October 24, 2004

Who IFTU?

This is an open letter (lifted from Dead Men Left) by Sami Ramadani, an Iraqi exile, to Alex Gordon of the RMT, an apparent dupe of the occupation forces in Iraq.

Dear Alex,

Your message regarding the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) was copied to me by a friend, and I felt that I must write to you, in your capacity as a representative of the RMT trade union, which has a proud history of struggle for working class rights and international solidarity with workers across the world. I fully agree with you on two points. Firstly, it was wrong and undemocratic to disrupt the European Social Forum plenary on the occupation of Iraq by an organised small group of hecklers. The second is that no Iraqi was involved in the disruption of the meeting or the shouting down of speakers. I myself was shouted down by the same group of disrupters when I went to the platform to appeal to them to stop the disruption and to stage a quiet and dignified walk-out of the meeting when IFTU general secretary, Subhi Mashadani, starts his speech and to walk quietly back after he finishes.

However, I take issue with the rest of your contribution and appeal to you to take a second look at the dire consequences of the war on Iraq and to revise your opinion of the unelected leadership of the IFTU and of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), which dominates this leadership with the backing of the Iraqi National Accord, an organisation of former Ba'athist military and security men led by US-appointed prime minister Ayad Allawi, former Saddamist agent in charge of all Ba'ath party organisations in Europe.

I am sad to say that the (IFTU) leadership, in its present post-occupation reincarnation, appears to have succeeded in convincing you that it is a staunch opponent of the occupation of Iraq and of the institutions set up by the occupation authorities. Alas, this self-projected image of the IFTU is false, and I will explain why below. Before doing so, I draw your attention that I will list, in the course of my arguments, the crucial questions that the IFTU need to answer in relation to the occupation of Iraq and the Allawi regime. In asking these questions I have in mind the fact that Bush and Blair were also against the occupation of Iraq and wanted to end it "as soon as possible."

Bush and Blair did do their best to end the dreaded occupation by handing "sovereignty" to the Allawi regime, which in turn "invited" them to remain in Iraq as the "multi-national forces. "Bush and Blair are now "fully committed" to withdrawing the troops the "moment" the newly elected government in Iraq asks them to do so. The "presence" of the US-led forces is merely to make sure that Iraq will have free and fair elections. To withdraw the troops now will lead to civil war and the "murder" of all "active trade unionists and socialists. " Delete "active trade unionists and socialists" and replace with "free Iraqi men and women" if Bush is making the claim. And to legitimise this entire process the US and Britain asked the UN Security Council to pass resolutions noting the transition from invasion to occupation, to occupation-plus-Bremer-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), to "multi-national forces" assisting an interim, but sovereign, Iraqi Interim Government until elections are. . . The UN Security Council noted all this in resolutions 1483 and 1546.

Unfortunately and despite their best efforts to assist the people of Iraq, Bush and Blair are now facing a big problem, not of their own making of course, of some cut-throat terrorists who must be crushed before elections are held in Jan 2005. In order to crush them, many Iraqi cities, Shia and Sunni, had to be bombarded and thousands of homes had to be demolished on top of their inhabitants. This collateral damage could go up as the free and fair election date approaches... This is not intended to introduce an element of cynicism, but to know what people exactly mean when the say "we are against the occupation of Iraq" and "we are for a free, democratic, secular and federal Iraq" and that "UN resolution1546 offers the best hope for Iraqis to achieve" these goals. I also have ample and reliable information from within Iraq that the IFTU is not an elected umbrella organisation of all Iraqi trade unions as its name suggests. [The correct translation of the name is: The General Federation of the Workers' Trade Unions in Iraq]. Indeed, the IFTU itself has not officially claimed that there has been such a conference representing democratically elected trade union bodies across Iraq. However, its self-appointed (or rather party-appointed) leaders, including its general secretary, Subhi Mashadani, and its London-based International Representative, Abdullah Muhsin, have unashamedly given such a false impression to British and other trade unions. But once the role of the IFTU and ICP leaders is fully understood, and the historical parallels are relevantly drawn, it would be patently obvious that it was wrong to invite Mashadani to an anti-occupation meeting.

