See here for details of trade union action in Basra.
Omar says that the results so far have been astounding, and please allow me to say that I am proud of the change in attitude many of my fellow Iraqis are showing.
Our Joint President Dave Anderson has asked all candidates for the deputy leadership of their Labour Party for their views on solidarity with the Iraqi labour movement. The first response is from Alan Johnson MP.
As a Trade Unionist myself, I have been inspired by the resurgence of the Trade Union movement in Iraq and see this as a key example of a new, democratic, pluralist society emerging. On the specific question of Iraqi government policy, it is not a matter that I feel we should necessarily directly interfere in. I will use my influence to show solidarity to the Iraqi Trade Unions and will encourage the administration to treat them supportively wherever possible. It is, however, ultimately not a decision to be made in London, but to be made by the democratically elected government of Iraq. It is important that as a government and as the Labour movement, we show solidarity with all the people of Iraq and with the Iraqi government.
I would be grateful if you could keep me updated of developments, as I shall be following this issue with interest.
Blaydon MP Dave Anderson collared Gordon Brown at the Labour leadership hustings in Newcastle to raise the issue of trade union rights in Iraq.
Mr Anderson, who is the chairman of the Labour Friends of Iraq, has supported free trade unions in that beleaguered country since he was the president of the public service union, Unison.
“One of the few positives in the whole mess that is Iraq has been the rebirth of the Iraqi trade union movement, almost exterminated by Saddam Hussein,” he said.
“However, almost two years ago the Iraqi government seized the assets of the trade unions, effectively meaning that they cannot operate freely and independently. I have raised this issue constantly and I won’t let go now.”
Mr Brown has promised to pursue the matter with the Iraqis.
Peter Young’s Any Other Business column in Newcastle Evening Chronicle
In response to LFIQ supporter, Sharon Hodgson, the Minister for the Middle East, Dr. Kim Howells, answers questions on the the role of trade unions and the need to overturn restrictions on their activity. And LFIQ Joint President Ann Clwyd emphasises the potential of the unions in fostering reconciliation.
Here is the full record from FCO questions on 5th June.
5. Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): If she will make a statement on the position of trade unions in Iraq.
The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): The Iraqi Government should recognise the importance of free and democratic trade unions. Currently, the finances and membership of Iraq’s trade unions continue to be restricted by decree 8750 passed by Iraq’s Interim Government in 2005, and law 150 passed by Saddam Hussein’s Government in 1987. We have encouraged the Iraqi Government to ensure that free and comprehensive elections can take place among members of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers, so that legislation can be introduced to allow properly constituted trade unions to operate freely in the country.
Mrs. Hodgson: I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that the Iraqi trade union movement seeks to unite working people of whatever religion, and even no religion? That requires the support of democrats everywhere to build a democratic, civil society, whatever their view about the invasion might have been.
Dr. Howells: Yes, I agree entirely. Through the Department for International Development, we are providing funding for the International Centre for Trade Union Rights and have co-funded union training with Unison. The aim is to provide core training on the role of trade unions in the workplace and society, negotiating collective agreements, union organisation and, importantly, women’s involvement in trade unions.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Are the Government helping the Iraqi Government to meet one of the main concerns of Iraqi trade unions? Oil revenue that should be channelled into raising living standards is actually being siphoned off in large volumes to rich Gulf states as reparation for the first-not the second-Gulf war, including payments to companies that claim missed business opportunities at that time.
Dr. Howells: The hon. Gentleman will know that measures were taken and decisions reached at the United Nations on the payment of reparations and on other forms of payment to account for the loss of property and profits and damage during the first Gulf war period and the invasion of Kuwait. I am sure he agrees that we should see an end to those payments, which have been going on for a long time and are draining revenue that should be used to build Iraq. The Government are doing everything they can to persuade Iraq’s neighbours in the Gulf to forgo those reparations so that reconstruction can take place.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): Given that I have spent a considerable amount of time talking to Iraqi trade unions on my several visits to Iraq, I agree that it is important that laws that militate against them be repealed as quickly as possible. I would like to press our diplomats in Baghdad to make more efforts to pressurise the Iraqi Government to repeal those laws. Secondly, does my hon. Friend agree that as the Iraqi trade unions are mainly non-sectarian they have an important role to play in the future reconciliation programme in Iraq, and that we should not underestimate the power of their membership to achieve what others, seemingly, are failing to achieve?
Dr. Howells: Yes, I agree with my right hon. Friend’s assessment of the role of trade unions in Iraq and their character. I pay tribute to the work that she has done over very many years in defence of free Iraqi trade unions. She will know, as well as I do, that trade unions were sometimes used under Saddam Hussein as intelligence-gathering operations for his secret police and for the repression that they exercised. I certainly agree that we-our diplomats and everyone else-must do everything possible to try to convince the Iraqi
Government that it is a priority that they should take seriously.
Adam Wolfe offers a detailed overview of interlinking events which may either bring stability to the region or harden sectarian fractures.
David Bosco in the Boston Globe examines the positions of human rights group on the surge and the debate on the withdrawal of troops and urges them to engage.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari is interviewed on his trip to Australia. He makes it clear that the consequences of a precipitate withdrawal of foreign troops would be terrible. He says: The country would disintegrate, it would be divided. There would be civil war, slaughter, sectarian war. There would be mayhem. International terrorists would find there would be a safe haven in Iraq, a much more important and sympathetic safe haven than they found in Afghanistan, and they will attack others from there. Iraq’s neighbours will be tempted to cross its borders and establish zones of influence there.
Text of article in the Australian
A lesson in loyalty
The silence that greeted the visit of an elected Iraqi minister is an indictment of left-wing media, writes foreign editor Greg Sheridan
THIS week I had the considerable pleasure of meeting a genuine hero, a military hero and a democratic hero, a moderate Muslim and a hero in the struggle for democratic self-determination.
I refer to Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. A long-time Kurdish freedom fighter, he has been an indefatigable campaigner for Iraqi human rights and democracy.
Note, therefore, this incredible occurrence. Zebari held a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on Monday. Yet The Age in Melbourne, the nation’s most left-wing newspaper and the paper that has most strongly opposed every aspect of the coalition action in Iraq, did not see fit to print a word about it on Tuesday.
This is as glaring a case as you could imagine of simply not reporting the facts because they don’t fit your preconceived narrative.
The Age has spent tonnes and tonnes of newsprint excoriating the coalition efforts to liberate Iraq from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and give it a chance of establishing democracy. But it certainly did not want to hear the views of an Iraqi who has the legitimacy of 12 million Iraqis voting three times so that he could be Foreign Minister.
This is, sadly, all too representative of the irrational turn the Iraq debate has taken, where nobody is the slightest bit interested in any evidence that does not support their already held position.
The Australian carried my interview with Zebari yesterday and I don’t intend to recapitulate it here, except for one central consideration. This is what he said would be the result of a rapid pullout from Iraq by the coalition forces led by the US and including Britain and Australia.
Zebari said a rapid coalition pullout would mean: “The country would disintegrate, it would be divided. There would be civil war, slaughter, sectarian war. There would be mayhem. International terrorists would find there would be a safe haven in Iraq, a much more important and sympathetic safe haven than they found in Afghanistan, and they will attack others from there. Iraq’s neighbours will be tempted to cross its borders and establish zones of influence there.”
Now here’s the thing. If Zebari is right, rapid withdrawal would be an unmitigated strategic disaster. It would be a tremendous victory for the terrorists and nothing would be more likely to cause conflict within the Middle East. Yet that is the logic of Labor’s position under Kevin Rudd, with the important qualification that Rudd would withdraw Australian troops after consultation with the US and not necessarily suddenly.
This is an issue that very few people discuss honestly. This is a US-led operation and the key question is when the Americans leave. Either they will leave because their own political will collapses or because the Iraqis can finally take care of security themselves. If it is the former, then the disastrous results that Zebari sketches are a strong possibility. If it is the latter, then the whole Iraq mission has been redeemed and the infamy of a genocidal tyrant justly brought to a close.
But in much of the Western debate, not least in Australia, you get the impression that commentators hate George W. Bush and John Howard more than they love the Iraqi people. Just as the international Left cared not a fig for the human rights of Vietnamese, Cambodians or Laotians, and in general didn’t mind a genocide or two once the communists were in power, so too you get the feeling they will rapidly lose interest in any amount of suffering by Iraqis provided the Americans and their allies have been comprehensively humiliated.
The other intriguing aspect of Zebari’s visit was his general praise for the Australian troops in Iraq and his report that they enjoyed a very high reputation in Iraq. This is significant in part because it echoes what several other critically credible sources have said in the past few weeks. It also demolishes the proposition of the Australian Left that somehow or other our participation in Iraq, which by the way is under the authorisation of a UN resolution, is somehow damaging our international reputation.
Ali A. Allawi, a former defence and finance minister in recent Iraqi governments, has written the definitive account of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, entitled, appropriately, The Occupation of Iraq.
In it he deplores the amateurism and incompetence of some of the staff of the Coalition Provisional Authority under the leadership of Paul Bremer. However, he goes out of his way to contrast this with the professionalism of the Australians, especially the Australians involved in reconstruction.
Similarly, the recently published memoirs of the former chief of the CIA, George Tenet, are instructive on this point. Tenet has become a critic of Bush and his memoirs are designed to limit his guilt by association with the Iraq operation and put as much distance as possible between himself and the Bush administration.
His remarks on Howard, though – again, strangely unreported – are instructive. He says that he and Bush agreed to delay the announcement of his resignation as CIA chief because Howard was due to visit and they didn’t want to detract from the attention the US media should pay to Australia’s Prime Minister.
Tenet writes: “Howard had been one of our closest allies. Not only had he deployed troops to Iraq, but he’d also had the enormous political courage to say that he’d gone to war in Iraq not because of what the intelligence said but because he’d believed it was the right thing to do. The President didn’t want to do anything to step on Howard’s visit. Nor did I.”
This is much how many people see Howard internationally, unless they are dedicated haters of the coalition operation in Iraq. Australia, and Australia’s Government, are seen as immensely successful internationally.
The final word, though, belongs to Zebari. One of his most likable traits is loyalty to friends. I asked him if he had any sympathy for Paul Wolfowitz, the former US deputy defence secretary and a key architect of the operation in Iraq, who resigned this week as head of the World Bank.
Zebari told me he had a lot of sympathy for Wolfowitz: “We Iraqis consider him a friend. He was a believer in Iraqi democracy. He has been criticised very unfairly. He was a close and determined friend of the Iraqi people and he never wavered in his commitment to our cause.”
It is of course entirely right to receive a lesson in loyalty and consideration for a friend from a distinguished Iraqi democrat.
Gordon Brown will maintain British obligations to the elected Iraqi government.