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The Iraq elections

category mashriq / arabia / iraq | imperialism / war | feature author Saturday January 29, 2005 22:21author by Andrew - WSM (personal capacity) Report this post to the editors

An analysis of what the elections will mean for Iraq

Its useful to look at the flaws in the election process and then to ask what hope is there for the Iraqi people.

The Iraq elections

Sunday Jan 30 Iraq goes to the polls and gets to choose its own government.

Or so we are told. Probably no one who was opposed to the war actually believes this but its useful to look at the flaws in the election process and then to ask what hope is there for the Iraqi people.

The first obvious flaw, is that the election is taking place while Iraq is occupied by a foreign army. Add to this that the current regime was more or less appointed by that army. And that the process is setup to return a national assembly which will have very little power to do anything itself except draft a new constitution.

International election observers will not actually be in Iraq but in neighboring Jordan - presumably peering over the border with very powerful binoculars. Who is standing is actually a secret as is the location of polling stations. It gets even more bizarre, US soldiers have been passing out candy and election material while on patrol [1]! Presumably this is the sort of thing that UN electoral division chief Carina Perelli meant when she said that "the US military has been I would say overenthusiastic in trying to help with this election".

Earlier this month a scandal quietly erupted when the (US government appointed) Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was revealed to have handed out $100 bills to journalists at a campaign meeting[2]. Some of the opposition parties have been complaining of the lack of media coverage they have received, this might be one explanation.

Even the method of voting is pretty odd. Basically the list of candidates is being kept secret so you vote only for a party/list. There are no constituencies, each party gets a number of candidates elected in proportion to what its (supposed) national vote was. There is a choice of over 90 of these lists and as many are themselves coalitions its not at all clear what, if anything, most stand for.

The lack of constituencies is relevant when you consider that most if not all Sunni Arab votes are liable to boycott the election. If Iraq had been divided up into constituencies this wouldn't matter so much as even a tiny turnout in areas that are predominantly Sunni Arab (i.e. the 'Sunni triangle') would ensure a somewhat proportional number of Sunni's were elected. But without any such constituencies the end result will be an Iraqi national assembly comprised entirely of Shia and (Sunni) Kurds. If what you were aiming for was civil war leading to partition there is an absurd logic to this. But maybe this is too cynical?


Of course the joy of being an anarchist is that even if these elections were to be conducted perfectly we'd still recognize that all they would do is bring to power a gang of politicians who the people would have no power over. So to a certain extent we can stand above the squabbling that is taking place in the anti-war movement in relation to the elections. But the squabble is interesting.

Basically some anti-war commentators, most notably Gilbert Achcar have pointed out that if the elections are conducted fairly the results may be very uncomfortable for the US occupiers. In fact it would be likely to "give way to a Parliament and a government in which Shia Fundamentalist forces, more or less friendly with Iran, are hegemonic"[3]. Given all the noise that the US government has been making in recent days about war with Iran this could be a little awkward for them. But in fact the powers of the national assembly are limited, in particular unless it can get a 2/3 majority, so the US designers of the election have probably already covered themselves against this outcome.

Achcar's suggestion that it might be a mistake to write off the elections in advance greatly annoyed some of the trots involved in the anti-war movement. They tend to quietly have the 'my enemies enemy is my friend' and thus try and silence any criticism of the resistance in the anti-war movement. This rather self-indulgent line is based on hoping that Iraqi workers will defeat imperialism for them and never mind if the process of doing so throws them into the hands of Islamists. After the mass executions of the left that followed the Islamist takeover of the Iranian revolution this sort of self serving 'logic' from the professors of the western left seems and indeed is a little unpleasant and I don't intend to discuss it further.

Both positions do seem to flow from a requirement of 'what would be best for us in the western left'. They ask 'Would it be better if Iraqis militarily defeat US imperialism for us or would it be better if they defeat it through the ballot box'. Given the suffering our governments have already imposed on the people of Iraq this seems like a very odd way of approaching the question of the Iraqi elections.

