Report by Janet Burstall
The Occupation combined with lack of general lack of security in civil society are central problems facing Iraqi women and workers, according to Iraqi speakers at a forum in Sydney on 20 March.
Layla Mohammed (Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq) and Jalal Mohamad (Australian representative of the Unemployed Union of Iraq) both argued that the Interim Governing Council (IGC) had been set up by the US based on a view of Iraq as a tribal, ethnic and nationally divided country. Because representation on the IGC is according to these loyalties, disagreements on the IGC are along these lines, fuelling social conflict on a reactionary basis. Political representation in Iraq should be according to class interests, social interests, women's interests and so on, as in a modern civil society. This is the view of the Worker Communist Party of Iraq (WCPI), which they both support.
Senator Kerry Nettle, also on the panel, was about to visit Iraq as part of an international delegation of MPs (since delayed). She described the relationship between the US and the IGC as "an example of the way in which the Occupation is feeding and fuelling disagreements between Iraqi groups. In a contradictory way it is both a common enemy and it fuels dissension."
Kassim Abood, a member of the Communist Party of Iraq which holds one seat on the IGC rejected criticisms leveled at the IGC. He said that the USA had wanted the IGC to be a rubber stamp, but that the "interim Council is a compromise between a rubber stamp and full governing authority. We see it as a platform of struggle, we can use it." But according to Layla "no one in Iraq sees the IGC as a power that can solve problems" such as the "hundreds of thousands of Iraqis living in camps" following the destruction of housing by the invasion. Neither is the IGC protecting women from honour killings, fatwahs, rape, abduction and family violence.
When Jalal repeated criticisms of the Governing Council, Kassim Aboud walked out.
According to Jalal "Handing over power is not the main issue. Afghanistan is a clear example of what the US intends to do in Iraq, it is like the "Vietnamisation" of Iraq. It does not equal democracy in Iraq. We need a secular, non-religious, non-nationalist regime. The power of creating such a regime is against the US backed Governing Council, against the terrorists and against US policy. It is in the hands of the workers movement, the union movement, the secular movement."
Jarvis Ryan, from ISO and Socialist Worker asked comrades of the WCPI whether they gave in principle support to the armed resistance, which he understood had widespread support and could be an ally of the civil struggle. Jalal replied that "the resistance" had killed many more Iraqis than occupying troops. (The numbers Jalal had to hand were 530 troops to 30,000 Iraqis - Bodycount Iraq records the total since the US invasion as a direct result of armed conflict at 600 occupying troops and up to 11,000 Iraqis.) "What is the Resistance going to achieve in Iraq?" Jalal asked."We are against the armed resistance". Layla added that much needed aid was not being provided because suicide bombers have frightened away aid workers.
The question that Kerry Nettle will be grappling with on the delegation to Iraq is "Should we recommend that the June 30 handover is a reflection of a democratic voice in Iraq?" Another member of the Greens pointed out that the US has indicated its plans to rotate its troops till 2007 so that there are 100,000 US troops at any one time. It is difficult to see how she could have recommended that the handover reflects a "democratic voice".
Jalal outlined some of the work of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) which includes the Unemployed Union of Iraq, and Layla outlined that of the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq. These are the forces who have the capacity and interest to fight for workers rights, women's rights and freedom, against the occupation, religious persecution and terror against civilians.
Karen Iles, a CFMEU organiser suggested some possibilities for solidarity by Australian unions, but also stated the need for a "reality check" thinking about which unions are in a position to offer support, and all the other issues which unions have to deal with. She said that rank and file members are best placed to invite speakers to workplace meetings. Women in Iraq need support, particularly in a war zone, but there are few organisations in Sydney that could offer much practically. AidWatch may be able to help monitor where aid is going in Iraq.
MUA member Jake Haub said that it would be easier to build union solidarity in Australia if it were clearer who represents workers in Iraq, because "if Iraqi unions are at each others necks, the trade unions in this country would not be involved". He proposed a trade union sponsored seminar to look at practical activities for solidarity.