Days after polls closed in Iraq, the final count has been released. The radical coalition Sairoon (translated to “On the Move” by western sources) has declared its initial victory, with Muqtada al-Sadr and the Iraqi Communist Party gaining a slight majority in the parliament. We would first like to congratulate the Iraqi Communist Party and other anti-imperialist forces in Iraq for having led the charge to oust the pro-amerikan “Victory Coalition” from its monopoly on political authority, this in and of itself is a seismic victory for the progressive people of the world. We would also like to express our deepest hopes that, despite the Communist Party’s minority status within this coalition, that they are able to advance popular opinion toward socialism and help defeat the neocolonial occupation of Iraq. Despite the revisionism of the Communist Party, who has failed the masses time and again, this historic juncture has given them the opportunity to positively shape the future of Iraq. They may not yet be the vanguard the proletariat needs, but their success can still set the stage for an intensifying class struggle and the emergence of more advanced proletarian leadership. Looking realistically at this situation, however, it is necessary to explore the major challenges that are currently standing in the way of solidifying this victory.
For the uninitiated, Muqtada al-Sadr is a popular Shia cleric in Iraq who has consistently led resistance against the amerikan occupation, not through nSairoonow work specifically among the Shia community, but also in solidarity with sunnis in the country. He had founded the anti-imperialist Mahdi Army—now reformed as the “Peace Companies”—after the amerikan invasion, which engaged in armed struggle against the occupiers as well as rival Sunni militant groups who threatened the Shia community in Iraq. The Mahdi Army had been responsible for numerous extraordinary attacks on the u.$. invaders, including the Shia uprising in 2004 centering in Baghdad that resulted in numerous large-scale attacks and some small victories. Sadr’s supporters even ran supply convoys to besieged Sunni fighters in Fallujah during the first successful uprising there. After the withdrawal of the u.$. army from the country, Sadr’s supporters assisted the Iraqi government in the war against the Islamic State, while remaining staunchly critical of the murderous campaign led by the army that left thousands dead in the city of Mosul and elsewhere.
Now, having emerged from the conflict with IS, the former ruling coalition under Abadi, rebranded the “Victory Coalition” as a way to sequester for itself the “glory” of having defeated IS in Iraq with the help of the united $tates and Iran. Yet, this has not done him or his alliance any favors, as they were easily outdone by Sadr and the Communist Party, who, having also fought IS during the war, both consistently criticized the devastating cost paid by Iraqi civilians for their so-called “liberation” at the hands of the government, who left bodies littering the streets, rotting in the open air for weeks. Those who voted for the Sairoon did so largely because of the cost they were forced to pay for Abadi’s victory against IS. Yet, even with a ruined former ruling alliance, Sairoon is now in a desperately tense situation with an extremely divided government that could share power in a number of ways.
Sadr is likely to take the post of Prime Minister, certainly he has the right to, but it is unclear how he will be able to lead with power so evenly divided among numerous large parties and alliances, especially while fierce political struggle is still underway. In Kirkuk, for instance, gunmen seized polling stations and held members of the election commission hostage, demanding they change the results of the election. The Iraqi army has already responded, but this is not the only instance of intense standoffs provoked by the dangerous instability of the Iraqi state at the moment. What further muddies the water is the Iranian role in setting up the new government. Iran had proven to be quite a strong ally of the amerikan-aligned Abadi government, and has now voiced serious opposition to the success of Sadr, despite him being a Shia cleric.
