Around this time last year a rumour emerged that the Iraqi Communist Party was forming armed brigades to fight ISIS. There were accompanying pictures, which originated from a Chinese social media site. I looked into it, got someone to translate the user’s posts, they couldn’t find the original photos. A YouTube commenter (not a fantastically accurate source of information) mentioned that the photos were of Iraqi security forces attending a May Day rally. That was plausible, but the story kept cropping up, even in mainstream publications.
After about a week of scanning through the Iraqi Party’s newspaper online I found a party member and asked him about it. He said he’d not heard of any ‘Red Army’, so I called fake and moved on.
That’s the background. Now to present day, I saw a proper official representative of the Iraqi Communist Party in London who casually slipped into his presentation that the Iraqi Communist Party was conducting armed operations in the country and ‘several comrades had been martyred’. I’m paraphrasing from memory here because my phone only recorded two seconds of the speech (must check equipment better in future).
He said that communist units didn’t operate independently, and this was a political position to support the national Iraqi army. The communists are not very strong compared with some militias, they number ‘hundreds, not thousands’. He added that some groups are under Peshmerga command, and some arose somewhat spontaneously during the Yazidi crisis on mount Sinjar. Although the party ‘doesn’t like to talk about them very much’. That’s quite reasonable, they want to emphasise their role as a popular democratic force; they have better experience fighting corruption and economic exploitation than they do fighting a holy war.
The subtext is also that the story keeps reappearing because it fits neatly into a narrative of teenage keyboard maoists who get off on the idea of revolutionary armed struggle. I admit it does have some appeal, and it’s a nice story, but that’s probably all it is.
So there you have it: are there communists fighting ISIS in Iraq? Yes. Does the Iraqi Red Army actually exist? No.