Freedom is not free, first report from LFIQ trip to Iraq

Freedom is not free is the inscription on a major statue here in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. This part of Iraq surely knows the cost of war and repression. It’s often not mentioned much but Saddams genocidal Anfal campaign murdered nearly 200,000 Kurds and razed hundreds of villages before the uprising and what everyone here calls the liberation in 2003.
Yesterday we also visited the Red House in Sulamani which was the secret police headquarters under Saddam and where hundreds of people were tortured and murdered. It’s grim but not the worst one can find. It’s being maintained as a memorial to Saddam’s victims.
The legacy of Saddam’s fascism is everywhere: shattered and ramshackle infrastructure, a culture of dominance from schools onwards and, literally, in the hearts, lungs and bodies of so many here in Iraqi Kurdistan where chemical warfare has resulted in increased cancers and leukemia but where there are no specialist health facilities to deal with them.
This part of Iraq has great potential as the Switzerland of the region but desperately needs investment and tourism.
I am here as part of a Labour Friends of Iraq delegation which includes senior representatives of the British labour movement to meet trade unions, civil society organisations and ministers. It is a breath of fresh air for those who opposed the war but moved on to embrace solidarity .
Not everyone can come to Iraq but should take care to listen to the progressive and non-sectarian voices we have met this week.The highlight of our visit, which was hosted by the Kurdistan Workers Union, was a meeting with the leaders of the wider Iraqi labour movement from Baghdad and Basra. A fuller report will come later but we will shortly launch a major campaign to help our comrades build unions free from government interference.
Gary Kent
LFIQ Director
Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan