Over the weekend of January 28-9, a Japan's Movement for Democratic Socialism hosted a meeting dubbed, with greater comprehension than concision, "The International Conference Aiming at the Complete Withdrawal of All the Occupation Forces and Reconstruction of Democratic Iraq in Solidarity with the Iraqi Freedom Congress." The event, held at a Tokyo conference hall followed by a day of speeches and presentations at a Yokohama convention center, brought together some 500-mostly Japanese, but also including small delegations from the United States, France, the Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea. Front and center was a delegation of five-including a girl of nine named Sanaria-from Iraq, representing a political alliance that stands for inter-ethnic solidarity against the occupation, and resisting the trajectory towards civil war.
Report from the Autonomous Zones
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 to defend civil society against the occupation troops and profusion of armed factions in Iraq. The IFC is working to establish a parallel structure to that of the US-backed regime and armed militias linked to ethnic and religious groups. Its working model for this program is a neighborhood in Kirkuk, which the IFC has established as an autonomous zone, dubbed Al-Tzaman (Solidarity).
"Anybody can live in this area," IFC president Samir Adil said of Al-Tzaman, speaking to a group of international activists at the Tokyo conference hall. "This is a humanity area-nobody has the right to ask you your religion or ethnic identity."
The neighborhood of some 5,000 has a mixed population of Sunni Arabs, Christians, Turcomans, and Kurds, and has been an IFC autonomous zone for a year. In a city starkly divided by vying ethnic factions, it has become a haven for peaceful co-existence. The IFC re-named the neighborhood "Solidarity" from its Saddam-era militarist appellation of Asraiwal Mafkodein-"Prisoners of War and Missing," a tribute to conscripts lost in the war with Iran.
"There is no government in Iraq-the government is only within the Green Zone," Adil says, explaining the proliferation of ethnic and religious militias. "If you give security they support you." Adil admits the IFC has established armed checkpoints in Al-Tzaman to prevent infiltration by militia and insurgent groups at night. He claims a local presence by the al-Zarqawi network has been cleared out by the IFC's efforts. Adil says the IFC is now seeking to establish a second autonomous zone in the Baghdad neighborhood of Husseinia-and is in a contest with the Shiite Badr militia, which has a presence there.
"Every household in Iraq is armed now," Adil says. "Iraqi society is a jungle society-you have to have a gun to defend your family." Despite this reality, he emphasizes that the IFC is seeking to build a civil resistance to the occupation-not an armed insurgency. "Civilian people are paying the price for the armed resistance, so we believe it is a bad tactic," he says. "But we are mobilizing the people to protect themselves."
In addition to Kirkuk and Baghdad, Adil says the IFC has a significant presence in Basra in the south and in the northern Kurdish-controlled zone.
"Iraq has become an international battleground," Adil says. "Every terrorist group and every terrorist state wants to exploit the situation in Iraq-Iran, Sunni political Islam backed by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the US. And every faction has its own media. The pro-American and Islamist groups all have their own satellite TV stations."
Which brings Adil to the IFC's special agenda for the Tokyo conference-to raise international funds for the IFC's own satellite station. Adil says the US-backed politician Iyad Allawi controls two satellite stations (including the US-funded Iraqi network), while Shiite factions have three (including the Iranian state network), and four more are voices for Sunni "political Islam." Adil includes Qatar's Al-Jazeera among these last four.
"If we get sat TV we can bring many hundreds of thousands into our movement and bring about a big change in the next six months," Adil says. He also believes this project could change the general climate of the Middle East, where Adil says secular left perspectives have no media voice.
Adil, like many of the IFC leaders, is a veteran of political struggle against the Saddam Hussein dictatorship and a follower of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq, founded after Operation Desert Storm to oppose both the regime and US imperialist designs on the Persian Gulf region. Born in Baghdad in 1964, he was imprisoned for six months in 1992 for labor activities in the construction trade. He was tortured in prison-he never removes his cap, but a long scar can be seen extending down his scalp to his temple. Supporters in Canada launched an international campaign which finally won his release. Realizing he was no longer safe in Saddam's Iraq, he fled first to the Kurdish zone, then Turkey, and finally Canada. He returned to Iraq in December 2002 to help revive an independent political opposition.
If post-Saddam Iraq affords the possibility of building a new political movement, the new ethnic and religious polarization makes that movement more essential than ever, Adil says. To illustrate how the atmosphere has changed, Adil, who was born into a Shiite family, says he only became aware that his wife was born into a Sunni one when they discussed returning to Iraq together and realized their "mixed" marriage could become an issue. His wife chose to remain in Canada.
The IFC brings together several organizations, including the Federation of Worker Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI), one of the major post-Saddam labor alliances, and its affiliated Union of the Unemployed in Iraq, which demands jobs and benefits for the thousands thrown out of work in the chaos since the US invasion; the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), which is fighting the sharia law measures in the new constitution; the Kurdistan Center for the Defense of Children's Rights, and the Worker-Communist Party.
An incident which helped spark the IFC's founding came on March 15, 2005, when a Christian female student was physically attacked by the Sadr militia at a campus picnic at Basra University, and a male student who came to her defense was shot and killed. Thousands of students marched in protest, a solidarity march was held by students in Sulaymaniyah, and the Sadr militia was driven from the campus. These struggles led to the establishment of the National Federation of Student Councils, another IFC member organization.
Also attending the Tokyo conference was Nada Muaid, vice president of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, who described the group's work-including volunteer medical teams, computer classes for women, and shelters in Baghdad and Kirkuk for women fleeing domestic violence or "honor killings." Such cases of women being murdered by their own families for adultery or even for being raped have exploded since the US invasion, Muaid says. "Political Islam has pushed women back under this occupation." And now basic services are in rapid decline because of the heightening insecurity. "NGOs are pulling out due to kidnappings just as needs are growing-water poor quality and unreliable, blackouts are frequent."
So OWFI is organizing self-help projects for women; the group is now seeking to expand its medical teams into full health clinics.
It is similarly picking up the slack in documenting systematic violence against women as foreign human rights organizations are reducing their presence on the ground in Iraq-again, just as the need is growing. "Abuse and rape are routine in the Interior Ministry's political prisons," Muaid says. "We are monitoring the human rights situation, sending reports of abuses to Amnesty International. But it is too dangerous to bring foreign rights workers to the country. And the existing human rights groups in Iraq are politicized-either they are pro-US and only report abuses by insurgents, or pro-Islamist and only report abuses by the US."
Azad Ahmed Abdullah of the Children's Protection Center tells a similar story. The group was founded in 1999 in the Kurdish zone, and spread after fall of Saddam, to help children wounded or left homeless in the war, or addicted to drugs. It runs shelters in Baghdad and Kirkuk, and is establishing programs in Basra and Sulaymaniyah. The Tokyo conference featured an exhibit of art by Iraqi children from the Protection Center's workshops-most of it, not surprisingly, on themes of war.
Abdullah sees the collapse of the economy and public services as fueling the growth of political Islam. "The public schools now demand payment that many families cannot afford," he says, "Religious schools filling the void. And political Islamic groups exploit children for suicide bombings."
Sanaria, the young girl from Kirkuk who was part of the IFC delegation, recounted how friendships are torn apart in her school by the ethnic tensions, how she was ostracized by Turcoman and Arab classmates for speaking Kurdish.
The fifth member of the Iraqi delegation was Ali Abbas Khafeef, who is Basra leader of both the Freedom Congress and the FWCUI. Like Samir Adil, he is a veteran of the Baathist prisons-only, after seven years in Iraqi prisons for labor activities, he was drafted and spent another 13 years in Iran as a prisoner of war.
Khafeef says the FWCUI is growing in Basra despite death threats and harassment against its leaders. It has organized strikes in the local transport and petrochemical sectors, and publishes the weekly newspaper Workers Council. Among its affiliates is the new Homeless Association, with 15,000 members in Basra. In defiance of threats, the FWCUI held a thousands-strong Mayday march through downtown Basra last year. Like OWFI's Baghdad rally for International Women's Day, this was a more powerful statement than many such marches around the world given the atmosphere of terror in Iraq.
Iraq Adventure Threatens Japanese Anti-Militarism
The Movement for Democratic Socialism (MDS) is one of several groups in Japan opposing their country's involvement in Iraq, where Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has dispatched some 530 troops. These forces are ostensibly involved in reconstruction and other "noncombatant" activities, but there is growing talk on the Japanese right of a greater military role-and even abandoning Article 9 of the post-war constitution, in which Japan officially "forever renounce[s] war as a sovereign right of the nation." Already, Japan has the world's fourth highest military budget, after the US, Russia and China-despite Article 9's stipulation that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained."
