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“The StWC reaffirms its call for an end to the occupation, the return of all British troops in Iraq to this country and recognises once more the legitimacy of the struggle of Iraqis, by whatever means they find necessary, to secure such ends”. Statement issued by the officers of the Stop the war Coalition, signed by Lindsey German, Convenor, and Andrew Murray, Chair of the StWC.
“Right now, the STWC supports “the resistance” in Iraq by any means necessary – a tacit endorsement of the suicide bombing, hostage-taking and execution of innocent civilians, including brave, selfless aid workers, election supervisors and ordinary Iraqis on their way to school and work. The STWC justifies this carnage in the name of “national liberation” (sic). Motivated more by hatred of the US and British governments than by love for the Iraqi people, many so-called leftists support a “resistance” that, if victorious, would bring to power Baathists, Islamic fundamentalists and pro-al-Qaeda militants. Is that what the left now stands for? Neo-fascism, so long as it is anti-western?” Peter Tatchell, ‘The Left’s Retreat from Universal Human Rights’, December 18 2004
The murder of Hadi Saleh and the silence of the Stop the War Coalition Leaders
The torture and murder of Hadi Saleh, International Officer of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions on January 4 was part of a wave of attacks on Iraqi trade unionists by the ‘resistance’. Make no mistake about it, the ‘resistance’ are pursuing a campaign of physical eradication of leaders of the Iraqi left and Iraqi democrats. The death of Hadi Saleh is the latest of a number of actual and attempted political assassinations which have been condemned by the international left and labour movement. The exception has been the Stop the War Coalition which has remained effectively silent on Hadi’s brutal murder.
The international left and labour movement has spoken with one voice – global and unequivocal – to say that Hadi Saleh was a courageous socialist and trade unionist brutally murdered by the ‘resistance’, enemies of democracy and the working class. He was our comrade, they are our enemies. Letters condemning the killing and supporting the IFTU have poured in. This list is only a partial one.
• The Trades Union Congress (TUC)
• The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU)
• The National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (UK)
• The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers – RMT (UK)
• The AFL-CIO
• The Canadian Labour Congress
• United States Labour Against the War (USLAW)
• The International Transport Federation (ITF)
• The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF)
• The All Pakistan United Federation of Trade Unions
• Confederazione Generale Italiana Del Lavoro (CGIL)
• The Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of Iraq (FWCUI)
The key exception to this united front of solidarity has been the begrudging utterances from you at the Stop the War (StWC) Coalition. It is indisputable that your Coalition is a significant umbrella organisation for socialists and trade unionists in the UK. It also contains many of the lefts most powerful and oft heard writers and broadcasters. So why are you all but mute on such a significant and terrifying development? We imagine that many of your membership are asking the same question.
Here is what Andrew Murray, the StWC Chair wrote on Independent journalist Johann Hari’s own website, hidden away in a ‘comments’ section. This is the only comment from StWC leaders on the murders - one line, in one post, on one blog, while writing about another topic - ‘We condemn this killing and its perpetrators, whoever they are.’ That’s it.
With this sentence Murray reveals his political dilemma. On the one hand he is unable to clearly condemn the 'resistance' and their practice of political assassination. To do so would contradict his expressed support for the ‘resistance’ to oppose the occupation, 'by any means they find necessary’. On the other hand he dare not come out in support of the murderers or reiterate his 'by any means they find necessary’ position because the backlash would surely split the StWC. Not knowing which way to turn, Murray tries to take cover behind the pseudo-sophistication of the commentator who pretends he knows too much to go with the widespread knowledge that the 'resistance' are to blame. But no amount of 'whoever they are' will get him off the hook.
We know who did the killing, so do the IFTU, and so does Murray. The ‘resistance’ that Murray defends killed these trade unionists and will continue their campaign of political assassinations until we democrats and socialists can build a movement strong enough to help defend our Iraqi comrades. In these circumstances, when what we need is a clarion call from the leadership of the StWC to all its supporters to stand shoulder to shoulder with the IFTU against the ‘resistance’ it may have been better for Murray to have maintained an Omerta.
The Stop the War leaders have ignored the warnings of Mick Rix
The murder of Hadi Saleh demands the most serious political and moral accounting by every member of StWC leadership. For the StWC leaders were warned months ago. The ex-Aslef leader, Mick Rix, when he resigned from the Stop the War Coalition Steering Committee in October 2004, commented on the “deliberate, archaic, violent, and plain downright stupid” language the StWC leaders used when describing Hadi’s organisation. The IFTU had been called ‘collaborators’ by the StWC officers, ‘quislings’ by leading StWC member George Galloway MP (comments picked up and published in the Arab Press), and a ‘fake’ union by the newspaper of Lindsey German, the Convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Socialist Worker.
Mick Rix argued presciently that these irresponsible statements by StWC leaders had “placed these good trade unionists and socialists at a terrible risk”.