Another approach - an internationalist approach - would be to ask what is in the interest of the ordinary Iraqi people and what can we do to show solidarity with them. When you ask that question the choice offered above between a Shia dominated Islamist regime or a Sunni dominated Islamist regime doesn't seem to have so much to offer. Already huge numbers of women are now forced to wear the veil in Iraq. Over 1,000 Iraqi women have abandoned their university studies. Hinadi, the star dancer of the group 'el-Portoqala' was killed by Islamists while visiting her family. Apparently "el-Portoqala sings modern songs, which outraged some Islamists who said the songs were pornographic, liberal and 'alien to conservative Iraqi society'. In reality the songs merely showed women dancing and posing as lovers"[4].


If you rely on the mainstream media and the left then Iraq seems to be without hope. The choice it appears is only between US imperialism and Islamist reaction. In fact Iraqi workers have not been sitting by since the occupation - there have been many militant workers struggles in Iraq, it is just nobody bothers to report on them because they don't fit into the predefined conceptions of the struggle.

There have been rumors and some reports of anarchists active in Iraq but it seems that such forces are not yet significant. However there are other progressive forces who have managed to get news of their activities onto the web. They are also calling for a boycott. In particular the Worker - Communist Party of Iraq declares that "The Election is a Puppet Show to Legitimatize the U.S Policy in Iraq.[5]" They see the intention of the US in this election to be "to impose a reactionary Islamic and ethnocentric puppet government.[6]" The WCPI are an interesting neo-Leninist group which broke with orthodox communism out of their experiences in the workers councils thrown up in the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the uprisings that followed the 1991 Iraq war. The conclusions they came to are in some ways similar to that of the Dutch and German Council Communists of the 1920's. Naturally enough this experience also left them with a healthy hostility towards the Islamist program. They warn that "Iraq has become a battlefield for a war between American and Islamic terrorism and the Iraqi masses are constant victims caught amid the fire between both these terrorist forces".

They have a fairly comprehensive English language website (at ), which includes regular PDF newsletters detailing the struggles they are involved in. There is an obvious enormous gulf between anarchists and Leninists but if we leave that aside for this article the WCPI offer a real breath of fresh air in much of the debate around Iraq. Their real efforts to build union and women's organizations in Iraq offer at least an alternative that can be built on.

Their recent document "Worker-communism and the Armed Struggle in Iraq:guerrilla war or mass armed resistance?"[7] is well worth reading as it tries to sketch out an alternative path to ending the occupation. This acknowledges a need for armed resistance but seeks to "avoid the traditional guerrilla-style of armed resistance" substituting one which "focuses on mobilizing and leading the population to reclaim various suburbs, villages, towns and cities and bans both US forces and Islamo-ethnocentric militia from entry". Significantly for anarchists one of the reasons they give for this alternative form of resistance is that "It encourages the population to intervene in running their own affairs. It will embroil the masses in a process, which will raise their awareness."


It has become clear that the occupation in Iraq is not likely to be a short term event but something that is intended to go on for years and even decades. The US military machine is deeply entrenched both in Iraq and in the Whitehouse. Ending the occupation will not come about as a result of a march, no matter how big or any other single event.

We need to view the war in Iraq not as a distant event but as part of our own backyard. The fight of Iraqi workers for justice is part of our own fight for justice. And just as we would refuse to accept a struggle led by those who seek only to be an alternative oppressor we should not demand that Iraqi workers switch one oppressor for another.

The election this Sunday will change nothing for the better, even if those it brings to power are somewhat hostile to the US occupation. What we need to be doing is to look for and reach out to whatever progressive forces are struggling in Iraq and show solidarity with these. At the end of the day our fight for freedom is a global fight - or it is no fight at all.

1) A picture of them in action is at 2) Reported at 3) See 4) 5) See for instance the text of their leaflet announcing demonstrations in England 6) 7) Online at

author by Michael Schmidtpublication date Tue Mar 29, 2005 23:18author address author phone Report this post to the editors

comrades the piece by andrew flood needs to be expanded on in three ways:

1) "After the mass executions of the left that followed the Islamist takeover of the Iranian revolution..." ** The course of the Iranian Revolution, was briefly charted in the "Zabalaza" article "Religious Fundamentalist Regimes: A Lesson from the Iranian Revolution 1978-1979" online at:

