INTERVIEW: SAMIR ADIL
President of the Iraqi Freedom Congress
by Bill Weinberg
Samir Adil is president of the Iraqi Freedom Congress (IFC), a new initiative to build a democratic, secular and progressive alternative to both the US occupation and political Islam in Iraq. Adil, who fled Iraq in 1995 after being tortured in Saddam's prisons, returned after the US invasion to help build a secular resistance movement. He recently traveled to the US in a tour of several cities organized by the American Friends Service Committee, in which he met with numerous anti-war organizations and attended the Labor Notes Conference in Detroit. On the night of May 9, after a presentation at the Paulist Center in Boston, Samir Adil spoke by telephone with WW4 REPORT editor Bill Weinberg over the airwaves of New York's WBAI Radio.
BW: Samir, what kind of reception have you been getting on your tour?
SA: Well, I came to United States because, as you know, the one picture that's left in the media, the corporate media, is just the fighting—the American occupation and the political Islamist groups or the nationalist groups. But the other perspective in Iraq—I mean the secular movement—nobody mentions it. Nobody mentions the workers' movement, the student movement, the women's movement. All of them now joined under one umbrella called the Iraqi Freedom Congress, the IFC, which I am a representative of. But the people [in the US] haven't any information about this secular movement.
There is one slogan raised by the anti-war movement: end the occupation. But what is the future of Iraq after the occupation? What do we want? There is a no answer of this question. So this is a great chance to hold presentations and speeches in different cities in the United States.
I met really great people and they told me, "We didn't know about anything about a secular movement in Iraq." Not just the secular movement in Iraq but in all the Middle East, too. And I told them, your enemy and our enemy is one, the anti-human enemy: This is what happened on September 11 in New York and Washington, and the same is happening today in Iraq. Innocent people in Washington and New York paid the price, and other innocent people are paying the price now in Iraq. The enemy is the American administration's policies and the political Islamism policy, and we have to work together to build this front from Washington to Baghdad to end all of these inhuman policies. We believe without this international movement, especially in the United States, we can't defeat these inhuman policies and establish a secular and non-nationalist government.
BW: Well, what makes this position problematic for a lot of people in the United States, I think, is the perception—which of course both Bush and the jihadists have done their best to cultivate—that they oppose each other, and that you have to be on one side or the other. Whereas you take a position that rejects both of them as representing an "inhuman" policy, as you put it.
SA: Well, unfortunately, the anti-war movement just focuses on the crimes of the occupation. Iraqi society has been suffering from the occupation and from the crimes of the political Islamists and nationalist groups, but the anti-war movement has just one slogan: end the occupation. But today when I am talking about our perspective, our alternative, we get a positive response from the people. I think most of the people in the United States [until now] didn't face the question about Iraq after the occupation, because the American administration has a campaign of propaganda. They say, "Our forces must stay in Iraq to prevent sectarian war, and there is no alternative for the Iraqi society."
This is a kind of hypocrisy, because everybody knows the occupation's policy created this sectarian war, created the situation. They created it by imposing ethnic and nationalist divisions on Iraqi society. And when the people in the United States get the word that there is a secular movement for a democratic society in Iraq, that can rebuild civil society, can bring stability and security and build a brighter future for Iraqi people, build a secular government like in the West—then the American people can join us in this human movement. And we can defeat these policies.
BW: Well, you blame the Bush administration for bringing about the situation of ethnic and sectarian conflict. But I would imagine that even the most hubristic of the neo-cons who literally wanted to divide Iraq up and to Balkanize it into separate mini-states—I would say that the situation is out of their hands at this point, and what's happening in Iraq now is beyond even what they wanted.
SA: Well, after three years of occupation, we have five million Iraqi people below the poverty level. That is the last report from the United Nations and human rights organizations...
BW: As opposed to how many before the occupation?
SA: Before, we had the sanctions, but the figure did not exceed two million people. Now after three years of occupation, it has increased to five million people. After three years of occupation, now the young people, between 20 to 25, are going to sell their kidney for between 900 to 1,200 US dollars.
