi people, workers and toilers.
3- Would you please give your evaluation of the new Prime Minister? What is his programme? Do you think that this programme is capable of overcoming the current difficulties you are facing?
– The new Prime Minister is a leading figure of the Dawa party led by Dr. Jaafary. He had been its representative in Damascus before the regime’s fall, and was well-known to various opposition groups based there. He has pledged to pursue non-sectarian policies in government, fight rampant corruption, deal firmly with the issue of militias, and tackle the chronic and deteriorating security situation and basic services. As pointed out earlier, the principles of his government’s programme had been worked out jointly with other political blocs, and are generally good. But his performance, and that of the government, will be closely scrutinized by the people in the coming weeks and months to see if the words are matched with deeds. The challenges ahead are enormous, and only a government truly embodying national unity can succeed.
4- It seems that during the past few month the security situation has gone out of control. Since October referendum and December General Election terrorism has become a daily feature of events in Iraq. What is the views of the ICP for a Qualitative change in tackling the security issue?
– Our Party has always pointed out that the security issue should be tackled by adopting a multifaceted and integrated approach, including political, social and economic measures, rather than resorting to direct military force alone. The formation of a national unity government, drawing more political groups into the ongoing political process, promoting genuine national dialogue and isolating extremist and terrorist anti-people forces, are all essential prerequisites for handling this issue. The forthcoming National Accord Conference, to be convened next month, will provide an important platform and opportunity to discuss these aspects and develop further the agreement reached at the Cairo Conference last November.
5- There are many international observers who believe that presence of occupation forces is a key factor in the continuation of terrorist violence. Do you have any sympathy with this view? What is the IC Party position regarding the issue of bringing an end to the occupation and regaining full sovereignty and independence for the country?
– Certain important aspects of the current violence in Iraq, further aggravated by sectarian polarization, are a direct consequence of the occupation and the policies implemented by the occupation authority (CPA) and the US administration in Iraq. Our Party has called for a timetable for withdrawal of foreign forces together with doubling the efforts to provide the internal political, institutional and security conditions for this withdrawal. The National Accord Conference held in Cairo last November supported such a withdrawal timetable in order to avoid chaos and additional suffering. We believe that this is a realistic agenda and can be implemented in a relatively short period. With the formation of a permamnent government, that has already endorsed the idea of “an objective timetable” for withdrawal and speeding up the transfer of security responsibilities to the Iraqi forces, this issue will feature prominently on its agenda.
6- In your CC meeting in March 2006 you called for a serious and responsible National Dialogue. What form this dialogue will take? What conditions should be created so the dialogue could take place? Who will be invited/ encouraged to this national dialogue and who not?
– The forthcoming National Accord Conference will be an important step in the direction of the desired National Dialogue. The agreement reached at the pervious Cairo Conference provided a good basis for such dialogue. But it has to broadened to include the full spectrum of social and democratic movements, including trade unions, women, youth, students organisations and other NGOs.