Iran’s reasoning is that they have grown quite close in their relationship to the Abadi government, although Abadi was also a favorite of the u.$. and NATO, through their cooperation in the war against IS and subsequently their defeat of the short-lived Kurdish independence crisis. It is not clear what relationship Sadr and his coalition has with the Kurds in Northern Iraq, but the Communists have a positive history with them, all in all. More concerning to Iran is the distance that Sadr and the Communists keep from them. On a strictly patriotic platform, they remain rightfully skeptical of Iran’s interests in Iraq, and while not openly hostile to Tehran, Sadr does not share the same sentiments as other Shia groups in Iraq regarding them. Iran’s role in Iraqi politics post-IS has been murky, and although they are not the united $tates, the Sairoon sees that their continued over-involvement is not conducive to a truly independent Iraq. So, in foreign policy, it will be a careful balancing act between the major powers in the region to not only keep the united $tates out, but rebuild the independent resources of the Iraqi state apart from the direct stewardship of other regional powers.
There are also dangers in the alternatives to Iran, as Sadr has attempted to warm relations between his coalition and the Saudi government as an alternative. It is not clear to what extent he or his coalition plans to expand relations, but it appears that its primary motivation is to keep Iran from a total diplomatic monopoly in the country as they expedite the exodus of amerikan soldiers and influence. The danger lies in the fact that Saudi Arabia is far from a passive actor in this regard, and has its own sinister ambitions regarding Iraq and the rest of the region. The Saudis will no doubt be attempting to levy their own high price for good relations, and the Sairoon will have to decide whether or not this is acceptable in the short-term, and how far they want to take it in the long-term. Even this is highly contingent upon what kind of coalition can be drawn up to ensure Iraq is stably governed.
A potential threat to the Communist Party comes in what possible coalitions may be crafted. They may find themselves abandoned or sidelined as part of any negotiations with other conservative parties or alliances. On the other hand, the Communists are responsible for the victory of Sadr’s party in the general elections, having carried 8 seats over to the coalition, while Sairoon only leads the Fatah Alliance by 7 seats. We should hope that Sadr and his comrades do not forget this important contribution. Yet, as history has shown us, this is not outside the realm of possibility. If the Communists manage to maintain their position in the government, and possibly acquire cabinet positions, this could allow them to operate as an important central actor in the reconstruction of the country, which has been devastated by repeated imperialist interventions and resulting chronic instability. The combination of their mass organizations and their parliamentary work may help to secure an advanced position for the proletarian movement in the future, but only with diligent work and a strategic orientation toward socialist revolution, rather than just piecemeal reforms. On that front, we are hopeful, despite the right-deviationism of many in the party.
The most serious immediate danger faced by Sairoon is the threat of a minority government, where they are left at the mercy of a larger grand coalition in opposition, who thwarts any attempt at stability or policymaking. This, with the veiled threats of foreign powers regarding the election results, make us worry for the future of the progressive outcome in Iraq. In addition to the united $tates’ veiled threats against Sadr and his coalition, Iran too has joined the chorus, with Ali Akbar Velayati—top adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei—stating “[Iran] will not allow liberals and communists to govern in Iraq”. This should be considered a threat, and while it likely does not mean military intervention in Iraq, the presence of Revolutionary Guards within the country does make this a serious provocation. Our hope is that a fruitful relationship can still be built between Iran and Iraq with Sairoon in power. Iran has consistently aided the resistance to amerikan hegemony in the region for some time, and a balanced relationship with them would be beneficial. That said, Sairoon has every right to be skeptical of Iranian interests in the country, especially given such open-ended hostile statements.
No matter the outcome, the masses of Iraq have made their voices heard, and let us hope that the new rulers honor those concerns, rather than use them to advance another anti-people platform. The people elected Sairoon primarily on the basis of rising economic disparities, rampant government corruption, a lack of social services and the crippling weight of imperial occupation. These are the interests of the Iraqi people, let us hope that the talk of policies of people’s economic empowerment is not idle, and that their implementation can advance the hegemonic position of conscious proletarian forces. If effective, their success could set the stage for the emergence of more advanced revolutionary forces in the country, a welcome sight for a country that has been perpetually shackled to western imperialism.
A lot remains to be seen, but what is clear is that the tides are turning against the amerikan imperialists in Iraq. That much we can celebrate.
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