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Trade unions and emerging democracy in Iraq

[Note: I have a long-ish piece about webcomics in the works. While assembling my thoughts on that, I'm doing some linking to political stuff that I happen to find interesting]
[Note no. 2: if I was female and Johann Hari wasn't gay, I'd very much want to have his baby]
Johann Hari talks of the need to avoid despairing for the future of democracy in Iraq, and discusses some encouraging signs, focusing specifically on the heroic role that trade unions are playing in the process:

Here is a small illustration: two months ago Moqtada Sadr, the de facto leader of the Shia uprising, was leading his Army of Mehdi towards Nasiriyah . They stumbled across an aluminium plant and ordered the staff to evacuate, but the workers would not leave. Their trade union, the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq, issued a statement saying their workers "refuse to evacuate their workplaces and turn them into battlefields".

The union rejected "the two poles of terrorism in Iraq" - the armed militias and the occupying forces - and insisted on a transition to a democratic Iraq. Here we have ordinary Iraqis refusing to allow yet another war to disrupt their lives, and they are greeted with total silence from progressive Brits.

(note: In Europe, trade unions typically are reduced to bickering about whether wages should go up 1 or 2 percentage points. In the US, as I understand it, they are discounted entirely, presumably because no one remembers what life was like a hundred years ago. This example shows what unions can be.)

It might seem tiresome to bring up the Iraqi opinion polls yet again, but we have no better way to find out about Iraqi feelings. The Iraqi people have been remarkably consistent in explaining what they want. Ever since the fall of Saddam, most Iraqis have told pollsters they wanted the invasion to happen, and they wanted it to be followed by a brief occupation lasting between six months and a year. This provided plenty of time for a democratic, representative Iraqi government to be elected; a similar timetable was followed in Eastern Europe after Communism. That year is up. Now they want us out.

The nonchalance with which so many people even today dismiss Iraqi opinion - when it offers us the best solution to the mess we're in - is so odd it should be dubbed Gulf War Syndrome Mark II. The symptoms are easy to diagnose: you blithely assume you know what the majority of Iraqis think, and block your ears whenever somebody offers some evidence of what they really believe. The anti-war movement suffered from it first, ignoring all the evidence that most Iraqis desperately wanted the war to proceed. Now the carry-on-with-the-occupation-despite-the-opposition-of-most-Iraqis crowd are infected.

Please listen to what Iraqis are actually saying at last. In two weeks there will be a largely cosmetic handover of power to an unelected government; there is a danger that we will treat this puppet body as a genuinely representative body and listen even less to the polls.

The message from real Iraqis is nuanced. They do not regret supporting the invasion - just 3 per cent want Saddam back. But the occupation has gone on too long and been too vicious. Ninety two per cent of Iraqis now see the US troops as occupiers rather than liberators.

(Update: On the other hand, Juan Cole, who also knows a thing or two even if I'm not particularly interested in having his baby, is worried:

Bombings of significant magnitude are virtually daily events in Baghad. Interior Minister Fallah Hasan al-Naqib, who is from a prominent Sunni Baath family that fell out with Saddam in the late 1970s, threatened to consider the use of "Martial Law" to fight the wave of bombings. The LA Times (which misspells his name) wonders what in the world he could mean by that. Uh, martial law usually involves strict curfews, armed troops in the streets, and shooting suspected miscreants on sight. Although you might think there are already US armed troops in the streets, in fact from the accounts I have seen they don't actually do much to provide security or policing to the Iraqi public, so al-Naqib's plan would be a real change.

Oh, one other thing about martial law. Often, as in Pakistan, it substitutes military rule for civilian, and indefinitely postpones elections.

Iyad Allawi, the US/UN-appointed "prime minister," has mainly worked with ex-Baath officers trying to make coups in the past decade and a half. This talk of "martial law" is pretty scary. You have to wonder whether those elections scheduled for January will actually happen.


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Thanks to Reinder Dijkhuis of the site 'Waffle', I found the site of [url=http://www.johannhari.com/archive/article.php?id=405]Johann Hari, award-winning journalist and his article on supporting the democratic forces in Iraq: "One friend [Read More]

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