All The More Reason

A Work in Progress
July 6, 2006, 10:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I had the great privilege of attending the Labour Friends of Iraq meeting held in Portcullis House yesterday evening. The event, hosted by LFI director Gary Kent, was honoured by the presence of two immensely courageous men, Sardar Muhammed and Moustaf Yousif al Sa. Both men are Iraqi trade unionists; both are struggling to construct civil society in their country. You will note that I did not use the word ‘reconstruct’. This is an experiment with no precedent in their country.

The English language often resorts to African wildlife similes when attempting to express the idea of bravery: ‘he was as brave as a lion’, ‘she had the bravery of a tiger’. I would like to add a Messopotamian example to the slender lexicon: ‘he was as brave as a man who voted against the Ba’ath Party in an election held by Saddam Hussein’. This is what Moustaf Yousif al Sa did, and he served a prison sentence for his actions. That this information was not imparted first hand but, rather, from stalwart Labour MP, Harry Barnes, after the meeting, says much about both the modesty of the man and the urgency with which he wished to express his central point.

The Iraqi trade unionist movement is currently experiencing what the speakers described as a ‘campaign of genocide’. Thousands of working class Iraqis involved in the movement have been either assassinated, kidnapped, tortured- and sometimes all three- by what some sections of the Left in this country still have the audacity to call ‘insurgents’. The label is not altogether misleading; these people have made it their business to rebel against the authority not just of the government, but of the Iraqis who voted in huge numbers to install a democratic, federalist government. Most of the – to eschew euphemism for a moment- murderers are, we were told, Ba’athist members of Saddam’s Mukhabarat secret police, some are Islamists and foreign terrorists.

The main targets of the terrorists’ guns and car bombs are not American troops- although they get their fair share- but, rather, the men and women who are trying to build a democratic, civic society in Iraq: recruits to the police and army, public sector workers, trade unionists. The trade union movement in particular was, for the two speakers, an essential component in the democratic project. ‘A democracy’, as Moustaf put it, ‘cannot be imposed by the will of the state alone. It must be nurtured at the roots.’ Organisations such as the Oil and Gas Workers’ Union , or any of the seven groups that have sprung up since the fall of Saddam, constitute these very delicate roots. They are a vital non-sectarian front, bringing Iraqis together to fight for the common interest of all Iraqis, not just the narrow, chauvinistic interests of Shia or Sunni.

In short, this is a cause worth defending. And it is, furthermore, a cause in which our country has a role. Reading the British press, one would assume that the withdrawal of troops from Iraq was the only possible way of ensuring that the violence in the country abated. Rent-a-quotes and armchair generals like Simon Jenkins are eager to pontificate on the malign influence of American and British troops in Iraq, however if you’ll forgive me, I would rather canvass the opinion of our brothers and sisters on the front line. The withdrawal of troops would, in Sardar’s words be ‘a catastrophe, an absolute disaster’. Both speakers made it quite clear that the presence of foreign troops is absolutely essential until such time as the homegrown Iraqi forces are in a position to defend the country’s security. This was something we have been told on countless occasions by Tony Blair, George Bush and others. Hearing it from the mouths of people who would bear the brunt of any withdrawal made the case rather more profoundly.

The intervention in Iraq has not won many supporters in the time since official hostilities ended. Pros and antis are dug into their respective positions and, if anything, it is the antis that have grown in number and voice in the chaotic period that has ensued. Now is the time for both sides to come out of their ideological trenches. The aspirations of the Iraqi people are worthy of our support. One might expect the Little Englanders on the Right to dispute this, but no progressive worth the label could disagree. The final word, as always, should rest with our Iraqi comrades: ‘We did not ask you to come in, but please, now you are here, stay until we ask you to leave.’

Michael P


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