No prominent supporter of the Vichy regime would have been allowed to set foot in Britain let alone get near a trade union platform or a rally supporting the French people's struggle against the Vichy regime and its occupation masters. Drawing parallels has its limitation, and one might accurately state that Bush and Blair are not Hitler and Mussolini. The retort to that is: yes but try telling that to the people at the receiving end of cluster bombs, helicopter gunships, and tank fire in their besieged cities and Baghdad working class neighbourhoods. Try telling them that Allawi is not another Vichy. Most of the current leaders of the IFTU are ICP cadres. And it is impossible to understand the IFTU's policies and line without recognising this fact and without being acquainted with the party's line and policies.

A party that was once a proud organisation that had the support of millions of people in Iraq, in the late 1950's and 60's, is now at the forefront of perfecting the art of justifying the continued US-led occupation of Iraq. The party's slogan, before the invasion, was "No to war and no to Saddam's dictatorship. " The first half of the slogan was not acted upon energetically and the opposition to the invasion was tempered by some equivocal statements in the party's main organ, Tareeq Al-Sha'ab, and by its leaders, who surreptitiously took part in pre-war US administration and British government organised conferences of some Iraqi opposition leaders, some of whom later served as collaborators appointed by the occupation authorities. However, this prevarication was dramatically ended few months after the fall of Baghdad to US tanks, and the collapse of Saddam's tyrannical regime.

Political imperatives, logic and the interests of the Iraqi people would have necessitated bringing into sharper focus the party's opposition to the war and the subsequent occupation. Instead, the party solemnly declared, on 13 July 2003,that its secretary general, Hameed Majeed Mousa, would join the Paul Bremer appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC). Though anticipated by people familiar with the party leadership's history and manoeuvres, that statement came as a shock to some of the party members whom I met in Baghdad last year. From that day onwards, the party was seen by most Iraqis as a collaborationist force, with some of its leaders receiving their salaries from the occupation authorities. Under the hammer blows of the Iraqi people's magnificent struggle against the occupation, the IGC and its US master, Paul Bremer, were so isolated and discredited that Bremer had to disband the IGC last June in favour of passing "sovereignty" to the US-appointed Iraqi Interim Government led by the CIA "asset", Ayad Allawi. The ICP fully supported the formation of Allawi's puppet regime, and has one senior and two junior ministers serving under Allawi and his US bosses.

US ambassador Negroponte, the mastermind of terror organisations inEl-Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, and now bunkered at Saddam's Republican Palace in Baghdad, is the real political ruler of Iraq with 160,000 occupation troops and over 40,000 foreign mercenaries at his disposal. He is hard at it to build an Iraqi force to kill other Iraqis and subdue the people using Saddamist methods.

So where does the IFTU stand on all this? You need do no more than read translations of the ICP's communiqués and Tareeq Al-Sha'ab editorials to know were Abdullah Muhsin and Subhi Mashadani get their political line from. Indeed, an IFTU article by Muhsin in the Morning Star last year was almost an abridged translation of a party statement on the political situation in Iraq.

What I am trying to put the spotlight on here is not that a trade unionist is exercising his or her right to be also a party cadre but that the party line the IFTU leaders adhere to is, in practice, a collaborationist line. Their protestations to the contrary, misleading some people abroad, are laughable to most Iraqis.

The few Iraqis that you met at the ESF were ICP activists, some from here in London and others flown in with Mashadani from Baghdad. They were mobilised to support Mashadani's appearance at the ESF conference. I too, being a friend of some of them, was standing near them to the left of the platform and engaged them in discussion later. Some were in a state of denial about the occupation of Iraq, calling the US-led forces a necessary, if temporary, "foreign military presence." A phrase used by Allawi and the latest ICP central committee communique [dated 26 Auguat 2004]. Others acknowledged the occupation but strongly believed that there was no alternative to joining the occupation-created institutions. The obvious point, of saying you can't end the occupation by serving in its highest levels of political structures, was answered with strong attacks on the notion of armed resistance. I suggested that they could lead the peaceful struggle to end the occupation by following the great example of Ghandi and boycotting the occupation authorities and all their institutions. The answer was "we don't have a Ghandi."

