Iraq’s Eclipsed Red Star?

“Iraq’s Eclipsed Red Star?” by Frank, Guerrilla News Network, January 13, 2003.

Not that long ago, when American progressives spoke about being in solidarity with the people of a foreign nation they were supporting leftist national liberation movements. Back in the 1980s, for instance, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador was allied with that Central American country’s Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front which included the El Salvador Communist Party. Not anymore, at least not when it comes to Iraq. How many anti-war activists like Sean Penn who recently visited Baghdad know their left from their right in Iraq?

Today Iraqi leftists still play roles inside and outside Iraq. But don’t expect to either read or hear much about any Iraqi leftist groups in either the mainstream or even the so-called “alternative” press. After all, who knew that the most detailed reporting available anywhere about ongoing specific humanitarian crimes by Saddam’s regime is found at none other than the Iraqi Communist Party website,

“[T]he bodies of tens of people from the city of Basra, who were executed by firing squads of the dictatorial regime in late March 1999, are buried in a mass grave in the Burjesiyya district near the town of Zubair, about 20 km south east of Basra,” reads the Iraqi Communist Party website about a brief anti-Saddam uprising three years ago in the Shi’a-dominated, southernmost city. “Some of the victims fell into the hands of security forces after being wounded, or when their ammunition had finished. But most of the arrests took place during the following days when the authorities…unleashed an unprecedented campaign of police raids, house searches and detentions.

“The detainees, who were numbered in their hundreds, were then held at the detention centre of the Security Directorate of Basra governorate, in Al-Ashar district. They were subjected to barbaric torture over many days,” goes on. “Family members of security men who had been killed in the heroic revolt were brought to the scene, each was handed a machine gun, and they were told to avenge their dead by firing at the youths and men lined up before them. The massacre culminated with security men firing their hand guns at the [h]eads of their victims. The horrific scene ended with throwing the bodies of victims in a deep pit dug with a bulldozer which was used later to cover up the site in an attempt to hide the traces of the crime.

“Our party sources have been able to compile the names of some of these victims (a list is attached to this statement). The authorities, as part of the policy of collective punishment, demolished their houses, and detained their families, including women and children. The fate of these innocent detainees is still unknown. Reliable sources in Basra have estimated the total number of victims of the campaign of mass executions, which followed the suppression of the popular revolt, to range from 400 to 600 people.”

The Iraqi Communist Party was once by far that oil-rich country’s broadest leftist movement. Even before Iraq’s short-lived, British-imposed monarchy was overthrown in 1958, the Communist Party was organizing trade unions and other civic groups. The leftist party has also long been Iraq’s most diverse political movement to cut across traditional population lines to incorporate many disenfranchised majority Shi’as and minority Kurds. Even though tens of thousands of cadre have since perished in Saddam’s gulags, the Iraqi Communist Party today maintains a clandestine network across Iraq, despite still being targeted by the ruling Ba’athist regime. reports not only ongoing human rights abuses, but ongoing armed civil resistance to the regime.

But how many American anti-war activists like Sean Penn have heard of it? Last month the Oscar-nominated actor said he was putting his conscience first when he visited Baghdad. Yet the 42-year-old star of many films including his latest one, “I Am Sam,” spoke in Baghdad like he knew he was on weak ground. “I’m afraid of saying something that might hurt somebody, and then find out I was wrong in the first place,” he told The New York Times. Sean Penn said he did not want to end up being outcast like Jane Fonda was after her 1972 trip to the communist North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi during the Vietnam war, or like his later father, Leo Penn, was during Washington’s “Red Scare” witch-hunts led by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

It was unwittingly ironic for the younger Penn to bring up his father in the capital of Saddam’s Iraq. Leo Penn performed in plays like John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men before migrating to the film industry. But Paramount studios refused to renew his contract in 1945 over his trade union activities, and continued to blacklist him afer he supported the Hollywood 10, or the first group of fellow actors and others who were jailed for refusing to answer questions about their alleged communist ties before Congress. (Leo Penn’s career suffered, too, until the advent of television where he became an Emmy-winning director of prime time dramas like the New York City detective series, “Kojak.”)

