Iraq's once-mighty communist party marked its 75th anniversary this week with red banners and fanfare, convinced the dominance of the country's Islamic religious parties will not last forever. "Many people support us and I am sure that our influence will grow among the population in the coming months," the party's leader Hamid Musa told AFP at a celebration on Saturday night.
"The situation has not yet returned to normal, but things will change gradually. I'm optimistic," he said, adding that the Iraqi Communist Party (IPC) has more than 20,000 members.
Baghdad's National Theatre was decked with red hammer and sickle banners and Iraqi flags as hundreds of party faithful gathered to watch an operetta performed by a musical theatre group from Basra in southern Iraq.
Entitled "Shanan," the piece glorifies the courage of a communist activist who mobilises the people before being arrested.
For a time his followers feel demoralised and divided, but all ends well when they reunite to liberate him. During the 1950s and 1960s, the ICP was one of the strongest communist movements in the Middle East, but when Saddam
Hussein took power in 1979 he decimated the party with a series of mass arrests and executions. "My two uncles were murdered in 1979 because they were communists and the third fled to Paris, where he works as a taxi driver," said Ali Jabbar, a 17-year-old student wearing the red scarf of the youth movement.
"In my family we have always been communists, even under Saddam Hussein," he added. Although the communists opposed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, they have since played an active, if limited, role in the government.
Science and Technology Minister Raed Jahed Fahmi is a member of the party as are two MPs, who ran on the secular ticket of former Shiite prime minister Iyad Allawi in 2005 elections but are no longer allied with him.
ICP leader Musa hopes to form an electoral list with other left-wing groups in parliamentary elections slated for later this year, but says his party will otherwise run alone.