People who are reasonably well informed on Iraq will benefit a great deal from closely examining the IFTU website (set up in London) ( www.iraqitradeunions.org). Reading the headlines of the website, you would be forgiven to think that there was no war or invasion of Iraq and tens of thousands of people did not die at the hands of the US-led occupation. Nor has there been a US bombardment of Najaf, the working class districts of Baghdad, particularly Sadr City, Falluja, Samarra and many other cities in the past weeks and months…

The IFTU, rightly, very strongly and swiftly condemns the atrocities committed by the terrorist gangs. But they always do so in the manner of Bush, Blair, Allawi and the occupation forces. They always try to portray the hugely popular patriotic resistance as "remnants of the Saddam regime" and "secretive anti-democratic" forces. On the other hand, the IFTU and the ICP are yet to launch a campaign against the massacres committed by the occupation forces. Associating the resistance with terrorist gangs is one of the most insidious acts of the IFTU and the ICP. They dare not condemn the resistance openly, in Arabic within Iraq, but they always issue statements, in the wake of terrorist crimes, trying to surreptitiously suggest that Zarqawi and the other terrorists are the resistance in Iraq. In fact the only very strongly worded IFTU statement on its website is dated 3rd March 2004 condemning the murder of worshippers by unknown terrorists who bombed Shia mosques/shrines in Karbala and Khadimyia. The wording of the statement is very interesting in the way it mimics the occupation authorities' style of condemning such atrocities. Those particular bombings were widely described by Iraqis at the time as the work of occupation forces' agent provocateurs out to incite civil war between Sunni and Shia. People of the Baghdad district of Khadimya stoned the US forces and accused them of perpetrating the crime. These forces moved in on that day (2nd March) within minutes of the bombing of the famous shrine, thinking that the people would welcome them as their protectors. Obviously, for those who know the reality of IFTU, it is not surprising that the statement does not even mention the occupation. These one-sided, well-synchronised statements on terrorism are designed to apologise for Bush's policies in Iraq, or for what Blair portrayed as the engagement of the occupation forces in a "second war" in Iraq, the war against terrorism. As it happens, the vast majority of Iraqis reject Zarqawi and his ilk -as do the armed resistance and its supporters in Falluja, Basra, Najaf, Sadr City and across Iraq. Many even suspect that the occupation forces are somehow encouraging the likes of Zarqawi, or at least failing to prevent their crimes, as a way of obscuring the fact that most Iraqis now actively support a patriotic and widespread resistance movement.

While rightly condemning Zarqawi, the IFTU and the ICP are keeping quiet about the Israeli-trained American assassination squads. (See reports, undenied by Bush or Blair, published by Seymour Hersh). Does the IFTU mention anywhere that the occupation forces have admitted that the attacks on them by the resistance rose in August to 2,700? Does it mention how many of these 2,700 attacks a month were claimed by Zarqawi? Six. Six headline-grabbing, TV-dominating, stomach-churning moments. The mildest, and furtively stated, criticisms are reserved for the US bombardment of the cities. 'Bombing cities in which civilians die is not the way to defeat the terrorists' is the best we can hope for from the IFTU and the ICP in the way of condemning the US-led war crimes, being assisted by the Allawi regime, which the ICP is part of.

Just as Iraq's 25 million people were reduced, in the public's mind, to the threat from weapons of mass destruction, ready to be unleashed by Saddam within 45 minutes, the resistance is now being reduced, with the help of the IFTU and the ICP, to a single hoodlum by the name of Zarqawi. And just as we should have been told, before the war, whether the 45-minutes-from-dooms-day WMD threat referred to "battle field or long range missiles, "to judge whether the war was legal or had a moral foundation, we today need to be aware that the IFTU and ICP assisted "war on terrorism" is nothing but a new deceitful attempt to wage a new war against the Iraqi people, in the interest of the Bush administration and the neo-cons, and to multiply the profits of the transnational companies.

