Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Continued Assassinations of Iraqi Union Leaders

US Labor Against the War Condemns the Murders of Abu Fahad and Ahmed Adris Abbas

US Labor Against the War (USLAW) strongly condemns the condemns the continued assassinations of Iraqi union leaders. On February 18, Ali Hassan Abd (Abu Fahad), was murdered. He was a leader of the Oil and Gas Workers Union at Baghdad's Al Doura refinery, an affiliate of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions. His assassination was especially brutal, as he was walking home with his young children when gunmen ran up and shot him.

Less than a week later, on February 24, armed men gunned down Ahmed Adris Abbas in Baghdad's Martyr's Square. Adris Abbas was an activist in the Transport and Communications Union, another IFTU affiliate. The murder of the two followed the torture and assassination of Hadi Saleh, the IFTU's interational secretary, in Baghdad on January 4.

Abu Fahad, Ahmed Adris Abbas and Hadi Saleh were all courageous activists, who sought to organize their fellow workers to win the elements of a better life, the same basic things sought by workers in the US and around the world. Iraqi workers need a living wage that can support their families, not the oppressive $35/month imposed by the occupation. They need secure and safe jobs and lives, and an end to violence and terrorism. Their unions need an end to the 1987 law banning bargaining in the public sector, where most Iraqis work. Iraqi unions seek to stop the US-initiated privatization of their workplaces that would put control of the Iraqi economy in the hands of powerful multinational corporations, not Iraqi workers or Iraqi society. They want the occupation to end. They want to determine for themselves, free of outside interference, the future of Iraq.

These are the ideals that Abu Fahad and Ahmed Adris Abbas lived for. They are the demands they died for. As trade unionists committed to solidarity, we in USLAW offer our sincere condolences to their families and coworkers. We share their desire for a democratic and peaceful Iraq free of occupation and terrorism. USLAW recommits itself to ending the occupation -- which is the principal cause of destabilization in Iraq -- and the immediate return of all US troops to their homes and families.
This is a very fine statement, especially when compared to the silence of most of the US movement and the moral confusion, to put it mildly, of the British. However, there are problems of analysis and prescription in the last sentence.

First, the problem with the analysis. USLAW asserts that the occupation is the principal cause of the destabilization in Iraq. There is a difference between proximate and principal. To say that the US occupation is the principal cause strikes me as a willful ignorance. After all, the conflict between Sunni and Shi'a is centuries old. The frustration of Kurdish national self-determination is nearly a century old. The legacy of Saddam's brutal repression of the Shi'a and Kurds just might have something to do with the instability in Iraq. As might the relunctance of the privileged Sunni groups and Baathists to give up power.

Wadood Hamad in his excellent essay ("Unraveling Iraq: The Sociopolitical and Ethical Dimensions of Resistance") in the latest New Politics comments that "ever since the formation of the Iraqi state, ethnosectarian chauvinism has been instituted in governance and the state structure."

Hamad, who opposed the US intervention in Iraq, continues
The ruptured social fabric -- namely, tribalism -- and the eruption of primitive ethnosectarian claims to power in Iraq are an outcome of an imbalanced power structure that characterized the Iraqi polity even prior to independence in 1921. It is not an epiphenomenon of imperialism per se. More precisely imperialist forces have used and manipulated these contradictions that have originated and been perpetuated internally through constant reshaping, which effectively resulted in the decline of the concept of citizenry and the erosion of civil society -- without which the former finds no real avenue for effective, meaningful expression, and is thus rendered vacuous.
The second problem is the call for an "immediate" return of all US troops. The Shi'a based United Iraq list which won nearly 50% of the vote in January's election, altered its platform and did not call for the immediate withdrawal of US and allied troops or even a negotiated timetable.

Hamad argues "we must demand a timely schedule for the withdrawal of occupying forces from Iraq over a fixed, limited period. But, measures to address existing (and ensuing) chaos must receive important consideration, as well. No simple answers are available to the serious examiner..."

Mona Eltahawy, New York-based columnist for the pan-Arab publication Asharq al-Awsat, concluded her recent op-ed in the Washington Post with this comment
Brave Arab men and women have for decades toiled, often without credit, for the sake of rights and better lives for their compatriots. Their work must be acknowledged and supported. The conversation about change in the Arab world must be about them and about ordinary Arabs, not about scoring points for or against the Bush administration.

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