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Iraq: 'Hammer and Sickle' Fighting For A Place In Iraqi Politics

The Iraqi Communist Party has joined the many dozens of political, ethnic and religious groups vying for power in postwar Iraq. The party claims to be the oldest political group in the country, and has succeeded in attracting new members. But the party is probably unlikely to become a major political player in a country dominated by religious and national groups.

Baghdad, 19 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- While the influence of communist parties has waned in the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union more than a decade ago, communists are hoping to stage a comeback in Iraq.

The Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) has joined the many dozens of political parties and groups vying for power in Iraq, as the country recovers from decades of misrule by Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party.

The ICP, founded in 1934, is one of Iraq's oldest secular parties and is hoping to draw on this long tradition as it recruits new members.

A visit to the ICP's headquarters in central Baghdad is like taking a trip through time. The slogans, red flags, and enthusiasm call to mind Soviet propaganda films about life in postrevolutionary Russia.

The party is having some success at reaching out to core constituencies, such as workers. Nuh Ibrahim is a carpenter. He said he is joining the ICP because the party supports poor people. "[The Communist Party] represents the ambitions of the working class and it represents the worries of the Iraqi people and our demands -- as educated people and as sons of this country -- that we find reflected in their program," Ibrahim told RFE/RL.

Nouara is a 19-year-old student. She said she is attracted to the Communist Party because it treats all people - men and women, Muslims and Christians -- equally. "I joined the party because of its demands and the support for freedom and because it supports all factions of the community. [The Communist Party] does not discriminate between Sunnis and Shi'as or between Muslims and Christians," she said.

As with communists around the world, ICP officials must grapple with implications of the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s and early '90s. Ali Aoda, a member the ICP Central Committee, said the collapse poses an ideological problem. Marxism-Leninism is not on the ICP's agenda and the party is still searching for a defining ideology.

Aoda said the ICP supports the coexistence of the private sector within the framework of a state-regulated economy, but he added that the ICP is ready to join any party in coalition to work for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

The ICP is trying to distance itself from another leftist party, the formerly ruling Ba'ath Party. Aoda said that the socialism represented by the Ba'ath Party was "wrong."

"The [Ba'athists] represented what they called 'Arab socialism,' and we know that there is only one kind of socialism, scientific socialism, but not Arab socialism," Aoda said.

The ICP is very active in Baghdad as it tries to recruit new members. Aoda is vague when asked how many members the party has, but he said 200 to 250 people join every day. The party, however, faces an uphill struggle as it competes for support against popular religious and national parties.

Ahmad Jabber Asa'ab, an independent political analyst, said the ICP faces strong opposition from both Muslim Shi'a and Sunni clerics. And he says the party's secularism is out of step in modern-day Iraq. "If you go to the Arab street, not only to the Iraqi street, and start preaching secularism, even though it is not against religion, people will believe that you are trying to deprive them from religion and Islam," he told RFE/RL.

Some Iraqis say that ICP may yet become a force in Iraqis politics. Faud is in his 50s and works repairing damaged electricity lines. He said at least two friends have said they would like to join the communists -- although he said he is not interested. And he said the communist newspaper, "Tarik al-Sha'ab," is widely read.

"I see young people, they prefer this newspaper 'Tarik [al]-Sha'ab' to other newspapers. That's what I see on the streets." Aoda said the ICP will be very flexible and is confident the ICP will find its way into the future government of the country.