So what does the IFTU stand for in Iraq today? On the front page of theEnglish version of their website there is a picture of the leaders of the IFTU seated under an IFTU banner. The words on the banner are worthy of verbatim translation, because they sum up the IFTU's main demands and platform for Iraq and its working class after the invasion and the occupation of the country: "The General Federation of Workers' Trade Unions in Iraq [this is the full and accurate translation of the IFTU's name] struggles for:- Defending the fundamental rights of the Iraqi working class.
- Endeavouring to restart the wheel of production as soon as possible
- The immediate improvement of the economic and social conditions of the workers "

It is unreal. No war, no occupation, no torture and murder of workers, no privatisation, no selling of Iraq's assets to the US and British transnationals, no Bremer and Allawi re-enactment of Saddam's 1987 law banning trade unions and strikes, no US bombardment of working class districts, no workers falling victim to radiation emanating from the US and British depleted Uranium shells, no working class children dying of water born diseases stemming from raw sewage (also fed into the Tigris and Euphrates), because the greatest military and economic power in the world can't bring electricity supplies to the sewage plants to their pre-war levels,...

These slogans remind me of the yellow unions under Saddam when they were allowed to talk about everything, and make all manner of demands, as long as they did not criticise the mass murderer and the political nature of his regime. If you dig deeper into the IFTU website you will find ICP justifications for joining the occupation-appointed bodies dressed up as IFTU stands.
The IFTU's Abdullah Muhsin relies on the nimbleness of the party's phraseology when writing, on behalf of the IFTU, on the Bremer-appointed Iraqi Governing Council: "The UN helped in forging a compromise and the idea of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) was born. Both Iraqis and the UN supported it. The US and UK administrations agreed. In July 2003 the IGC was formed. The IGC, despite the fact that [it] is not the best or the preferred ultimate perfect model of running Iraq post-Saddam, nevertheless remains an acceptable alternative to the US vision. It represents all sections of Iraqi society -including Arabs, Kurds and other nationals."

A Bremer-appointed IGC is "an acceptable alternative to the US vision" ? And there is much more where that quotation comes from. Reading the ICP and IFTU literature might keep one in touch with the surreal, but it gives all well-informed people on Iraq immunity against subterfuge, collateral oxymorons, deceit, dissembling and much more. There is a very good reason why the IFTU and ICP have to camouflage their practice with such contortions: they are addressing the left in Iraq, not renowned for their propensity to be easily fooled about their own society, and they are addressing anti-war and progressive opinion abroad. This is their main role. And that is why the CIA, Bremer and Allawi kept the ICP on board all the US-appointed or approved bodies. Why else would the CIA do that to such a small organisation, which doesn't even register in all the opinion surveys held in Iraq since the occupation? But there is another very good reason: to confiscate the glorious memory, dating back to 1920, of the tens of thousands of Iraqi socialists, secular democrats and, since 1934, communists who died at the alters of British colonialism, Ba'athist fascism and US imperialism in Iraq.

There is nothing like renegade, persons or organisations, to accomplish this mean task. Did the trade unions in Britain take such a considerate and caressing stance towards the institutions set up by the occupation forces in Europe? Or, indeed, would the TUC and the unions have been so supportive of an occupation-imposed authority if Hitler's forces occupied Britain? I am bringing these rather stark examples, because it is sometimes forgotten that the Iraqi people and their land have been occupied by the mightiest military forces in the world and that the Iraqi people expect, and are entitled to, not only sympathy but active support in their struggle for liberation and democracy. They don't expect the collaborators in their midst to be held up as representatives of the oppressed working class and people of Iraq. They certainly don't expect it from democratic and proudly free unions such as the RMT.

I have no doubt that the misleading picture painted by the IFTU and ICP leaders has had its toll. I also have no doubt that this is a temporary state of affairs. Not least, because US Abram tanks and Apache helicopters on the one hand and the valiant resistance, peaceful or armed in legitimate self-defence, speak much louder than the honeyed words of the IFTU and ICP leaders. The RMT and other unions could also examine the fact that, for eight long years, the ICP leaders played a similar role, in relation to Saddam's tyrannical regime, to the one they are playing today in relation to the US-led occupation.
From 1972 to 1978, they were tireless in their efforts within Iraq, and here in Britain, to convince the unions and the Labour party to accept Saddam's tyranny as a reformed regime, which was implementing "progressive and patriotic measures," and to support the party in proudly joining Saddam's "Patriotic and Nationalist Progressive Front." They had two party politburo members serving as ministers under Saddam. It was worker, student, and other organisations, which the party then controlled, which undertook that task. All these organisations, including the then IFTU, were later disbanded by the party because Saddam ordered it to do so, as part of being in the "same trench," as he was fond of reminding the ICP leaders. Saddam, who was described then by the ICP leaders as representing the "left wing" of the Ba'ath party, even published a pamphlet entitled "One Trench or Two Trenches?" to remind them of their role, which later included the crushing of the 1977 Karbala uprising. Iraqis, including some ICP members, who continued to expose Saddam's fascist policies abroad, and even those he killed and tortured at home, were dubbed as "infantile leftists" or "reactionary Kurds" by the ICP leadership. The RMT, UNISON and other trade unions, including my own union, NATFHE,should also take on board the fact that the IFTU wasn't accidentally chosen by the Bremer-appointed IGC as the sole organisation representing Iraqi workers(albeit outside the banned state sector). There are several other such umbrella organisations led by other parties in Iraq, including Iraqi Kurdistan, and including the non-party controlled Union of Unemployed Workers (which is now part of the Federation of Workers Councils and Trade Unions).

The IGC's sponsorship of the IFTU was born out of a deal struck between the Communist party and the Iraqi National Accord, led by CIA asset Ayad Allawi. [NB: My guess is that the IFTU does not correctly state its full name in English, because the Arabic name is the same as the Saddam licensed federation. This will allow it to lay a claim to the vast resources of the yellow unions, of which many IFTU activists were members from 1972 to 1978 when the ICP was in Saddam's cabinet. The Arabic name is claimed by others (accused of being Islamists or former Ba'athists). It is also intended to gain acceptance by appeasing unions abroad and international union bodies, by implicitly admitting, at least in English, that they are not the only "federation of unions" in Iraq. ] There are also individual unions such as the Basra oil workers union and the South oil workers union, both of which are strong unions that took part in a widely supported strike, stopping oil exports in protest at the US bombardment of Najaf in August. Both these unions don't recognise the IFTU leadership as speaking on their behalf. Workers across Iraq are entitled to ask what did the IFTU leaders do to lift the siege of Najaf and Falluja and to stop the bombardment of the cities? One incident that exposed the IFTU's duplicity here in Britain was its active campaign to support Tony Blair's move to invite Ayad Allawi to address the Labour party conference.

This is what the IFTU told the Guardian only last month: "The invitation to the interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to address the Labour party conference is an opportunity for those who honourably opposed the war to extend support to Iraqi democrats who are trying, in the most difficult circumstances, to construct a vibrant civil society. Allawi is criticised for having been a Ba'athist but many decent people joined the Ba'ath party - and he was nearly assassinated by Saddam's agents in Britain. The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions strongly supports the current process to prepare the ground for democratic elections. His presence at Labour's conference is an excellent opportunity for a real dialogue with him: Abdullah Muhsin, Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions".

Who else could defend and try to legitimise the CIA's man in Iraq, and Saddam's former thug, with such left and liberal sounding eloquence? Having failed in that mission, Tony Blair and other Labour party leaders made sure that the IFTU and the Kurdish partner of an Iraqi minister were given ample opportunity to spread confusion at the conference and get it to, in effect, support President Bush's policies in Iraq. For let us not forget that President Bush also says that the US will leave Iraq as soon as the future elected Iraqi government asks it to do so! That eloquence in defending the US-chosen prime minister extends to the US occupation itself. Let us read, at length, how the US-led occupation is being"opposed" and, at one and the same time, accepted de facto and de jure by the IFTU, echoing its ICP master's voice:"

As a consequence of the war, the occupation and the failure of Iraqi parties to agree on holding of a national conference April 2003 to elect a transitional government, the occupation authorities (US and UK) became de facto the transitional authority in Iraq.

Their authority was further consolidated by the UN Security Council resolution 1483, which internationalised the occupation of Iraq. The US administration interpreted one of UN resolution 1483 articles, which relates directly to the formation of an Iraqi political transitional authority as meaning that the new Iraqi political body would exist merely to advise and assist the occupation authority during the transitional period of the occupation. All Iraqi forces rejected this flawed idea.

The UN helped in forging a compromise and the idea of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) was born. Both Iraqis and the UN supported it. The US and UK administrations agreed.

In July 2003 the IGC was formed. The IGC, despite the fact that is not the best or the preferred ultimate perfect model of running Iraq post-Saddam, nevertheless remains an acceptable alternative to the US vision. It represents all sections of Iraqi society -including Arabs, Kurds and other nationals. "So, the Bremer-appointed IGC was the fault of the Iraqis (which Iraqis?) for not holding a national conference, and, in the circumstances, the bestpossible outcome. The IFTU goes on to list some of the wonderful achievements of thedefunct and totally discredited IGC, including: "Preparing the ground to end the occupation, dissolving itself and handing power to an Iraqi interim government (which was achieved on 28 June 2004)" Let us read on to see what a left and liberal sounding defence of the evolution of the US-led occupation looks like, and how one could shelter behind another UN resolution to accept the occupation, in practice, and openly defend the next US-led occupation tactics and the US-chosen regime :

"The unanimous UN resolution 1546 on Iraq is an important signal for ending the occupation and regaining Iraqi national sovereignty. It will help to undermine anti-Iraqi terrorism and will assist Iraqi democrats - like the new trade union movement - to help build a secular and secure civil society. Whilst the IFTU is aware that the legacy of Saddam's dictatorship, war, sanctions and the effect of the recent invasion will not be eradicated on June28th, the IFTU nonetheless welcomes and endorses the commitment given in the resolution to the ending of the power of the Coalition Provisional Authority on that day and handing the political power to the Iraqis. The interim government is not an end in itself- it is a means to an end. Its role must be to prepare Iraq for full democratic sovereignty. This will include full authority and control over Iraq's financial and natural resources. The IFTU will play a full part in this process and will seek to ensure that workingmen and women are alerted to the importance of participating in the democratic renewal of their country. The IFTU also support the convening of a national conference to reflect the diversity of Iraqi society. The concrete goal of the national conference is elect 100 seat transitional assembly that will oversee the current interim government until national elections are held in January 2005. "

Can't be clearer, can it? Even down to using the phraseology of the US generals who officially call all people resisting the occupation as "anti-Iraqi" forces. Every military communiqué, on bombarding Najaf, Sadr City in Baghdad, Samarra, Tel Afar, Falluja and other cities and villages, referred and continues to refer to the eradication of the "anti-Iraqi" forces or terrorists. It is time to call a spade a spade: the leaders of the IFTU and the ICP are part of a left-wing sounding, trade-union 'friendly' campaign to oppose the immediate withdrawal of the occupation forces from Iraq under the pretext of keeping them to prevent civil war and to hold elections in January. It is time to call a spade a spade: the leaders of the IFTU and the ICP are part of a left-wing sounding, trade-union 'friendly' propaganda war designed to justify the "new war" to crush the resistance of the Iraqi people by portraying entire cities towns and villages across Iraq as hideouts for mass murderers and terrorists such as Zarqawi.

I and many trade unionists in Britain of Iraqi origin, who opposed Saddam's tyrannical regime for decades, were shocked and dismayed that most of the unions at the recent Labour party conference accepted the message from the ICP,IFTU leaders and other Allawi collaborators and voted against a resolution calling for the withdrawal of the occupation forces. This is tantamount to abandoning the Iraqi people to be crushed by the US tanks and cluster bombs. This is tantamount to abandoning solidarity with the workers and people of Iraq. The Iraqi people's blood is as precious as that of the people of Europe who resisted the fascist forces, even if today the British Government and the US administration refuse to count the Iraqis they have killed and are continuing to kill. And Iraqi collaborators can be as treacherous and deceitful as any of the collaborators in Europe under the Nazi jackboot. For the Iraqi people in their besieged cities today, and for the thousands of tortured people at Abu Ghraib and other prisons, the US tanks, helicopter gunships and heavy bombs are no different from the Hitler's forces in France or Albania.

I am confident that Britain's unions and most Labour party members will eventually see through and reject these collaborators, much as the Iraqi people rejected their calls to support Saddam's regime from 1972 to 1978, and much as they are rejecting their calls today to support the US-appointed Allawi regime. I am also confident that Britain's trade unions and most Labour party members will, sooner or later, stand by the Iraqi people's struggle against the US-led occupation and for liberation and democracy.

Best wishes,
Sami

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