BW: Sell their…?
SA: Sell their kidney.
BW: Sell their organs.
SA: Yes, sell their organs. After three years of occupation, if you visit Baghdad, or any city in Iraq, you see a mountain of garbage. Three years of occupation and there is no electricity in many districts in Baghdad, and summer is coming, and the temperature is going up to 50 or 55 Celsius,. After three years of occupation, the number of women selling their bodies to feed their children is increasing day by day. And after the three years of occupation, the Iraqi people are starting to say, "We don't want freedom, we don't want prosperity, even if we have to live by bread and water—but we want security. We want our lives, to survive."
Iraqi society is like a jungle. I swear to you, the Amazon jungle is better than Iraqi society. You can kill anyone, in the front of the police, for 100 US dollars. In just one day in the Ashab area, they killed 14 men, just because their name is Omar, which is a Sunni name. Those people didn't do anything, just their name was Omar. In Basra, in two days they killed 76 men, women and children, just because they are Sunni. In another part, they kill anyone named Haider or Ali, which are Shi'a names. This is the situation in Iraq. The forces of the interior ministry—they're attacking places like al-Adamiyya, which they describe as a Sunni area, right in front of American forces... And the people in al-Adamiyya are arming in self-defense and fighting with the police. This is the situation, this is the reality in Iraq.
BW: Where is this taking place?
SA: Al-Adamiyya. An area in the middle of Baghdad. Just two or three days ago, armed groups attacked the hospitals in Baghdad and Basra, killed all of the doctors and the nurses and all of the sick people. This is the situation in Iraq. And now on American [TV] stations they are saying "We must stay in Iraq to prevent sectarian war..." Two years ago, this sectarian war had already started! But they didn't mention it. Two years ago, they established the organization "To Kill Kurdish People." That is the name of an organization, announced in a public statement—To Kill Kurdish People! And hundreds of people have been killed because they are speaking the Kurdish language, not Arabic language...
One year ago, the Zarqawi organization began putting up checkpoints on the road north from Baghdad, just 100 kilometers, and they stop the car and ask for the ID. If the ID is Sunni, they can go ahead—if the ID is Shi'a, they cut off his head and throw the body [by the roadside]. And this checkpoint was there for many months, not far from an American base, just a few kilometers--but because those groups didn't attack Americans, the Americans didn't get involved in this situation. This is happening every day, and day-by-day it is going worse and worse and worse.
And everybody knows this situation was created by the occupation. Before the war, when they held the London confidence, the American and the British governments brought all of the ethnic and sectarian parties and charted the new division of Iraq's society—you are a representative of the Shi'a, you are a representative of the Sunni, you are a representative of the Kurdish. And after the occupation they established an ethnic-based government council, and gave legitimacy to this division by the new constitution. Before the last election, we asked that people don't participate, because this election would only deepen the ethnic conflict; they only take your fingerprints to give legitimacy to all of the crimes committed by the occupation, and to the division, the nationalist conflict. And five months after the election, you can see, there is no government. Before there was no government, too—just in the Green Zone. But now we have a jungle society, and the people are organizing for self-defense, because nobody takes care about them. Every day in Baghdad people are killed because of their ethnic identity, killed by suicide bombings, and all the neighborhoods and workplaces and marketplaces are turned into a battlefield. This is the situation in Iraq. And more than one million have escaped from Iraq to Iran, to Syria, to Turkey, looking for security.
BW: Refugees, you mean? Really, a million?
SA: Yeah, one million, perhaps more. There are 250,000 just in Syria.
BW: Well, there's very little awareness of this. They're not, presumably, in camps like traditional refugees as we think of them, so they're sort of invisible...
BW: Are you able to travel freely around Iraq?
SA: No, no, I always have a bodyguard with me, and it is not easy. Because I have criticized the political Islamists, the nationalists and their crimes. There is a fatwa from the Sadrist group, for more than one year now, to assassinate me. The leaders of our organization always travel with bodyguards, and the reason is our agenda and our slogan and our perspective.