Today the Iraqi Communist Party firmly opposes the Bush administration’s war plans. “No to imperialism! No to war!” reads Many of the administration’s so-called justifications for invading Iraq are indeed bogus — not least of all the claim that Saddam’s regime had anything to do with 9/11. Moreover, any unilateral military action against Iraq, especially at this time of extremely heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions, is certain to inflame anti-American sentiments throughout both the Arab and the Muslim worlds, only driving more recruits into Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda terrorist network. In addition, the Bush administration has greatly exaggerated the current strategic threat posed by Saddam’s regime to the United States along with its allies led by Israel.

But that hardly makes the Iraqi despot any more likeable now than he ever was like back during the 1980s when Saddam was a secret ally (using chemical gas) of the U.S. administration led by President Ronald Reagan. Sean Penn at least once sagely called Saddam a “tyrant” guilty of “criminal viciousness” in a paid ad on a full page last fall of The Washington Post. Similarly, the noted anti-war critic, Noam Chomsky, once last summer on “Z-net” said about Saddam, “I think he is as evil as they come.” But too many other anti-war activists only downplay any criticism whatsoever against Saddam or his regime. Moreover, unlike most American leftists, Iraqi leftists offer a policy alternative. Instead of a unilateral U.S. invasion, Iraqi communists, and others want the international community to back a broad military front against his regime.

Iraqi leftist groups also favor other positions only ignored by most American leftists like U.N. human rights monitoring inside Iraq. And instead of a unilateral American invasion, many independent Iraqi groups support a multilateral one leading to not only Saddam’s overthrow but also him and others eventually facing humanitarian charges in an international tribunal. Nobody from Human Rights Watch to Amnesty International, does a better job, in fact, than the Iraqi Communist Party in documenting ongoing abuses by Saddam’s regime.

“Under [the] direct supervision of Qusay, the younger son of the dictator Saddam Hussein…15 political prisoners were executed, Nazi-style, in a poison gas chamber on 10 August 2001,” reads, relying in no small way on the Communist party’s underground cadre and sources inside Iraq. “The victims were placed inside a specially designed chamber and then a poisonous gas was released through vents. They were dead within 27 seconds. Their bodies were left there for one hour until the gas was extracted through a special vent.

“The Gas Chamber,” the report goes on, “and its operation began after approval by Qusay. It seems that this barbaric method was designed to facilitate mass physical liquidation of prisoners and detainees in a shorter time and with less effort. The dictatorial regime is continuing its notorious ‘Prison Cleanup’ campaign which has so far claimed the lives of more than 3000 prisoners and detainees.”

Last year, President Saddam Hussein emptied his prisons including his largest one, Abu Ghraib, right after he orchestrated an allegedly unanimous referendum on his rule. The listener-supported Pacifica Network’s “Democracy Now!” radio show in many large U.S. cities aired one Iraqi source after another including officials claiming it was a legitimate reflection of Saddam’s popularity without even suggesting that there might be any other Iraqi view; the Iraqi Communist Party called the referendum a farce, adding that “our people are too familiar with the deceit and manipulations practiced by the regime.” Countless political prisoners remain missing, according to not only the Iraqi Communist Party but also to other non-U.S.-backed Iraqi groups like the Shi’a-run al-Khoei Foundation based in London.

When it comes to internal security measures, Saddam copies a late communist, ironically, whom he admires, the former Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin. Saddam’s independent biographer, the Palestinian author Said K. Aburish, wrote: “he has modeled himself after and adopted the ways of Joseph Stalin and merged them with his tribal instincts.” But no matter how much he borrows from Stalin, Saddam has never held anything but contempt for Iraqi leftists.

“I used to have a Communist friend at school,” Saddam told his own authorized biographer, the [Lebanese] writer Faoud Matar. “He’s dead now, God rest his soul. He spent most of his time reading communiques and declarations to us, his schoolmates. All we did was make fun of him,” added Saddam in the 1990 edition of his approved biography published in London. “[W]e knew his theories came from abroad; they had been introduced by a foreigner, not an Arab.” At 22, Saddam Hussein carried out his first assassination plot, against a communist-backed leader in Baghdad who was the first President of Iraq. In fact, the young man from Tirkit was not accepted into the Ba’ath party until after he and others shot at President Abdel-Karim Qassem, who was backed by the Iraq Communist Party and many trade unions. President Qassem survived, while Saddam was wounded in the leg.

