The Plight of Iraq’s Progressive Labor Movement

In 2006 he joined the Iraq Freedom Congress (IFC), an organization created to push for a progressive and secular alternative to foreign occupation and sectarian violence. Saddam soon became valued for his organizational and leadership abilities. Within a year he was given command of the Safety Forces, which had been established as a grassroots alternative police force for local areas.

He became a popular personality who could often be seen training with those under his command. As a well known activist both before and after the western invasion, Saddam had accumulated a great deal of respect within communities in Basra and Baghdad. This made him the ideal choice when the IFC looked for a public face: he was elected to the organization’s Central Council.

As the IFC grew in strength and popularity, it made enemies – enemies which made themselves known last July 4th when Saddam’s house was assaulted by US soldiers. After blasting their way inside they fired on both Saddam and his eighteen year old daughter, wounding them both. Within minutes the dazed and bleeding IFC leader was dragged outside and bundled into a waiting vehicle, which sped off toward an unknown destination.

His daughter subsequently underwent hospital treatment and was able to relate the night’s events to family members and colleagues. Two days later, Saddam’s lifeless body was found at Yarmouk Hospital. An examination of the corpse revealed that in addition to suffering a gunshot wound, he had been badly beaten, with a combination of the two leading to his death.

This attack, which is tantamount to a political assassination, has been condemned by the IFC as a "criminal act." The IFC stated that the "assassination of Abdel Saddam Hussein by US forces will not discourage the determination of the Iraq Freedom Congress and will be a new impetus to continue the struggle to rid Iraqi society from all types of terrorists."

As usual, the declaration has fallen on deaf ears in the west. There has been something of a media black-out regarding any developments in Iraq that involve Iraqi people deciding how they wish their future to unfold. This attack illustrates the extent to which occupational forces will go to quell any groups that oppose the established regime.

In the past, the Iraqi government was the "attack dog" when it came to dealing with troublesome political factions and trade unions – all of which, aside from the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, are not recognized by the government. Both military spokesmen and civilians at the White House have asserted that coalition soldiers are only used on "terrorist" elements within Iraq, something which many Iraqis will disagree with, members of the IFC included.

The assassination of Abdelhussein Saddam, alongside George Bush’s recent "troop surge," could be construed as part of a final attempt by the US to pacify the Middle East in preparation for "economic reconstruction." However, this policy met resistance during a recent attempt to strong arm a new oil law through Iraq’s parliament. The law would have effectively delivered the majority of Iraq’s oil fields to foreign corporations such as Chevron and Exxon Mobile. The law came under furious criticism inside and outside Iraqi government circles. After his cabinet approved the bill earlier in the year, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki deemed it the "most important law in Iraq". Yet politicians on both sides of the Sunni and Shia divide were soon in uproar, in particular the 30 MPs allied to Shia cleric and militia leader Moqtada Sadr.

However, it is the progressive labor movement and the Iraqi workers that are leading the fight against the oil bill and all attempts to institute an economic stranglehold over Iraq’s resources. Being staunchly opposed to any attempt by foreign capital to monopolize the nation’s oil wealth, the Southern Oil Workers Union has engaged in a series of strikes with the full support of the IFC. Unfortunately, the government has hit back by issuing warrants for the arrest of several of the trade union’s leaders.

The Oil Minister, Hussein Shahrastani, has squashed any input the oil workers have about the new law. As unrecognized bodies, the trade union movement is banned from any action regarding the bill since, according to Shahrastani, they "have no legal status to work within the state sector." But the IFC has again come to the rescue with a retort that they "strongly support … other labor unions in their just struggle, and calls upon all libertarian forces in the world to support the struggle of the Iraqi people against the occupation and its policies."

The IFC has become something of an umbrella for progressive forces across Iraq, forces which do not abstain from engaging in the daily issues of the average worker. In fact, a large proportion of the IFC’s members are trade unionists, with several trade unions being affiliated as supporting organizations.

It makes sense that IFC members, such as the late Abdelhussein Saddam, were and are seen as palpable threats to the long term aims of both the occupation forces and the national government. Not only have they repeatedly stood up to the dictates of alleged "reconstruction," but they are a credible force for genuine progress in Iraq.

Photo from the Iraqi Freedom Congress website.