BW: Tell us about the activities of the Iraqi Freedom Congress and some of the member organizations.
SA: Especially last month, after February 22—I think everybody heard about the explosion of the Shi'a holy places—after that date, all of the leaders of the parties that are pro-America escaped from the cities and went to the Green Zone. Only the leaders of our organization, the IFC, have stayed in the cities to mobilize people. We issued a statement that met with a wide response: "No Sunni, no Shi'a, we believe in human identity." Ordinary people distributed hundreds of thousands of copies in the streets.
And in many places, we work to prevent ethnic cleansing. We are working in areas like Husseinia in Baghdad, holding meetings where the people announced, under the IFC banner—"Everybody can live in this area, nobody has the right to ask you if you are Sunni or Shi'a or Kurdish, or Christian or Muslim. Everybody can believe anything they want, this is a personal thing, and anybody can believe any religion, or be atheist." We are also working in Kirkuk and Basra and Nasiriyah. We are starting to establish a presence in Karbala and Najaf, the holy places of the Shi'a. We are working with doctors to establish volunteer clinics in these areas. Because the aim of the IFC is to rebuild civil society. We are organizing people to collect the garbage, all the civil services...
In Basra we just held a meeting with the union leaders. As you know, 40 percent of the leadership of the IFC are union leaders. Maybe you read my open letter to the oil union leaders who joined IFC last month. You can go to our website and see my open letter, sending my congratulations to them because they joined IFC...
BW: Which union is this?
SA: The oil workers union in the south of Iraq. This will bring our movement many steps forward. Because we are the civil resistance, and we are preparing a general strike in the oil sector to confront the occupation policy, and halt this ethnic cleansing in the different cities of Iraq.
BW: So you're doing both community work, attempting to establish these secular autonomous zones in the cities, and also working with organized labor, particularly in the oil industry. And then student groups are also involved, I believe...
SA: Yeah. Just last year, there was a student uprising against the Sadrists and all of the Islamist groups at Basra University. And now the students' organization grows more strong day by day. At Baghdad University and other universities many students are joining the IFC—individually or through their student union. We believe students and the youth can be a big force against the occupation and against the sectarian war.
BW: Well I'm sure that you saw today's news. Quite ironically, they did manage to form a government, they agreed on a new prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and I suppose they wanted to put a very optimistic spin on it—and that same day there was a horrific suicide bombing in Tal Afar in the north, 17 civilians blown up at a marketplace. So the IFC is taking a position of not collaborating with the actual government in Iraq. What exactly are your reasons for this position of non-collaboration?
SA: There is no difference between al-Maliki or al-Jaafari. Al-Maliki was the vice deputy of [outgoing prime minister Ibrahim] al-Jaafari, and led efforts to eliminate Sunnis. You can't imagine anything is going to change. The same characters—[President Jalal] Talabani, the representative of the Kurdish nationalist party, or [Vice President Tareq] al-Hashemi representing the Sunnis. As long as the government is an ethnic and nationalist government, every part of this government will be looking for its interest, not the people's interest. I can give you one example. You know, last year at the funeral of King Fahd there was a big argument between al-Jaafari and Talabani and [then-Vice President Ghazi] al-Yawar on who was to go to Saudi Arabia and represent Iraq. And in the end, nobody could accept the other and there were three separate delegations...
There will be no security, no stability, without ending the occupation, and without establishing a secular government, a non-nationalist government...
BW: Maliki was involved in paramilitary activities, you say?
SA: Yeah, yeah, he led a committee to eliminate the Sunni people from the society, especially those who supported the Saddam regime.
BW: But his Dawa party is portrayed as a more moderate Shi'ite element, compared to the Sadr and Badr militias...
SA: Yes, al-Maliki and al-Jafari are from the Dawa. But they gave the Ministry of Interior to the Badr group.
BW: That's right...
SA: So Dawa created this ethnic cleansing in the different cities in Iraq.
BW: But this extremely sinister-sounding committee to eliminate the Sunnis was linked to the Dawa party, or...
SA: Yeah, the Dawa party. It is an official committee.