In August 1977, 50 000 poor slum-dwellers successfully resisted their forced removal by police, then in December, police massacred 40 religious protestors and the resentment boiled over into open anger. Strikes and sabotage were on the rise while wages dropped due to an economic downturn. The shah imposed martial law and on "Black Friday", September 8, 1978, troops gunned down thousands of protestors. In response, infuriated workers launched a strike-wave that spread across the country like wildfire. Oil workers struck for 33 days straight, bringing the economy to a dead halt, despite fruitless attempts to send troops into the oilfields. On December 11, 2-million protestors marched in the capital, Tehran, demanding the ousting of the shah, an end to American imperialism and the arming of the people. Soldiers began to desert. On January 16, 1979, the shah fled to Egypt. In mid-February, there was an insurrection, with air force cadets joining with guerrilla forces - the leftist Organisation of Iranian Peoples' Fedai Guerrillas, or Fedayeen, and the nationalist Mujahedeen - in over-running the military academy, army bases, the parliament, factories, armouries and the TV station. The Pahlavi regime collapsed and Khomeini, who had returned from exile, cobbled together a multi-party provisional government, but the people wanted more.

Women's organisations flourished, peasants started seizing the land and in some places, established communal cultivation councils, strikes were rampant and workers seized control of their workplaces, arranging raw materials, sourcing and sales themselves, even setting prices in the oil industry. A system of grassroots soviets - called "shoras" in Iranian and based on the old factory council idea - sprang up in fields, factories, neighbourhoods, educational institutions and the armed forces. Armed neighbourhood committees - called "komitehs" - based on the old Muslim scholar networks - patrolled residential areas, arrested collaborators, ran people's courts and prisons, and organized demonstrations. It was a true workers' revolution with secular revolutionaries and Muslim workers overthrowing the capitalist state side by side. A May Day march in Tehran drew 1,5-million demonstrators.

The former headquarters of the secret police-controlled official trade union federation was occupied by the unemployed and renamed the Workers' House. The new workerist federation, that replaced the old state one, the All-Iran Workers' Union, declared that its aim was an Iran "free of class oppression" and called for shoras to be "formed by the workers of each factory for their own political and economic needs". But the religious fundamentalist clerics lead by Khomeini were terrified of the power of the working class and haunted by the spectre of the imminent collapse of Iranian capitalism. If it collapsed, they could not reconstitute themselves as the ruling elite in place of the shah and there would be no profits for them to steal from the workers. Three days after the insurrection, the provisional government ordered workers back to work, but the strike, shora and komiteh movements just spread.

A month later, the government declared the shoras to be "counter-revolutionary", claiming that their minority bourgeois regime was "the genuine Islamic Revolution". Still the shoras spread, so the regime introduced a law aimed at undermining worker self-management by banning shora involvement in management affairs - while at the same time trying to force class collaboration by insisting that management must be allowed to participate in the shoras. The shora movement peaked in July but then the government offensive, combined with the inexperience of the left, began to take its toll. The National Front, Masses, Fedayeen and both the leftist and Muslim wings of the Mujahedeen all backed the provisional government mistakenly believing that an Iranian clerical-dominated bourgeoisie was better than the imperialist-backed Pahlavi dynasty.

Khomeini founded the fundamentalist Iranian Republican Party (IRP) to squeeze opposition parties out of the provisional government and at the same time established the Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran), a political police force to marginalise the secular left within the komitehs which it wanted to mobilise as a supporter bloc. The Pasdaran were soon forcibly liquidating shoras, purging komitehs and repressing ethnic Kurdish separatists and women's organisations, while the Party of God (Hezbollah) was created as a strike-breaking force of thugs. The IRP also created a public works project to divert the energies of the most militant shoras - replacing them with fundamentalist shoras and Islamic Societies - and to rebuild the exploitative capitalist economy (all the while spouting populist and anti-capitalist slogans in the manner of all fascist dictatorships). The true workers' revolution was destroyed and for the Iranian working class, whether secular or Muslim, a long night of living under a new autocratic regime had begun.

The fundamentalist clerical regime had not set them free: it had only produced new forms of capitalist exploitation and police state repression. The lesson of Iran is a basic anarchist one: workers can never trust groups, religious or not, who chant the right revolutionary slogans but whose real aim is class rule.

