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Iraq's Communists Savor New Political Freedom

The average Iraqi is still experiencing difficulties with electricity, security, drinking water, and a general sense of confusion now that the government of Saddam Hussein is gone. So some Iraqis are wondering when they will begin to experience freedom. But a stop by the local office of the Communist Party in Iraq leaves little doubt freedom is spreading. And ironically, the communists are thanking the Americans for giving them the freedom to express themselves.

On a drive along the Tigris River in Baghdad, one cannot help but notice a large red and white sign draped from an old apartment building that faces the ancient river.

The sign announces that the Communist Party headquarters is located inside.

It is a striking example of how freedom is already being felt throughout Iraq.

Before the war to end the regime of Saddam Hussein began in March, such a sign would likely have led to execution.

Hamid Magid Moussa, central committee secretary for the Communist Party in Iraq, said the party has had clandestine operations in Iraq for more than 40 years. But under the government of Saddam Hussein, Mr. Moussa said, the idea of communism was all but extinguished.

"Our share of the killings and physical liquidation and torture, and expulsion and forcible eviction of whole families was a big share among political parties," he said.

Mr. Moussa said that after the U.S.-led war to oust the Iraqi leader, papers were discovered from Iraq's internal security forces dated December 5, 1982. He says the papers indicated that on that date, 158 members of the Communist Party, including 11 women, were executed.

But now that Saddam Hussein is gone, political parties are emerging all over the country with no fear of retribution from the former Iraqi dictator. At last count, as many as 100 political parties have formed in Iraq.

In addition, 13 independent newspapers are being published in Iraq. Under Saddam, there were three newspapers, all run by the government.

Mr. Moussa said the day they were able to unfurl their banner on the front of the old apartment building facing the Tigris River is a day he will always remember. "I came in here, and it was unforgettable moments. And at the time, there were hundreds of people here, actually, and everybody was rejoicing. And, you can appreciate how emotional it was at the time, coming out after years of clandestine work and under oppression to rejoice in this moment," he said.

Mr. Moussa said he realizes communism these days is not necessarily a popular political force throughout much of the world. He said he does not expect that Iraq will become a communist state. And with a smile on his face, he said he never in his life imagined that one day he would be thanking the United States for giving him the freedom to publicly express his communist views.