MDS activists are involved in a variety of causes, but all related to opposing the resurgence of Japanese militarism. MDS supports the Non-Defended Localities movement, an effort to move municipalities to reject the stationing of either Japanese or US military forces within their territory and to declare their non-cooperation with war-a right recognized by Article 59 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions.
Members are also involved in the movements to win compensation for the victims of World War II-era forced labor under Japanese occupation in China, Korea and the Philippines, and their survivors. They actively oppose the US military presence in Japan, with a current key struggle the planned expansion of a US airbase onto a coral reef at Henoko, Okinawa, threatening critical dugong habitat. All the MDS campaigns are punctuated by cultural programs by the group's music and dance company, which incorporates traditional drumming and martial arts moves.
MDS sees an historical irony in the fact that Article 9 was imposed by the US after World War II, and it is now Bush's need for coalition partners in Iraq which is playing into the hands of Japan's neo-militarists.
Founded in 2000, MDS emerged from a Marxist study group at Kyoto University, and is a current within one of Japan's oldest anti-war organizations, Zenko. An acronym for "national assembly," Zenko began life in the early '70s as the National Assembly of Young Workers, one of several groups then opposing Japan's role as a staging ground for the US war on Vietnam. It has today been renamed the National Assembly for Peace and Democracy-a fruit of the same post-Soviet re-evaluation that led to the establishment of MDS, which views lack of internal democracy as critical in the collapse of the socialist bloc.
With the start of the Iraq adventure, MDS helped organize a series of Tokyo public hearings for the International Criminal Tribunal on Iraq, and loaned support for Occupation Watch, a Baghdad-based group of international volunteers who monitor US military abuses. It was through this work that MDS became aware of the groups which now make up the IFC. Over the past two years, the MDS brought members of these groups to Japan to testify at the Tribunal and to participate in the annual Zenko conference. MDS also sent two delegations of Japanese activists to Iraq, where they were hosted by the civil resistance groups.
Says Mori Fumihiro, an MDS leader and co-chair of the Japanese Committee for Solidarity with Iraqi Civil Resistance: "We were impressed with their struggle as a humanitarian movement. They are involved in unarmed struggle against the occupation. They demand a secular and non-religious government as well as full equality between women and men. They call for the global anti-war movement to make solidarity with them... I believe that they are part of a global anti-war movement and anti-global capitalism struggle and that international solidarity with them will strengthen our struggle."
The MDS and Zenko conferences have helped build support for the Iraqi civil resistance groups internationally. The group Solidarité Irak is now working to support the IFC in France, and its representative Nicolas Dessaux attended the January conference in Tokyo. Members of the US group United for Peace & Justice have also attended, and in a step towards international coordination between the US anti-war movement and Iraqi civil resistance, the IFC held marches coinciding with last year's Sept. 24 mobilization against the war in Washington DC. The IFC marches against the occupation that day brought out 600 in Baghdad and 3,000 in Basra-again, numbers rendered more significant by the fact that street mobilizations in Iraq are now routinely attacked by either occupation troops, security forces or armed factions.
The decision to work in solidarity with the IFC came only after much disputation both within the MDS and with international anti-war organizations. Says Asai Kenji, editor of the MDS Weekly newsletter: "When OWFI head Yanar Mohammed came and attended the Zenko annual conference in 2004, there were heated debates on how we can or cannot support a specific grouping in Iraq opposed to the occupation."
At the July 2004 34th Zenko conference, the most intransigent voices opposed to adopting solidarity with the Iraqi civil opposition in the meeting's final resolution came from American and British delegations. MDS president Sato Kazuyoshi wrote up an evaluation of the debate after the conference-and explained why MDS finally rejected the criticisms:
"The most disputed point in the conference was about the slogan of solidarity with Iraqi Civil Resistance. Representatives of the ANSWER ("Act Now to Stop War & End Racism") Coalition in the U.S. and of the Stop the War Coalition in the U.K. expressed their view that 'we can't say from outside Iraq which of the anti-occupational resistance forces are right,' and that 'it is a matter to be left to the self-determination of the Iraqis, and the world anti-war movements have only to focus on bringing troops home." In response to this argument, representatives of the UUI (Union of the Unemployed in Iraq) and OWFI (Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq) emphatically protested and asked what is wrong with building solidarity with movements that are demanding the withdrawal of occupation forces, and aspiring to a free, egalitarian and secular Iraq...
