Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Hope Amidst Despair


I am not religious, but I am struck by the feeling and despair expressed in this song from Iraq. Here is a second presentation together with the words.


A high water mark of hope for Iraq occurred on May Day 1959 when over half a million marched in peace in Baghdad. The Iraqi population was less than 7 million at the time, spread from the mountains of Kurdistan in the north to the port of Basra in the south.

The celebrating of May Day reflected a strong secular, pro-democratic and human rights tradition. This was seen in some of the political parties of that time and in newspapers, women's organisations, youth and student bodies and the Trade Union Movement who had organised the event.

The tradition re-emerged immediately in the open following the 2003 invasion. The people involved had opposed invasion, but moved into the openings it had provided. Those who sulk in their tents get nowhere.

No Illusions

We are all aware of the desperately destructive and difficult circumstances which terror and turmoil have created in Iraq since the invasion. If we look back at what has happened for almost half a century after that great May day event, then it will make us shudder further.

Soon after the demonstration, the Government closed down Trade Union newpapers and arrested thousand of trade unionists. Back and forth, oppression kept re-emerging in a series of coups and counter-coups from 1963 to 1968. Finally the Baathists were in complete control and trade union oppression, imprisonment, brutuality and murder were more fully on the agenda, except (in degree) for a short period when Saddam Hussein courted the Soviet Union for its military assistance. But Saddam also picked up information from Stalinism on how to run State controlled Trade Unions.

The economic improvement which Iraq had seen from its growing oil wealth was sent sharply into reverse under the impact of the massive Iraq-Iran War from 1980 to 1988. In 1987 Saddam banned Trade Unions in the public sector which accounted for 80% of the economy. What remained was absorbed into a State run movement under the absolutist control of Chemical Ali.

In 1988, Saddam also started his campaign of genocide against the Kurds. Then with his invasion of Kuwait, UN economic sanctions further hit the condition of the Iraqi people.

The well being of Iraqis was further smashed by the destructions of the Gulf War and Saddam's subsequent massacres against the Shia and Kurds for rebelling against his rule. The Marsh Arabs were also made destitute by his actions in diverting the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates.

When the deaths from invasion, military excess and (above all) the terrorism directed at the Iraqi people are added to this picture, we have a situation that too many will turn away from in despair.

Who Do We Support?

We can start by indictating those forces we don't wish to associate with. These include criminal gangs, Al Qaeda in Iraq, religious extremists and Sunni and Shia terrorist groups. These are all brutalised by their experiences under Saddam. Neither can we associate with any Western interests looking for financial rip-offs in the oil industry or for military bases and footholds for the future. Nor can we be on the side of those who would Balkanise Iraq, falsely arguing that it would fit into neat Shia, Sunni and Kurdish packages.

What remains? Well there are those who work within the framework of the 1959 May Day tradition; even if it means little to them. These include those who organise for women's rights, student interests, facilities for young people, for jobs, for decent wages and conditions, for improved hospital and electricity supplies, for communal self-help and the like. You know what I am on about. It happens the whole world over in different forms.

It isn't easy to focus our attention where it is needed. Nor are the two types of world I have mentioned always separated from each other. Terrorist groups also try to muscle in on social welfare provisions and self help for their chosen peoples. But even (and especially) in Iraq there are many with alternative understandings. Lets work with those who work with each other often irrespective of religous sect, ethnic or national background, family or tribal links, sex or sexual orientation, race or creed.

We can start out with cries of despair, but we need to move on to what is Iraq's best hope.

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