The Stop the War leaders have romanticised the ‘Resistance’
StWC leaders view the “resistance” as a legitimate national liberation movement. StWC leaders view as ‘collaborators’ the IFTU, all election workers, and all democratic parties participating in the January elections, whether Iraqi Communists, Kurdish Parties or Shia.
This view is quite wrong. The leaders of the ‘resistance’ are an amalgam of Baathists, Islamic fundamentalists, pro-al-Qaeda militants and criminals. There is nothing progressive about their political programmes. If they were ever to take state power then it would be a disaster for every worker, woman, lesbian and gay, Christian, Jew and democrat who would be left in Iraq. There would be years of unbridled reaction.
The UN-backed elections draw near. These elections are supported by the vast majority of Iraqis, 75% of whom expressed a ‘strong intention’ to vote. The vast majority of Iraqis have decided the UN backed political process offers their best chance to win sovereignty and democracy. In response the ‘resistance’ have targeted democrats, election workers, socialists, trade unionists, the leaders of the Shia, the Kurds and the Communists, and the schools that will function as polling booths.
Details of political assassinations and attacks conducted by ‘the resistance’ against Iraqi Trade Unionists
* 27/28 October 2003
The resistance tortured and murdered 4 IFTU members when their train was attacked by mortar fire on the railway line between Mosul and Baghdad. The 2 train drivers, a train controller (guard) and a security guard working for Iraqi Railways (IRR) were killed and their bodies mutilated and burnt by terrorists. The freight train that was attacked was reported to have been carrying consumer goods. The leaders of four important British trade unions organising workers in the transport sector, joined Andy Gilchrist, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union in sending messages of support and sympathy to the families of the murdered Iraqi railworkers. They pledged to support the IFTU in the struggle to rebuild independent trade unionism in Iraq. Kevin Curran, GMB General Secretary, Tony Woodley, T&GWU General Secretary, Keith Norman, ASLE&F Acting General Secretary and Bob Crow, RMT General Secretary all wrote messages of solidarity to the IFTU.
13 November 2004
The ‘Resistance’ murdered the Iraqi Communist Party leader Wadhah Hassan Abdul Amir (Saadoun), a member of the Interim National Assembly, along with two of his comrades, while travelling from Baghdad to Kirkuk.
* 25 December 2004
The ‘Resistance’ attack a freight train travelling from Basra to An-Nasiriyyah and kidnap the two train drivers, Salah Mehdi Taher and Salih Chiyehchan Harbi. The other five workers on the train were severely beaten and left in a life-threatening condition, Abd’ al-Emir Abd’al-Malik, Mustapha Kamel Mehdi, Amer Shamaan Amer, Ali Abd’al-Radh and Basil Abd’ Ouwd.
* 26/27 December 2004
The ‘Resistance’ launch an RPG attack on the headquarters of the Transport & Communication Workers’ Union. The ‘resistance’ shelled the building with rocket-propelled grenades and mortars which caused a large whole in the wall of the building and a crater in the ground. Luckily there were no fatalities.
January 4 2005
The ‘Resistance’ tortured and murdered Hadi Salih, International Officer of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions. He was tied and blindfolded and severely tortured before being forced to kneel and strangled by electric cord. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) has said "This vicious murder is nothing less than an attack on the right of Iraqi workers to trade union representation. It is aimed at destabilising and undermining the development of trade unions as cornerstones of development and respect for human rights" (ICFTU General Secretary Guy Ryder).
* Ongoing threat to Nozad Ismail, IFTU leader in Kirkuk
A trade union leader, 40 year old Nozad Ismail, the President of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions in Kirkuk, has already survived two assassination attempts by the ‘resistance’ and receives death threats.
* Ongoing attacks on Election workers
The ‘resistance’ have killed 17 election officers, nine would-be candidates, and bombed schools that are to act as Polling Stations
* Ongoing attacks on the FWCUI
The ‘resistance’ has also attacked the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI). Although the FCWUI and IFTU seriously disagree on many things, they share a view of the ‘resistance’ and have condemned the murder of Hadi Saleh in these terms: “Assassination is tradition by those political groups who have no any connection with Iraqi people and they are trying to implement their policies through threats, assassination persecution and physical eradication. (…) We condemn strongly this reactionary antihuman action which directed against any human aspect of Iraqi people. We declare in order to guarantee a peaceful and secure live for Iraqi people and to eliminate the current insecure and chaotic situation and scenario of assassination, terror and persecution in Iraq, are only possible through strengthening the progressive front of civil people in Iraq to end the occupation in Iraq and to eliminate the terrorism of political Islam and loyalists of Baath regime”.
These ‘resistance’ activities show that, while desperate individuals have certainly become involved, the ‘resistance’ is at its political core a Ba’athist and radical Islamist insurgency organised against the vast majority of Iraqi people, against the self-determination of the Iraqi people, and against the democratic process. The ‘resistance’ is not a national liberation movement in any sense.
