A World to Win News Service

The Empire's New Government in Iraq

Revolutionary Worker #1275, April 24, 2005, posted at rwor.org

The following is from A World to Win News Service.

April 11, 2005. A World to Win News Service. Remember the elections last January that were supposed to bring about a "new day" for the U.S. in Iraq? Once again, the world's mightiest empire has not been able to achieve its desired results. The occupier's elections did not produce a stable government on which the U.S. can rely. And they have not brought about the collapse of armed resistance against the occupation, or even anything that can be identified at this time as a decisive change in the military situation.

The more than two months of political dogfights necessary before agreement could be reached on dividing up the main government posts speak volumes about the regime's narrow base—as an alliance of U.S. puppets and thieves— and the likelihood that this infighting will be a permanent feature. Named so far have been a president, two vice presidents, a prime minister and two vice prime ministers, and a speaker of the assembly and two vice speakers, all encompassing the worst of Iraqi society. The post of vice premier has no legal basis of existence and was invented on the spot to round out the completion of this alliance of gangsters. The selection of a cabinet, the final step in forming a government, will be no less contentious.

The occupiers bound the new regime ahead of time by a Transitional Administrative Law, a set of rules designed to make sure that the elected politicians do not violate U.S. interests. One of the TAL's provisions is that the government must be chosen by a two-thirds vote of the Assembly, instead of a majority, in order to strengthen the hand of the Kurdish parties, who are the most openly favorable to the U.S. occupation, in their negotiations with the Shia parties, whose victory was certain the moment the elections were scheduled. (The TAL also requires a three-quarters majority to change any of the basic rules, so that in practical terms the American dictates are set in stone.)

It took long and heated squabbling before these parties could come even to a preliminary agreement about how to divide the spoils. Never was any real consideration given to the wishes of the people these politicians supposedly represent. The main negotiations were conducted behind the scenes in secret, and even the supposedly public sittings of the Assembly were closed to visitors and the press. Fittingly enough, as they were deliberating, reality did break in on them, in the form of mortars falling on the American-run Green Zone, where the puppet government hides out.

The leaders of the Assembly and the new government were chosen in reverse order of importance, the least important first. The well-publicized disputes between these criminals about "reaching out" to a Sunni population that overwhelmingly boycotted the elections was revealed by their first choice: for speaker of the Assembly, which they had decided to reserve for a Sunni, they picked Hajim al-Hassani, a member of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party who incidentally has spent most of his adult life in the U.S. When that party pulled out of the American-approved provisional government last year to protest the assault on Fallujah, Hassani resigned from his party rather than give up his job as Minister of Industry, where he has been in charge of privatizations.

But Hassani is relatively powerless, a flunkey's flunkey. Above him as the new president is Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a complete sell-out to the U.S. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul congratulated Talabani on his new job, calling him "one of the politicians in Iraq on whom Turkey places the greatest importance." When a representative of a regime that has long been a sworn enemy of the Kurdish people praises a Kurdish politician, that should be food for thought. Gul's message focused on Talabani's commitment to "Iraq's integrity," instead of advocating self-determination (the right to choose autonomy or independence) favored by the immense majority of the Kurdish people in Iraq. That is a development the U.S.-dependent and army- based Turkish regime greatly fears for its possible impact on Turkey's own extremely oppressed Kurdish population. Talabani is also favored by the Iranian regime, with whom he has longstanding ties, again to the detriment of Kurds, this time in Iran.

The deal he reportedly made with Massoud Barzani—head of the rival Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) Talabani once criticized as "tribal" when he first broke with it—was that in return for supporting Talabani's bid for the presidency Barzani's party would get to administer Iraqi Kurdistan.

It is telling of these reactionaries' mutual distrust and conflicting interests that Talabani brought 3,000 of his own Kurdish peshmergas as his private bodyguards when he came to take up residence in a former Saddam palace in Baghdad.


The real strongman in the new line-up is to be the prime minister, in theory, although we'll see what happens. In a possible omen, when Talabani was speaking at a ceremony to announce the choice finally agreed to in backroom negotiations, he suddenly suffered from what he later said was a memory lapse...and could not bring himself to say Ibrahim al-Jaafari's name, leaving the stand instead. In case anyone thought this was just a slip, Talabani did the same thing in an interview on U.S. television two days later, calling Jaafari "Zarqawi," the name of the alleged head of the al-Qaida affiliate in Iraq.