BW: I would imagine it would have to be clandestine. So you're saying all the Shi'ite parties were complicit in the attacks on Sunnis...
BW: Maybe you could tell us a little bit about yourself, Samir. What's your personal story?
SA: I was born in Baghdad in 1964. After I graduated from the university I began working underground to oppose the Saddam regime. I was captured in 1992. I was in the prison for six months, and after an international campaign to release me, I stayed in Iraq for one more year. I didn't want to leave Iraq. But Saddam's regime asked me many times to work with them, and I refused, and I knew they were planning to capture me again. It was then that I escaped from Iraq.
BW: What activities resulted in your being imprisoned?
SA: We established a Marxist organization and we were working underground with the workers at that time, planning for the workers to get their own union. But Saddam's government, through informants, captured us and six months we stayed in the jail. And because I was one of the founders of the organization, I was for 25 days under torture.
BW: My goodness. What was the name of the organization?
SA: In English, it would be the League for the Liberation of the Working Class.
BW: That was one of the precursor groups to the Worker-Communist Party?
SA: Yes. The Worker-Communist Party would be established July 21, 1993.
BW: So you were trying to organize an independent labor movement.
BW: And for this you were arrested and tortured?
SA: Yes. You know, in Iraq at that time, anybody who worked outside the Ba'ath party—this meant you are against the party, and this was illegal. But our friends in the Canadian Labor Congress sent off a letter to Saddam asking that he release us—me and six others I was arrested with. After that campaign, they released us—but then every week I had to go to the main intelligence office in Baghdad. They asked me to work with them, I refused many times, and when I felt they were planning to capture me again, I escaped to the north of Iraq, outside of the control of the government.
BW: The Kurdish zone.
SA: Yeah. I stayed three years and then I escaped by an illegal way to Turkey. And I stayed in Turkey for two years, and then with the help of the UNHCR I left to Canada. I arrived in Canada on July 5, 1995.
BW: So, when you were in prison—did you even come before a judge? Were you ever formally charged with a crime?
SA: No, I was held without charge.
BW: So it was extra-judicial, so to speak. And for three weeks you were under torture and very harsh conditions.
SA: Yeah, for 25 days I was under the torture. I still have a problem with my left side, and with my hearing…
BW: You first got into contact with the Worker-Communist Party when you arrived in the Kurdish zone, in the north?
SA: Yeah, in the Kurdish zone.
BW: Can you tell us something about the Worker-Communist Party and what it believes?
SA: There are two communist parties in Iraq. One is the Communist Party of Iraq, which was with the Soviet Union, and is now part of the American process in Iraq and part of the government. But the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq is different from this kind of communism. The Worker-Communist Party of Iraq has criticized the Soviet Union, China, Albania, Cuba; they said that the Soviet Union and China are not socialism, it's a capitalist state. And the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq was positioned against the sanctions, against the wars—the Second Gulf War  and Third Gulf War . And we are now positioned against the American-led process in Iraq and the occupation and political Islam. And the Iraqi Freedom Congress is a project of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq to save Iraq society from this abyss.
BW: What's exactly the relationship between the Iraqi Freedom Congress and Worker-Communist Party of Iraq?
SA: As I said, Iraqi Freedom Congress began as a project of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq. But now, after one year of this project, the Worker-Communist Party is just a member, like any party or organization. And our manifesto calls for every organization and every party to be a member of IFC if their manifesto does not have a contradiction with the Freedom Congress. For example, no Islamist party could be a member of the Iraqi Freedom Congress, because we have in our manifesto full equality between men and women. This is a contradiction with all of the agendas of the Islamist parties. After one year, there are many members, some more nationalist, some more Islamic. And Worker-Communist Party of Iraq has a right to build its faction and work to bring the policy of the IFC to the left. And the nationalist faction can work to push the policy of the IFC to the right. Yes, I am a member of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq, but as leader of the Iraqi Freedom Congress, my duty is now to make a balance between right and the left in IFC.
BW: What groups would constitute the right of the IFC?
SA: If you look at the leadership of the Iraqi Freedom Congress, there are many people who are Muslims, who believe in Islam and pray, but also believe in the agenda of the IFC to establish a secular government. We also we have a Christian; and we have Communists and atheists. But all of the leadership believe in human identity, non-religious government, non-nationalist government, one Iraqi society with one identity—human identity.
BW: So the leadership is not entirely constituted by followers of the Worker-Communist Party, then?
SA: No, no. The Worker-Communist Party has a minority in the leadership, not a majority. The majority are independent people.
BW: And you returned to Iraq from Canada, to organize the IFC.
SA: Yes, in December 2005.
BW: Bringing the conversation back to where we began it: You say there's a reluctance among activists in the United States to address the question of what happens after the occupation—that we see our responsibility ends with merely calling for bringing the troops home. And I think part of the reason for that is that Bush used this propaganda that we're going to "liberate Iraq," it was "Operation Iraqi Freedom." So I think there is some legitimate wariness on the part of anti-war activists to the notion that it's any of our business to "liberate" Iraq. And there's a failure to draw a distinction between intervention to "liberate Iraq" (quote-unquote) and solidarity—trying to actually provide some human solidarity to the forces in Iraq that are trying to liberate their own country. You follow me? So this raises the question of what's the best way to pose the issue so that people understand...
SA: Well, today I had an interview with the Boston Globe newspaper and they asked me the same question: if American forces go out, won't there be chaos in Iraq? I said, "It is not chaos now?" It is chaos now. When you can be killed for 100 US dollars, this is not chaos? When people are killed just because of their [religious or ethnic] identity, this is not chaos? This is US propaganda. They ask me again, "You are against the political Islamist groups? If American forces were out of Iraq, then political Islam will get power." I said, "Who brought political Islam in Iraq? Not the American forces, not the American occupation? Who put political Islam in power, who gave legitimacy to the Islamic constitution, who brought this order in which women and Sunni and Christians are second-class citizens?" If you go to the south of Iraq, controlled by the Shi'a militia, if you go to a government building in Basra, you see a big picture of Khamenei, the cleric of Iran. Music prohibited. Alcohol prohibited. Men and women doctors separated in the hospital. Jeans prohibited in Najaf. And if you go to the west of Iraq, the areas controlled by the Sunni militia, chewing gum prohibited...
BW: Chewing gum?
SA: Yeah, chewing gum prohibited.
BW: Why chewing gum?
SA: I don't know why chewing gum prohibited, this is the rule of the Taliban, al-Zarqawi—the Sunnist group. And also, imposing the cover, the hejab, on women. And men must wear their beard a certain way. I don't know if you remember my beard, but I have a short Western-style beard...
BW: You have sort of a goatee, as I recall it.
SA: Yes, and if they catch you shaving like that they will shave you with a stone and cut your head! This is going on every day in Ramadi. And they say if Americans go out, then political Islam gets power! Political Islam has power now! And the American administration has brought all these armed gangs to our society! If the American occupation leaves, first thing, we end the justification of the political Islamist groups to attack innocent people. When we end the occupation, they cannot justify their crimes. We can face all of these gangs. There is another perspective, another movement, that can rebuild society, that can establish security and stability, can establish a secular government. After 10 days in the United States, I believe if we show the American people this perspective, this alternative, we can stand together against the American administration and the propaganda of George Bush.
BW: Well, one response which I frequently get when I tell people about the existence of a civil resistance in Iraq, is: "Well, it's a very nice idea, they're very idealistic, but they're doomed. And they have no chance to bring about any kind of change for the better because the ethnic and religious extremists are the people who have the power and have the guns."
SA: Well, first thing. Till now, you know, the history of Iraqi society is a civilized one. And all of the crimes are happening by the sectarian parties, not by the ordinary people, and there is a very strong resistance against the ethnic conflict. But this is not a guarantee. I must tell you frankly, if a movement like IFC is not involved in this situation, Iraqi society could fall into a sectarian war and be like Kosovo and Rwanda and Lebanon. And we are facing a financial problem. All of the sectarian groups are supported by Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia. But our movement doesn't get any support—only from the international human movement, from the anti-war movement.
You ask me, how to face the ethnic cleansing without the gun? I would like to tell you, every single house in Iraq has three guns and four guns. But if IFC were to mobilize these people to use their guns, [it will be] to prevent sectarian war, not to go to kill his neighbor because he is Shi'a or Sunna. We can defeat this ethnic cleansing. And now we have experience, organizing in many areas in Iraq, especially Baghdad and Kirkuk. We can organize and educate and mobilize people to never use those guns against their neighbor, never use them to kill innocent people because of their identity, only use them for self-defense. This is what we are doing in Iraq now.
BW: You acknowledge that there is at least a possibility that if the US leaves, things could continue to get worse?
SA: You know, if the American forces stay in Iraq, the situation is only going worse and worse...
BW: Right. I'm not making an argument for the US forces staying, but I think it's important to recognize that at this point the situation is so bad, it could continue to deteriorate regardless of whether the US stays or the US goes. And I think activists in the United States—speaking as one—need to realize that our government's actions created this ghastly situation and therefore our responsibilities to the Iraqi people do not end when the US occupation troops leave.
SA: This is I want to tell you. This is what pushed me to come to the United States. Our movement can prevent the sectarian war, can end the catastrophic situation, but we need support from the United States people; we need support from the West—all of the movements, the human movements, progressive movements in the world. We can do this; this is our job. We have a clear agenda, we have a clear program, and the people join us day-by-day, thousands of people. But we don't have financial support, unfortunately, and we don't have the moral support, unfortunately, from progressives outside Iraq. Nobody has heard until now that there is a secular movement in Iraq, a libertarian movement in Iraq. We want to tell the people of the United States there are people in Iraq thinking like them, thinking of a better life, thinking to build a democratic society, to give a human identity to this society. And they can trust this movement, we can do it if the occupation leaves of Iraq. Because, I say again, without the occupation, these sectarian gangs couldn't continue their behavior. Because their justification would be gone.
BW: I understand it's your special dream to establish a satellite television station, which would be a voice for secular progressive forces not only in Iraq but throughout the region.
BW: And our friends in the Movement for Democratic Socialism in Japan have already started to raise money for this project.
SA: As you know—you participated in the international conference in solidarity with the IFC in Tokyo on January 28 to 29--a resolution was passed there to support this project, and our Japanese friends are working hard to achieve this. And I think we are going to open our satellite TV maybe in July or August...
BW: That soon? Of this year? Why, that's a month and a half away!
SA: We got a very positive response from them and they told me just two days ago they want me to visit them in Japan after I finish my tour of the United States to have a meeting and arrange everything. We believe our movement is about to advance many steps forward. Because just as the people of the United States are victims of the media, victims of Fox News, so people in the Middle East are victims of al-Jazeera. But if we get this Iraqi Freedom Congress satellite TV, we can mobilize people. People in Iraq are waiting to hear another voice, a new voice, a human voice. Unfortunately, we have 12 satellite TV stations in Iraq, and they are all nationalist and ethnic TV, every day educating the people how to hate your neighbors because they are Sunni or Shi'a; how to hate your sister because she's woman; how to educate your children to become suicide bombers. This is Iraqi satellite TV. If we get on satellite TV, there will a big change in our movement and our society.
BW: Samir Adil of the Iraqi Freedom Congress, I hope that the rest of your tour in the United States is very productive, and best of luck back in Iraq. And please, do stay in touch with us.
SA: Thank you very much.
Transcription by Melissa Jameson
Iraqi Freedom Congress (IFC)
Letter from Samir Adil to the Leaders of the Southern Oil Trade Unions
IFC statement to US anti-war forces
AFSC page on Samir Adil's US tour
"HOUZAN MAHMOUD INTERVIEW:
The Iraqi Freedom Congress and the Civil Resistance,"
WW4 REPORT #120, April 2006
"Iraqi civil resistance leader confronts Richard Perle," May 15
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, June 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution