Despite a government-ordered “lockdown” designed to prevent them, demonstrators took to the streets in Iraq on 25 February in at least 17 cities, protesting against government corruption and neglect of basic services.
The Washington Post reports that Iraqi security forces detained about 300 people, including prominent journalists, artists, and lawyers in the aftermath of the Friday protests.The demonstrations are part of the biggest wave of social upheaval since Saddam Hussein’s regime fell. The growing movement has included significant workers’ militancy, particularly amongst workers in the energy sector. Abdullah Muhsin, the UK representative of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (traditionally the most mainstream and moderate of Iraq’s union centres) spoke to Solidarity about the situation. For a longer version of the interview, please see tinyurl.com/abdullahm
This is the most significant wave of action since 2003. There was a massive change in 2003; whether you agreed or disagreed with the war, for the first time in the history of Iraq, people are free to organise, to march and to protest.
However, there are limited services and attacks on freedom of association and freedom of speech.
These protests are not limited to one area. The current protests are generated by internal circumstances within Iraq, but it cannot be said that they were not influenced by what took place in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. Eight years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, people still have no jobs, no clean water, no electricity. There’s enormous corruption, both administrative and financial. After the last general election in Iraq, it took nine months to form a government and three key ministries are still not functioning. People have had enough with the false promises. That’s how the protests started.
The trade unions were the first to organise support for the uprisings in the other countries. We were inside embassies in Baghdad calling for an end to dictatorship. Like those protests, the protests in Iraq were started by youth movements. That’s how it started – with people using mobiles, Twitter and Facebook. Young Iraqis are politically aware. Those were the two trends – one of solidarity with the Arab uprisings, and one of people, particularly young people, demanding their rights.
We’re still campaigning to win a labour law. Fundamentally we want a law that allows pluralism and the right of public sector workers to organise. The current draft only names the General Federation of Iraqi Workers and professional association as recognised trade-union bodies; we’re in favour of pluralism and the right of other union federations to organise. We’ve worked together with the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq but we can’t force the state to put their name on the document. In general we’re very clear that we’re in favour of pluralism and we will not be moved on this.
The electricity workers’ union’s offices are still shut after being raided last July. The state has accused them of corruption, but they themselves are corrupt. The union has come back with a strong message, supported by ICEM and ITUC, demanding the right to organise.
Al-Shahristani, the minister who de-recognised the electricity union, also victimised oil workers’ leaders in the south and transferred them away from their jobs. The oil union in Kirkuk has also been very active and have been protesting since 12 February. Their demands include permanent contracts for temporary workers, an end to corruption and family patronage, the right to organise, and an improvement in wages and working conditions. Oil workers in Baghdad have organised a demonstration in front of the oil ministry in Baghdad demanding the same thing.
We have a relationship with the new trade unions in Egypt. We organised some symbolic solidarity actions in support of what was going on in Egypt. In most Arab countries there are state-run unions, but a change of regime will mean a change of structure and pluralism.
We support pluralism and democracy. We do not support state-run trade unions.
Socialists arrested in Iraqi Kurdistan
From the Worker-Communist Party of Kurdistan
On 25 February 2011, the masses of Sulaimaniya, Iraqi Kurdistan, held a large demonstration as part of demonstrations which have been taking place since 17 February against oppression committed by the two ruling parties of Kurdistan, the KDP and PUK.
In the demonstration of 17 February, KDP militias shot and killed three people and wounded many others.
Daily demonstrations were launched in response. KDP forces and the Asaiysh (security forces) of both the ruling parties arrested and abducted those who were active in organising mass rallies and demonstrations.
After the demonstration on 25 February in Maidani Azadi (Freedom Square) in Sulaimaniya, four members and supporters of our party (Nawzad Baban, Moayad Ahmad, Shakhawan Nasih and Khalid Majid), who actively took part in the demonstration, were kidnapped.
Abduction and arrest is a model carried out by the authorities in Kurdistan and other groups and militias.
• The comrades have since been released.