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Iraq Communists Hold Rally for Elections

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BAGHDAD, Iraq - Two of its most prominent members were gunned down recently, but that didn't stop the Iraq's Communist Party from holding a campaign rally in downtown Baghdad, with supporters waving red flags and shouting leftist slogans.



Posted on Sat, Jan. 08, 2005

Associated Press

Few other parties have dared to do the same, but then Iraq's Communists are a stubborn bunch. And although they are not expected to win many seats in the country's Jan. 30 elections, their insistence on a strong voice in Iraqi politics could still pay off.

The party's main tenet is the separation of state and religion, which makes them unique in Iraq's political landscape. They could play an important role by striking a balance between the Shiite parties expected to dominate and their Sunni rivals in the new national assembly, which will help put together a new constitution.

"It is hard to think that we could be a majority," said Shakir al-Dujaily, a senior party member. "What we are after is being part of this interim body and relaying our ideas that shouldn't be absent from drafting the constitution."

In some ways, Iraq's Communists mimic the stereotypical Soviet-style image. Campaign posters reflect the "red" effect: the cog, the hands of the workers and the peasants, the motto "Peace, Democracy, National Brotherhood" - not to mention the fluttering red flags at the December rally held in a central Baghdad stadium.

Yet they've come up with their own brand of Marxism. They have long cooperated with other moderate movements, including the two main Kurdish political parties and Islamic groups like al-Dawa and the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

And they acknowledge that religion will inevitably play a role. In a nation where religion is dominated by conservatives, the party has shunned the image of a "Godless" grouping and stressed its respect for Iraq's Islamic and Arab heritage.

"We have worked in this society based on our understanding of its religions, culture and traditions," al-Dujaily said. "We will continue to function based on that, to guarantee that the constitution reflects such respect for everyone's rights with no discrimination."

Baghdad-based political analyst Ibrahim al-Idrissi said the Jan. 30 elections are the Communists' chance to prove how "democratic" they are.

"This election is all about honoring democracy and respect for the other - be it Islamist or Communist," al-Idrissi said. "If the Communist Party manages to be open-minded and shuns rigidity, they will have a great role in the future Iraq."

There are a number of secular groups running in the Iraqi elections, including one formed by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, but many of them indirectly depend on the endorsement of clerics who have wide influence on the majority Shiite population.

In a bid to garner the most support possible, the Communists formed a coalition called the "People's Union" that included Arab nationalists, Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians, Muslim Sunnis and Shiites and Christians.

"We considered many things, including the religious and political combination of Iraq and we worked on representing different provinces and generations, not to mention women," al-Dujaily said.

The Communist Party platform says "a democratic, federal system is what guarantees all Iraqis their rights and will free them of violence and terrorism."

It is perhaps this attitude that landed the Communists a seat on the U.S. hand-picked Governing Council. The party has also become part of the interim government with party member Mufeed al-Jazaeri becoming culture minister.

The Communists are Iraq's oldest party. Established in 1934, they were banned under the British-installed monarchy. Later, thousands were massacred after the Baath Party overthrew the Communist-supported government of Gen. Abdel Karim Qassim in a 1960s CIA-backed coup.

Historically, the Communists drew support mainly from impoverished Shiites in the south. In the 1960s their influence spread through rural communities elsewhere and among middle classes in the Sunni-dominated areas.

In the 1970s, party leaders fled to Iraqi Kurdistan, where they formed a militia that fought Saddam Hussein's army alongside Kurdish guerrillas. Meanwhile, they maintained party cells in urban centers, where they existed in deep secrecy to avoid the omnipresent secret police.

Recently, party members were victims of attacks by militants who've regularly targeted Iraqi politicians in a bid to hamper the political process. The party is counting on this long account of resistance and its ability to regroup.

"We are optimistic that our sacrifices will pay off," al-Dujaily said, adding that the party is realistic about its chances.

Cairo-based political analyst Walid Kazziha, however, questioned the chances of the Communists - and secularists in general.

"The state is divided, there's no national state to be loyal to. Loyalty now goes to primary (religious) attachments ... and secularists do not have this cushioning," he said. "They're an idealistic lot in the midst of a sea of sectarianism."

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Created by keza
Last modified 2005-01-09 03:32 AM

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