Iraqi Secular Forces Struggle Against U.S. and Religious Fundamentalists

by Bill Weinberg, New America Media

Eclipsed from the headlines by the ongoing carnage in Iraq, there is an active civil resistance in the country that opposes the occupation, the regime it protects, and the jihadist and Baathist “resistance” alike. This besieged opposition—under threat of repression and assassination—is fighting to keep alive elementary freedoms for women, leading labor struggles against Halliburton and other U.S. contractors, opposing privatization of the country’s oil and resources, and demanding a secular future for Iraq. They note that what they call “political Islam” dominates both sides in the Iraq war—the collaborationist regime and the armed “resistance.”

The Iraqi Freedom Congress (IFC) is a new coalition, founded just a year ago, bringing together labor unions, student groups, women’s rights organizations and neighborhood assemblies. At a Jan. 28-29 [2006] conference in Tokyo, organized by Japanese anti-war activists to support the IFC, the organization’s president Samir Adil spoke of their struggle to maintain a political space for civil society in a country increasingly dominated by utterly ruthless armed actors. “Civilian people are paying the price for the armed resistance, so we believe it is a bad tactic,” he said. “But we are mobilizing the people to protect themselves.”

One of the IFC’s member groups, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), led a successful campaign against a proposed measure for the interim constitution to grant Islamic clerics power to adjudicate in domestic disputes and impose sharia law—which many use to deny divorce and inheritance rights to women. Following a series of public protests by OWFI and other pro-secular groups, in February 2004 Iraq’s Governing Council narrowly voted the measure down. OWFI leader Yanar Mohammed has since been the target of repeated death threats.

Now, OWFI is fighting a similar measure, which has been included in the permanent constitution approved in October 2005. OWFI blames the United States for acceding to this policy, and making common cause with fundamentalists.

Yanar Mohammed argues that far from protecting Iraq from a descent into ethno-religious warfare, the United States has laid the groundwork for exactly that. She wrote in October, as the new constitution was pending: “Since the beginning of the occupation, the U.S. administration has recognized Iraqis according to their ethnic/nationalist and religious identities. This pre-determined polarization of the society around its most reactionary forces has resulted [in] a most lethal weapon, which is a government of division and inequality—a potential time-bomb for a civil war that has already started.”

Because the new order in Iraq is being crafted on these quasi-theocratic lines, and under the auspices of a foreign occupation, the IFC advocates non-collaboration with the “official” political process.

Another member organization is the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI), which opposed the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, and built a strong presence in the ’90s in the Kurdish-controlled autonomous zone of the north. Since the fall of Saddam, it has established a presence in Baghdad, organizing the legions thrown out of work in the chaos that has ensued since the U.S. invasion, and demanding jobs or relief. This effort, the Union of the Unemployed in Iraq, has protested at the gates of the “Green Zone,” the heavily-fortified area of central Baghdad where the U.S. occupation and collaborationist government have set up shop. These marches have resulted in tense stand-offs for control of public space with U.S. troops.

In June 2005, the group U.S. Labor Against the War sponsored representatives of the FWCUI and other independent labor organizations in Iraq on a tour of the United States, meeting with American anti-war and labor groups. At the end of the tour, leaders of the Iraq organizations, together with their U.S. supporters, issued a joint statement expressing unity around demands of workers’ rights and an end to the occupation.

Anti-war forces in the United States must square with the reality that the armed “resistance” in Iraq seeks to exterminate this legitimate civil resistance. The armed insurgent groups are overwhelmingly composed of Sunni fundamentalist factions, with some assistance from Baathist remnants (often posing as Islamists). In the towns they have “liberated” from the occupation, they have declared “Islamic kingdoms” and imposed anti-woman interpretations of sharia even more harsh than those sought by the regime. Shi’ite residents have been forcibly expelled.

The most tragic thing about the polarized media portrayal of Iraq is that the predominantly Shi’ite fundamentalists of the regime and the Sunni jihadi insurgents closely mirror each other. For instance, it is unknowable whether the death threats against Yanar Mohammed come from forces allied to the regime or the insurgents. It is also basically irrelevant. The Worker Communist Party calls U.S. imperialism and Islamist insurgency the “two poles of terrorism” that are destroying Iraq.

At the Tokyo conference, Samir Adil emphasized the IFC’s need for international solidarity: “The U.S. lost in Vietnam not because the U.S. lost soldiers in Vietnam, but because they lost the support of the American people. But we don’t want the American people to just protest to bring the troops home, but to support the secular progressive forces in Iraq, to think about the Iraqi people. We do not want another Taliban regime or Islamic Republic in Iraq.”

—From New America Media, March 2006