Sunday, April 08, 2007

Freedom Is Not Free

Concluding This Series

This is the final item in a continuous series which I have posted about a visit I made to Iraqi Kurdistan a year ago as part of a delegation from Trade Unions and Labour Friends of Iraq.

The following items can be found posted immediately below this one.

(A) 3 April "Najim Abd-Jasem"

On a meeting with Iraqi Trade Union Leaders, including Nasim who was recently murdered in Baghdad because of his Trade Union activities

(B) 4 April "On The Road To Sulaymaniyah"

As our delegation moved to meet Sulaymaniyah's Trade Unionists. For this you also need to follow a link to my much earlier item, entitled "Another 4th April".

(C) 5 April "From Torture To Under-employment"

On further activities in Sulaymaniah, including a visit to Saddam Hussein's former torture chamber at the Red House.

(D) 6 April "A Seat Of The Gods"

On our return to Arbil and the meetings we held with Trade Unionists on our arrival.

(E) 7 April "Our Friends In The North"

Details of our visit to the Zargros Mountains, whilst also covering our earlier programme over 1, 2 and 3 April as provided by our fine hosts - the Kurdistan Workers' Federation.

(F) 8 April "Freedom Is Not Free" On our final day, see now-

Preparing To Leave

Initially we had arranged to meet the Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government whose father's grave we had visited the previous day. But our flight was brought forward so our meeting with Massoud Barzani had to be cancelled.

We called back to Sami Abul Rahman Park as we wished to visit its monument to 98 Kurds killed in a terrorist attack on 1 February, 2004. It points out that "Freedom Is Not Free". In my mind this also now stands as an epitaph to Najim Abd-Jasem. See the photo of the memorial on page 5 of this report. Page 4 also gives details of the members of our delegation.

Return Journey

We flew to Dubai from Arbil in a once-weekly plane that was only a quarter full. This contrasts starkly with the crowded airports at Dubai and at the later change-over in Doha.

The economic prosperity of the nations involved (the United Arab Emirates and Qatar) is also a stark contrast to Iraq. They have used their oil wealth to diversify their economies and provide for their futures. This was a direction that Iraq seemed to be on the verge of, until it was overtaken by the adventurism and oppression of Saddam Hussein.

I found the flight over Iraq to be a telling experience. When we made the reverse flight on our arrival, Iraq had been covered in clouds and Arbil was completely in the dark. But on the return journey it was bright sunshine and I was free to move seats from side to side to catch the sites of Baghdad and Basra which I had known from the ground in the days of my National Service 50 years earlier.

The Lessons

Much of what I learnt from our visit to Iraqi Kurdistan probably comes out in the dialectics of the debates I participate in on the future of Iraq; or in my writings, talks and blogging. But as is a bloggers habit, I will give a list. It is of seven of the lessons I have drawn.

(1) Iraqi Trade Unionists deserve and need our understanding and practical support.

Sue Rodgers the Chair of the TUC's Iraq Solidarity Committee was part of our delegation. The TUC provides a clear avenue through which people can help - numbers of these developed out of our visit. Specific Trade Unions such as UNISON have their own linked programmes of assistance.

(2) The Iraqi Government needs the continued pressure of the world's Trade Union Movement to repeal two major pieces of anti-Trade Union legislation.

First, Saddam Hussein's decree 150 is still operative in banning the operation of Trade Unions in the major public sector. Secondly, there is a post Saddam Hussein decree 8750 which sequests Trade Union Funds until such time as the State decide who it will recognise as registered Trade Unions. Neither of these decrees are, however, operative in Iraqi Kurdistan.

(3) Iraqi Trade Unionists (mainly those outside of Iraqi Kurdistan) face persistent terrorist activity, with occasional harassment from American and Iraqi forces.

Activists in the wider Trade Union and Labour Movement in the UK should not turn a blind eye to this when determining which actors to support and criticise within Iraq.

(4) Whilst Iraqi Kurdistan is not free from its own strains and stresses, it is important in its own right as an area of growth, development and democratisation. It is also important as an example and as a link to the rest of Iraq.

The Kurdistan Workers' Federation, their Teachers' Union and the professional Trade Unions we met have important links with their equivalents in the Arab areas of Iraq, as well as internationally.

(5) The economic development of Iraq is a key to its future.

In Iraqi Kurdistan there is a wide acceptance of the need for inward investment (even by their Communist Party) and for the democratisation of their form of command economy. They don't, however, wish to be taken over by a form of turbo capitalism and look for formulas in which public controls can direct private involvement. This is relevant to the development of the rest of Iraq. Democratic socialists throughout the world can fruitfully apply their minds to the development of such a project.

(6) Iraq, of all places, does not act in a vacuum.

In addition to the pressures of Coalition Forces and their Governments, we need to be aware of the complex range of interests coming from neighbouring Middle East Governments and internal groupings in their countries. These impact on legitimate and illegitimate trade, provide military problems and create diplomatic and religious/political pressures - including the impact of imported forms of terrorism.

(7) The complex nature of an often fractured Iraq is to a large extent a consequence of economic collapse over a period of more than three decades.

The Iraq-Iran war, the invasion of Kuwait, the Gulf War, smashed Shia and Kurdish uprisings, the hideous actions by Saddam Hussein in pursuing his shifting strategies, UN sanctions and the Coalitions invasion and subsequent insurgencies and mass acts of terrorism have had massive economic and social costs. Ethnic, tribal and religious divisions have been built upon in years of brutalisation under Saddam Hussein.

There are wide but battered elements in Iraq who have an alternative vision of peace, secularism, co-operation and democratisation. Their problem is that they have to operate in circumstances where many can not look far beyond than their daily needs of survival. Yet these people are part of a brave tradition within Iraq. They have shown their love for education, cultural development, urbanised communal values and solidarity. Helping to allow these elements of Iraq to come to the fore in association with those who bravely lead the struggle for such values (as did the late Najim Abd-Jasem) is the best task we can apply our minds to.

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