2) "There have been rumors and some reports of anarchists active in Iraq but it seems that such forces are not yet significant." ** The Iraqi workers' movement arose only in the 1920s and 1930s because of the late development of an industrial proletariat centred on the oil industry and was initially dominated by the Communist Party of Iraq (HCI). The HCI suffered massacres at the hands of the ruling Ba'athist Party in the 1960s, but in 1973, the two parties' leaderships struck a pact. This enraged the HCI youth, about 300 of which broke away from the party in 1976 to form the anarcho-communist Shagila group. Shagila's primary activities were running an underground press and the assassination of Ba'athist security police goons. When the Iranian Revolution broke out, many Shagila militants crossed into Iran illegally to support their sister anarcho-communist organisation there, The Scream of the People, and the shorah and komiteh movement. But both Shagila and The Scream of the People were caught up in the Khomeinist massacres of the Left which were unleashed in 1979 and only a handful escaped into exile with their lives. Those who remained behind, alive, buried their weapons and printing presses. It is believed that a "second-generation" of Shagila militants may be involved in the current uprising, but we have no confirmation of this. - Source: a Shagila veteran in exile who cannot be named for security reasons.

3) "However there are other progressive forces who have managed to get news of their activities onto the web." ** One of the most significant progressive forces to emerge in Iraq in recent years is the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions of Iraq (FWCUI), formed in December 2003, and its affiliate, the Unemployed Union of Iraq (UUI), which have spread like wildfire to most main urban centres in Iraq. The FWCUI states that its aim is to form "labour organisations that the workers elect by themselves, without the guardianship or domination from any authority, whether government or party." Its constitution expands on this theme, saying its aim is to "establish councils and directly elected labour unions inside the factories, workshops and enterprises by the workers themselves." It has taken a distinctly anti-chauvanist line, embracing all workers in the territory of Iraq whatever their ethnic origin, nationality, religion, gender or creed. It fights for bread-and-butter issues, but has also demanded unlimited political freedom and the right to strike and industrial action. Most crucially, its constitution states that the "General Conference [of worker delegates] is the highest authority in the federation and is called for assembly every six months" and that the "leading committee" of the federation, elected in secret ballot by the General Conference, is not an executive body but is merely a delegated body, strictly limited to abide "by all resolutions and recommendations of the conference and work for their implementation." This committee can in turn appoint "specialised committees" to deal with certain tasks, but these organs are merely "consultative" and have "limited validities". In other words what we have here is a directly-democratic grassroots syndicalist organisation that is not organised according to the usual top-down "democratic centralist" model in which the union executive controls the membership. Here, the control is exercised the other way around, making a good argument for the FWCUI to be included by anarchist analysts among the rising number of "alternative syndicalist" unions in countries as diverse as Mexico and Switzerland, with whom the resurgent revolutionary anarchist, revolutionary syndicalist and anarcho-syndicalist movements have much in common. - Source:

red & black regards - Michael Schmidt (ZACF International Secretary, southern Africa)

ZACF: For an Internationalist Social Revolution by a Front of Oppressed Classes!

author by Michael Schmidtpublication date Thu Mar 31, 2005 19:54author address author phone Report this post to the editors

it has been pointed out to me by one of my sharper-minded friends that my
definition of the federation of workers councils and unions of iraq (fwcui)
as belonging to the "alternative syndicalist" current may confuse matters.
despite the currency of the term in europe, it was felt that the term
"syndicalism" should be reserved for specifically anarchist or
anarchist-influenced (anarcho-syndicalist & revolutionary syndicalist)
unions. the fwcui, for all its rank-and-file structure and internal
democracy, has no openly-stated revolutionary goals, so it is perhaps best
described as "alternative unionist" or "grassroots unionist". please
forgive my error and pass this correction on to wherever you may have
forwarded my post. a corrected text can be found on the "zabalaza forum"
link on our website (address below).

red & black regards
- michael schmidt (zacf international secretary)

author by Manuel - A Batalhapublication date Mon Apr 11, 2005 05:07author email manuelbap at yahoo dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think that the distinction between 'syndicalism' and 'unionism' is non existant in latin countries: there is no other expression than 'syndicalism'.
Therefore one says "alternative syndicalism/unionism" (sindicalismo alternativo) as a large concept, that can include a variety of grass-roots organisations/tendencies and not just the anarcho-syndicalist or revolutionary syndicalist ones.

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