Instead of leftist ideology, Ba’athism unabashedly champions ethnic nationalism in order to build an ethnic-based greater nation. The [name of the] Iraqi Arab Socialist Ba’ath party explicitly excludes every one in five Iraqis who are ethnic Kurds. Moreover the Ba’athists’ pan-Arab message is made mainly by Arabs of the Sunni Muslim faith like Saddam, and their Sunni-based Arab nationalism also has little appeal with Arab Muslims of the Shi’a faith who comprise three out of five Iraqis. Rather than empower either Iraq’s Shi’a majority or its Kurdish minority, the Ba’ath party merely displaced Iraq’s old rulers of Sunni Arab-led monarchists based in Baghdad with new Sunni Arab-led rulers like Saddam from rural regions north of the capital.

“A ruling class-clan rapidly developed and maintained a tight grip on the army, the Ba’ath party, the bureaucracy, and the business milieus,” writes Faleh A. Jabar, the University of London scholar and former Iraqi communist party newspaper editor, in the current issue of the Madison, Wisconsin-based monthly, The Progressive. “You had either to be with the Ba’ath or you were against it.”

Today most of Kurdish-speaking Iraq in the north enjoys U.S.-enforced autonomy from Saddam’s regime, while Shias in the south still resist. Take Basra, where Saddam’s officials have recently brought visiting U.S. peace activists. “We were welcomed warmly into the home of Abu Haider, the father of a young boy who was killed three years ago by a U.S. Tomaha[w]k missile shot from a ship in the Gulf,” reads a pre-Christmas report from Pax Christi, a faith-based group. Pax Christi’s newsletter today says that this U.S. missile attack occurred in Basra in 1998; the same year Saddam’s regime there interred dozens of anti-Saddam rebels and others in secret graves, according to

Most American anti-war activists also downplay another issue that Iraqi leftists are most worried about. What might a post-Saddam Iraq look like? The Communist Party refused to join the recent U.S.-backed Iraqi opposition meeting in London, pointing out that Washington has only been planning to replace Saddam’s regime with another minority dictatorship. The Iraqis closest to Washington remain deposed aristocrats, although the Bush administration finally just dumped the Pentagon-alone-backed plan to restore former supporters of the [3]7-year-reigning Kingdom of Iraq to power back from exile in London as the Iraqi National Congress.

Instead of the U.S.-backed return of the old ruling class, the Communist Party, Shia and Kurdish opposition groups want U.N.-monitored elections after Saddam inside Iraq leading to a federal representative government. This is an ongoing struggle yet to be adequately reported, unfortunately, in any U.S. press, and the issue represents a genuinely democratic frontline with so far few if any so-called American “progressives” on it.

American and Iraqi leftists also differ over whom to blame for any coming war. blames not only the Bush administration, but also the Iraqi government. In this regard, the Iraq Communist Party ironically joins the Bush administration in unequivocally demanding that Saddam fully cooperate with U.N. inspections to prevent his regime from newly developing more weapons of mass destruction. “The rulers” of “the dictatorial regime in Iraq,” reads, put “their selfish interest above the people’s national interest, refusing to allow the [work] of U.N. weapons inspectors, and thus preventing action to spare our people and country looming dangers.”

Opposing American imperialism is one thing. But ignoring Iraqi fascism is another. In Baghdad, Sean Penn said, “I would hope that all Americans will embrace information available to them outside conventional channels.” Hopefully he and other antiwar Americans will take his own advice and read unconventional channels like Only a quintessentially American sense of chauvinism would lead leftists in a big country to think that leftists in a smaller country don’t matter. Iraqi Marxists have endured Saddam’s Ba’athist terror long enough to know the left from the right in Iraq, and, as our nation prepares to invade their country, more Americans should too of course including anti-war activists.

Frank Smyth is a freelance journalist who is writing a book at the 1991 Iraqi uprisings. He has covered leftist guerrillas in El Salvador, Iraq and Rwanda. His clips are posted at”