Jaafari is a leader of the Islamic Dawa party, the first Shia religious party in Iraq, formed in 1958 to combat the then powerful communist movement. Since the birth of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) in 1979, Dawa was nurtured by that country's regime and its intelligence and military services. Although Talabani and Jaafari are rivals, one thing that brings them together is that both are friendly with Israel. Talabani is all but openly allied with Israel, whose commandos are permitted to operate in Iraqi Kurdistan, as has been thoroughly documented by U.S. investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, among others. Jaafari's links to the Zionist state run through the Islamic Republic of Iran forces backing him. Iran has maintained secret connections with Israel going back to the IRI's earliest years. This relationship first emerged into the light of day during the Iran-Contra scandal under U.S. President Reagan, and then last week when Iranian President Mohammad Khatami reached out to shake the hand of the president of Israel at the Pope's televised funeral.

Jaafari's two vice-presidents are Abdul Mahdi, a member of the Shia Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the country's biggest Shiite party, directly formed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Ghazi al- Yawar. Mahdi is the former Finance Minister who proposed turning over Iraq's national oil company to private foreign investment, which, he explained, meant "to American investors and American enterprise, certainly to oil companies." Yawar, formerly the president of Iraq under the last U.S.-approved government, is the sheik of one of Iraq's most powerful tribes and a prominent businessman.

Next to be named were two vice prime ministers. One of them was the CIA's Ahmad Chalabi, reportedly to be in charge of security, and the other a Kurdish party official. Also agreeing to join the new government in some as yet unspecified form was the pro-U.S. Saddam clone Iyad Allawi, who demanded four cabinet positions for his men despite the fact that his party flopped in the January elections. Allawi at first refused to even resign his current position as Iraq's interim prime minister to make way for the new government, but gave in when offered immunity against investigation on charges of corruption while he was in office. The U.S. wants to keep former secular Baathists like Allawi in key positions, especially the armed forces, but that might not be possible without the overall configuration achieved through the agreement—however temporary and fragile—apparently reached by the Kurdish and Shia parties. It's hard to imagine men who hate each other more than those named to the top positions in the new Iraqi government.


Some observers have written that since the strongest figure in the new government is from the Dawa party, an Islamic fundamentalist outfit once considered a "terrorist" organization by the U.S., the composition of the new government is dangerous for American interests and not the outcome the U.S. sought when it held these elections. It is true that this situation does have potential complications and even dangers for the U.S. But so far, the U.S. and the Islamic Republic of Iran have worked together very closely to try to pacify Iraqi resistance to the occupation. Moqtada Sadr, the young Iraqi Shia cleric who led a rebellion against the U.S. occupation last year, was advised by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, IRI ex-president and usually considered the most powerful politician in Iran, to tell his followers to lay down their guns and join the electoral process. It should be kept in mind that while the U.S. is currently working for regime change in Iran, it also seeks to carry forward some trusted figures from the present regime into a new one.

The occupiers have counted on Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the real head of the United Iraqi Alliance to which both main Shia parties belong, to make the election process work as they wished. Sistani differed with IRI founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini by advocating the philosophy of "quietism," according to which countries like Iraq should be Islamic in social and legal terms without direct intervention of the clerics in politics. This stance contributed to the fact that he was able to exercise great influence under Saddam. Saddam had Sistani persecuted and at one point imprisoned, but other ayatollahs were murdered. To put his beliefs in Christian Biblical terms, Sistani is a man who believes in "rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's"—that is, recognizing the supremacy of whoever really holds political power. Sistani's ties with Iran go both ways, allowing him to have some influence there as well, especially among the religious opposition. Of course, Sistani's "quietism" has not prevented his hand, however hushed, from regulating Shia politics and brokering power.

As University of Michigan Middle East specialist Juan Cole wrote in the Washington Post (August 15, 2004) to explain Sistani's thinking, "Sistani believes that the Shiites made a strategic error in 1920 when they revolted against British colonial rule after World War 1. The British turned to the minority Sunnis for support, ensconcing them in power for the rest of the century. Sistani believes that by showing patience, the Shiite majority can come to power in Iraq through the ballot box if it avoids alienating the Americans." Under the circumstances, the U.S. probably can't hope for better than someone like Sistani to hold their puppet regime together and give it some legitimacy. The U.S. imperialists are quite aware that establishing neo-colonial rule in the Middle East or anywhere else—like the kind of extreme reactionary regime they are working to establish in the U.S.—cannot be achieved without using religion as a major political and ideological pillar.


One of the thorniest issues still to be resolved is who will get the Oil Ministry. The Shia parties already control the South Oil Company, which owns the immense oilfields. They are said to operate pretty much on their own without much interference or demands for tribute from the capital. The Kurdish parties want to control the city of Kirkuk and its extensive oilfields owned by the North Oil Company. Kirkuk, historically a Kurdish city according to Kurdish nationalists, was predominantly populated by the Turkmen people until the 1950s, according to other accounts. Saddam Hussein tried to empty it of Turkmen and Kurds and move in Arabs under his patronage; now the two Kurdish parties are moving out the Arabs and Turkmen and trying to build their own patronage and ensure their own control of the underground wealth. The Defense Ministry and Ministry of the Interior are also key prizes.

Another serious question is the official role of Islam in the new government, and to what degree Islamic law (Shariah) is to be in command. By definition, any adoption of Shariah means recognizing Sistani's authority. In much of the country where Shariah is already enforced by Islamic fundamentalist militias, women are severely oppressed. This is the trend throughout Iraq wherever Islamic rule has been established—including in the Baghdad slums and the south, where Sadr's militia is powerful, and even, of course, in places like Fallujah during the many months when guerrillas and not the government ran the city.

The official institutionalization of this treatment of women would be a big step backward for Iraqi society. It is as good an indicator as any that there is nothing democratic in the regime being built under the protection of American guns in Iraq. It reveals the nature of the alliance of forces the U.S. is trying to cobble together into a neo-colonial regime: a contention-ridden conglomeration of the most backward classes and forces in Iraq: clan and tribal leaders (among both Arabs and Kurds) and religious authorities linked to feudal relations, along with U.S.-dependent big capitalists and their representatives. The cynical U.S. rulers are basically allowing these male forces to console themselves for their own subjugation to the occupation by abusing women. But beyond that, in both social and ideological terms, patriarchy is a key element in the reconstruction of the kind of society the U.S. needs if it is to successfully dominate Iraq.

This is reflected in the sphere of official politics as well, which are little more than an orgy of identity politics in which the contending figures, while appealing to the national, religious, and other sentiments of their "constituencies," are serving their own interests as exploiters allied with the occupation.


The basic principles behind Iraq's new government have nothing to do with the will of the people, who they voted for or what they thought they were voting for, among those who did vote. First came a general agreement among all the thieves involved, and then elections were held to legitimatize it. With the positions of parliamentary speaker, president, and prime minister reserved in advance for a Sunni, Kurd and Shia, respectively, the model for Iraqi "democracy" is Lebanon, where government posts are parcelled out along similar lines to preserve the reigning alliance between clan leaders and comprador capitalists allied with them. The 25-member Iraqi Governing Council chosen by the Americans in 2003 was also organized according to a quota for each ethnic and religious group, which suggests that the Lebanon-ization of Iraq was a U.S. goal all along.

The new government was produced by naked power relations, the relations between the contending crabs in this basket—which are certain to shift as the balance of power among them changes—and the relations between the crabs and the occupiers who intend to eat them if they fail to perform the tasks expected of them. Both because of the sharp conflicts of interest between the forces that make up this government and because of the contradiction between the people and the occupation, the most basic contradiction which is conditioning the unfolding of all the rest, it seems very unlikely that this new government will prove to be stable.

Elections or no elections, new government or not, the U.S. and its ally (the UK—the only other country to play a significant military role now) have not stopped stomping on the Iraqi people, and they never will, as long as they are allowed to remain. While the resistance is politically and ideologically varied, with all sorts of ideas mixed together in many cases, and these ideas matter very much, still the people's resistance to national humiliation is what is driving the development of the whole process.


Even the U.S.'s relative success in holding these elections at all in the face of military resistance and a boycott could turn into its opposite. A Shia cleric who now resides in the U.S. wrote in the Denver Post , "Without exception, the Iraqis I talked to inside and outside Iraq saw voting in Sunday's elections as, first and foremost, a vote for the immediate withdrawal of occupation forces and, second, a vote to take control of their day-to- day lives, which have only worsened as a result of the White House's incompetent mismanagement of Iraq."

Similarly, independent journalist Dahr Jamail wrote from Baghdad, February 1, "Every Iraqi I have spoke with who voted explained that they believe that the national Assembly which will be formed soon will signal an end to the occupation." Now it is mid-April, the formation of that government is still not complete, and the end of the occupation is still not in sight.

Before the elections, Sistani's followers were often heard chanting, "No, no, no to America! Yes, yes, yes to elections." On April 9, the second anniversary of the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Baghdad's Firdus Square was filled with many tens of thousands of people, or even hundreds of thousands according to some reports, called out by the Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr and Sunni religious authorities as well. They chanted, "No to America, no to occupation!" and pulled down and burned effigies of Saddam, George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

The number of hungry children in Iraq has nearly doubled since the U.S.-led occupation began, according to a report prepared for the UN Human Rights Commission by Jean Ziegler, a renowned specialist and opponent of world hunger. More than a quarter of Iraqi children don't get enough to eat, Ziegler said, and almost 8% are starving.

At the same time, the number of Iraqis held prisoner by the Americans has doubled over the last months to 10,400. These are not signs that the conflict between the occupiers and the people is in any way diminishing.

It is dangerous to lie to the people. And the conditions of the occupation are compelling people to resist.