Stop the War leaders must answer these questions
Was Hadi Saleh, despite his 5 years in detention under Saddam, his subsequent exile, and his heroic work in building the underground Workers Democratic Trade Union Movement and the IFTU, a “quisling” and a “collaborator”. We doubt the decent people who are the STWC members think he was.
Were StWC wrong to have referred to Hadi’s comrade, Abdullah Mushin as a ‘collaborator’? Do you now unreservedly retract these words? Will you release a public statement to this effect? We are sure, if only out of political expediency and with hindsight, you wish you had not used this language. Now is the time to put pride aside and make the difficult but brave decision to correct this mistake.
Do StWC condemn unequivocally the ‘resistance’ for its brutal slaying of Hadi Saleh?
The ‘resistance’ murders people who help the UN backed elections. Do StWC leaders view these murders also as legitimate acts by the “resistance”? Do StWC leaders support attacks on Polling Booths. We doubt the decent people who are the STWC members want to see the elections derailed by a wave of terror.
Who do the StWC view as ‘legitimate targets’ that may be attacked by ‘any means necessary’? Does StWC view as ‘legitimate targets’ all who join the Iraqi Police, work for the Iraqi Election Commission, work on rail reconstruction (for US contractors) or even dentists who include soldiers amongst their patients? We doubt the decent people who are the STWC members think they deserve to be killed, or even to be condemned for working in reconstruction.
The StWC leaders have a moral responsibility to speak out now
Previous statements by StWC leaders have been picked up around the world. The Arab Press reported George Galloway’s attack on the IFTU as ‘quislings’. This charge circulates among the ‘resistance’ in Iraq, as did the view of the StWC leaders that the ‘resistance’ are akin to the French Resistance of the 1940s. Now that the ‘resistance’ is torturing and murdering trade unionists StWC have a moral responsibility to speak out clearly and loudly as a collective in condemnation of the ‘resistance’.
If the StWC leaders do not respond adequately to these questions and do not stand unequivocally with Hadi’s comrades against Hadi’s killers then the movement should ask itself why it continues to fund StWC.
What is to be Done?
Rather than back the Ba’athists and the fundamentalist-terrorists of the resistance we should support the progressive democratic forces in Iraq. We should support the UN-backed elections and constitution-building process. We should make solidarity with the free Iraqi trade union movement, the women’s groups and the democratic political parties. We should argue for a Marshall Plan for Iraq and continue to oppose every measure taken by the occupation authorities that is not in the interest of the Iraq people, from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment to violence against civilians. We should call for the speedy reconstruction of Iraq in the interests of the Iraqi people. The US have $18b ring-fenced for reconstruction and they should spend it on schools, roads and hospitals under the direction of the elected Iraqi Transitional Assembly. We should support – as all Iraqi do - the speedy withdrawal of the coalition forces as part of a political settlement that gives the Iraqi people a future.
In an interview conducted at the ICFTU conference in December 2004 Hadi Saleh said this:
Q: are there risks in being involved in trade unionism?
HS: Yes, [the ‘resistance’ is] against civil society organisations, including trade unions. We have not been targeted, but the teachers’ unions have already lost members who were targeted and killed, so did the engineers and the doctors’ association, too.
Q: Who killed them and why?
HS: Two things: first of all, those extremists who targeted those trade unionists, both teachers and engineers, killed them under the notion they are collaborating with a State created by the Americans, so by definition those are collaborators and legitimate targets. So, some are killed like this. Secondly, others can fall victim to organised crime also.
Q: What kind of international solidarity do you need?
HS: We call our brothers and sisters in the international community to support us to make sure that our rights in organising formal unions freely and openly is guaranteed and ensured. That our struggle for fair wages, better working conditions, is guaranteed. We consider ourselves as fledglings in the trade union movement, and we need support to build our union. The international labour movement has a lot of expertise, knowledge on this, they could assist us. Training especially is fundamental for us.
We invite anyone who supports the views expressed in this Open Letter, whatever political party they support, to sign it (email us at email@example.com).
We urge everyone and especially those who marched against the war to move on and to support the IFTU financial appeal and the TUC Aid to Iraq Appeal.
Labour Party members can join Labour Friends of Iraq.
Time to end the silence. Time to make a stand for our Iraqi comrades. Enough is enough.
Alan Johnson, South Lakeland Stop the War, Research Officer of Labour Friends of Iraq, NATFHE
Jane Ashworth, Chair, Labour Friends of Iraq, Reading East Labour Party, PCS
Gary Kent, Director, Labour Friends of Iraq, (also personal capacity TGWU/NUJ)
Martin Pagell, Labour Councillor, Manchester City Council
Simon Pottinger, Middlesbrough and East Cleveland Labour Party
Dr Jeremy Stangroom, The Philosophers' Magazine, www.philosophers.co.uk
Councillor Clive Furness. London Borough of Newham