The Sheffield Star reports on the LFIQ delegation to Iraq.
THREE years after the invasion by British and American troops, Iraq remains a dangerous place.
But the risk of kidnappings and bomb attacks did not deter a delegation of trade unionists, including Sheffield teacher Sue Rogers and former North East Derbyshire Labour MP Harry Barnes.
Despite reports of carnage still taking place daily, they saw how recovery was beginning to take hold away from areas such as Baghdad and Basra, where insurgents remain a constant threat.
Sue, who teaches history at King Edward VII Secondary School, Broomhill, was on the trip representing the NASUWT teaching union. She said: “We went to look at how the rebuilding of Iraq is progressing.”
The 27-strong delegation, from the Trade Union Congress’s Labour Friends of Iraq group, included people who were for and against the war in 2003. (actually, it was 7 from LFIQ which is not part of the TUC, Gary Kent)
Sue had been opposed to military action and took part in Stop The War protests.
But on arrival in the northern region of Kurdistan – one of the areas most repressed by Saddam Hussein’s regime – she said the welcome was “unbelievable”.
She added: “The people we met were totally for the war and were so glad it happened.”
During their nine-day visit the group stayed in Erbil and Sulymania and saw how buildings had been reconstructed and schools reopened.
Sue said: “There were men with guns from the regular Iraqi army and police and a small group was assigned for our protection but it was peaceful and I felt quite safe.”
However, the group received a stark reminder of the region’s darker past when they were given a “moving” tour of the Red House in Sulymania, where Kurdish resistance fighters were imprisoned and tortured.
They also visited memorials to the struggle for freedom and talked to workers in the cities about how they re-established trade unions – banned under Saddam Hussein – but seen by the delegation as an essential part of a free democracy.
Sue was delighted to see classes up and running in schools.
“Although they didn’t always have the equipment everyone was positive and hopeful which was fantastic.”
Although she believed the invasion of Iraq was wrong she said Britain should not abandon the country. “Now we have to help complete rebuilding.”
During the visit, Harry Barnes – joint president of Labour Friends of Iraq – was granted honorary membership of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions to mark his efforts to help unions re-establish themselves in the country.
His work was also recognised by former colleagues in the House of Commons who passed a motion of congratulation.
25 May 2006
TUC AND MOBILE PHONES FOR IRAQI TRADE UNIONS
That this House notes that unions representing workers in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan face incredible challenges in defending working people and rebuilding democracy and that one of their requests for solidarity from British trade unionists is the provision of mobile phones, which are crucial for any union organiser but especially in Iraq, where travel can be dangerous and landlines are not sufficiently reliable or widespread; further notes that mobile phone handsets are expensive to buy in Iraq and that buying new ones could eat up scarce union resources, but that the Iraqi trade union movement has identified a way of easily converting old European mobile phones for use in Iraq; and congratulates the TUC on launching an appeal for unions, their members and concerned members of the public to pass on via the TUC their used mobile phones and chargers to the Iraqi trade union movement as an act of solidarity.
The BBC reports that Hero Ibrahim Ahmad has warned that high unemployment levels in Iraq are making disaffected youths easy targets for extremists. The wife of President Jalal Talabani founded the Kurdistan Womens Association in 1989. She told a conference in London that I believe that if we are to genuinely try to end the misery and misfortunes of all of the people of Iraq, we must work together regardless of ethnic background, nationality or religion to achieve freedom of the individual and a respect for human rights and dignity equally for both women and men.
The New York Times examines the role of Iraqi charities in rebuilding civil society where , it says, small acts of pure altruism often go unnoticed but the outlines of a nascent civil society are taking shape. It says that since 2003 the government has registered 5,000 private organizations, including charities, human rights groups, medical assistance agencies and literacy projects. Officials estimate that an additional 7,000 groups are working unofficially.
Solidarity with Iraqi gays, feminists, democrats and socialists
Public meeting – Panel discussion, with Qs and As
Friday 19 May 2006
7 – 9 pm
Conway Hall, Red Lion Sq, London WC1 (nearest tube Holborn)
Panellists include: Ali Hili of the Iraqi LGBT- UK group, Houzan Mahmoud
of the Organisation for Women’s Freedom in Iraq and Peter Tatchell of
This event is a part of the International Day of Action Against Homophobia
programme organised by GALHA, with the support of OutRage! and other LGBT
“We hated Saddam’s tyranny, but the situation for gay people in Iraq is now
even worse, with the rise of fundamentalist death squads that are
assassinating homosexuals and unchaste women,” said keynote speaker, exiled
gay Iraqi, Ali Hili, coordinator of Iraqi LGBT – UK and Middle East Affairs
spokesperson for OutRage!
LFIQ Chair Dave Anderson has tabled the following Commons motion as a basis for the LFIQ campaign to support independent unions in Iraq
That this House applauds the recent Labour Friends of Iraq delegation to Erbil and Sulamaniyah to meet unions, parties, and ministers from Iraqi Kurdistan as well as 22 union leaders from Baghdad, Basra and Babel; is concerned that Iraqi Ministers, through Decree 8750 of August 2005, have frozen the monies of unions including those affiliated to the Iraqi Workers’ Federation, leaving organisations which represent up to a million Iraqis and which are the bedrock of a non-sectarian civil society unable to organise and play a positive role in both the workplace and in wider society; fears that some may create sectarian client unions; urges the British Government to make representations to the Iraqi Government to lift Decree 8750 and the continuing ban, first introduced in 1987 by Saddam Hussein, on public sector trade union organisation; is concerned that this ban is the basis of hostile actions against the Port Workers’ Union in Khour Al-Zubeir; further notes that the LFIQ delegation was told repeatedly by union leaders and others of the potential of private foreign investment in Iraqi Kurdistan whose Parliament is keen to encourage investment not least in tourism and mineral extraction; believes that those concerned for Iraqi democracy should heed the call of the Iraqi unions for urgent assistance to retrieve their independence and to increase their power as a social partner in reconstructing Iraq which has long been isolated from modern thinking and must contend with the enormous physical and psychological legacy of dictatorship, sanctions and war.
The motion has so far been supported by the following Labour MPs:
The Little Atoms radio show recently interviewed LFIQ Director Gary Kent.
It is a month since our delegation from LFIQ returned from its visit to Iraqi Kurdistan.
At our hotel in Suleimanieh, we picked up copies of issue No.4 of the newspaper SOMA, which is published in English and is subtitled “An Iraqi-Kurdish Digest”.
It was a fascinating for us to read. To start with, in Erbil we had had an extensive question and answer session with Adnan Mufti the Speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament. Now the paper had published its own interview with him.
Mufti wasn’t restrained by the parliamentary convention which normally limits Speakers to only discussing their role in relation to Parliamentary procedures. He was as political as the rest of us – and SOMA. The paper was given open responses to questions about Iraqi Kurdistan’s relationship with the Shia South, the peshmerga’s role in relation to the Iraqi Army, whether Kurdistan should seceded from Iraq and problems with neigbouring Turkey and Iran. Plus much more.
Most of the themes discussed with Mufti were also taken up in separate articles. There was also an item which clearly explained why our hosts from the Kurdistan Workers’ Federation had cancelled our trip to Halabja on safety grounds. Just a fortnight earlier, Islamic extremists and Iranian agents were thought to have been behind violent protests which had led to the desecration of the graves and the destruction of the memorial to those that died from Saddam Hussein’s gassings.
Issue No.5 of SOMA has just been published. There is an article here on the petrol shortages and black market substitutes operating in Sulemanieh.
The scene of the sale of petrol from plastic containers, normally be young men with lighted cigarettes in their mouths had been a regular feature of our travels. We saw that the petrol stations themselves were invariably closed. A Photo with the SOMA article reveals the size of the queues when the stations do manage to open. Yet this in a country and a region with massive oil fields.
On page 15 of No 5 there is an article entitled “Suly’s house of horrors” on the Red House.
The SOMA website also contains access to past editions of the newspaper and to a Kurdish Radio station which mainly plays Kurdish music. It is worth a visit.
Tim Lezard meets Iraqi journalist Huda Saber.
Huda Saber, 26, lives in Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. A member of the Journalists union of Kurdistan and an activist in the Kurdistan Syndicate, she works for two newspapers, Workers Arm and Gengeland (Youthland).
‘I wouldn’t say the situation for journalists in Iraq is bleak,’ she says, ‘but it is extremely difficult because of a lack of security. In Kurdistan, though, the security situation is better than the rest of Iraq and we are free to move about and to conduct our daily life.’
‘We’re relatively free to work without the fear of reprisals, but you can’t say we’re totally free from pressure. The government does not interfere as such, at least not openly. I’ve written articles criticising certain aspects of policies and I’m ok.’
‘Since Iraqi Kurdistan became a UN safe haven in 1991, we have had relative stability. Unfortunately the situation in the rest of Iraq is deteriorating.’
‘Trade unions are a positive force here, Since 1991, there has been space for civil society to develop and we have been part of that, organising for the last 15 or 16 years, but we are still facing enormous difficulties and shortages and are in need of international help and support.’
‘Though we have embarked on a new project and a new, democratic, federal Iraq, that only is a project. Yes, we have the commitment of Iraq and Kurdish people, but we need the support of the international community with us.’
This appears in the current edition of the NUJ’s magazine, the Journalist. Tim was a member of the LFIQ delegation to Iraq.
Iraq was once one of the worlds leading scientific centres. However, Saddam did not encourage free enquiry and the higher education system was left to deteriorate during his dictatorship. A virtual library for science is now popular in Iraqi universities. (David Spector)