"Presently, the Movement for Democratic Socialism (MDS) is right in the middle of the struggles against the war on Iraq, hoisting aloft the flag of solidarity with the Iraqi Civil Resistance... The tactics adopted by the Islamic armed forces, i.e. kidnapping, confinement, abduction, beheading, assassination, cannot be justified...for the sake of opposing U.S. imperialism. Their suicide bombings are killing more Iraqi civilians than U.S. soldiers. Discrimination and oppression against women cannot be justified. They are trying to confront the U.S. military, ignoring lives and human rights of the Iraqis. .. They are trying to materialize an Islamic dictatorship in Iraq, not a democracy. Iraqi people do not want the U.S. occupation forces to be replaced by a dictator...
"In the case of the Vietnam War, victory was achieved through combining armed struggle and global anti-war movements. However, the National Liberation Front and the army of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam did not direct their guns toward the civilian population. Nor did they commit suicide bombings... In the Vietnam War, the victory was achieved because they succeeded in mobilizing all anti-U.S. imperialist forces, regardless of religions and ethnicities...
"It should be a natural right for the OWFI to protest against Islamist groups that intimidate women who don't wear a hijab (head scarf). It should also be a natural right for them to criticize the kidnapping of women in the name of resistance. How do these events relate to the interests of the U.S. imperialist occupation? What is wrong with women struggling for their own safety?"
The statement also outlined analytical differences between MDS and the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq-particularly concerning the significance of political Islam on the world stage. MDS considers the Worker-Communist Party's juxtaposition of US imperialism and political Islam as "two poles of terrorism" an oversimplification that exaggerates the importance of the latter. The statement calls for "further examination" of this and related questions, while concluding: "We have to strengthen the Iraqi Civil Resistance, which is struggling to drive out the occupiers and to realize secularism and democracy in Iraq."
Towards a Free, Secular Iraq
Even a month before the horrific bombing of the Golden Mosque at Samarra, Samir Adil warned that Iraq was sliding towards collapse of the government, and civil war. "More than a month after the elections, pro-occupation terrorist groups are still forming a government in secret deliberations," he said. "This is not democracy, this is a sham. Social services, security-the elections didn't solve anything, they just gave legitimacy to the same scenario. Ethnic and nationalist conflict is deepening day by day. The militias carry out disappearances, throw bodies in the desert every night."
The room for civil political activities closes day by day. On Jan. 1, US forces opened fire on a demonstration against high oil prices in Kirkuk, killing four. Days later, two were killed in Nasiriyah when Iraqi security forces opened fire on a march against unemployment.
Adil says the IFC advocates complete non-collaboration with the Iraqi government as long as the country is occupied by foreign troops and as long as the new state is predicated on "dividing power and oil proceeds between the ethnic factions." Instead he calls for "public accountability and visibility on administration of resource money for the benefit of the Iraqi people as a whole."
While Arab nationalists call for officially defining Iraq as "part of Arab homeland" and Kurdish nationalist parties ultimately seek secession, Adil says the IFC sees Iraq as first and foremost "part of the world." He says the IFC opposes federalism as a recipe for civil war and the permanent fracturing of the Iraqi state. He calls for an Iraqi state in which the citizen is not a member of an ethnic or religious group but "human first, human last and human always."
Adil sees the Western press as complicit in Iraq's slide towards civil war by failing to note the existence of the secular opposition, or even to recall Iraq's tradition of secularism as an independent nation. "They define our society as reactionary, religious. Nobody is talking about our secular society.
Asked for a final message for readers in the Unites States, Adil says: "The US lost in Vietnam not because the US 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."
This story originally appeared in World War 4 Report 3/1/06
Iraqi Freedom Congress
Movement for Democratic Socialism
MDS Appeal for World Solidarity with the IFC
Sato Kazuyoshi statement on 2004 Zenko conference
MDS page on Non-Defended Localities
International Criminal Tribunal for Iraq-Japan
Save the Dugong Campaign Center
"Civil War in Iraq: Already Here?" by Bill Weinberg, WW4 REPORT, October 2005
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, March 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution