Red and Black Notes article on the occupation of Iraq and the resistance to this.
The multiple suicide bombings that took place during Ashura and claimed over 140 lives in some of Iraq's main cities indicate that while the war is over, the peace is far from settled. In the previous issue of Red & Black Notes, we reported on the US's intentions to remake the former Ba'ath party fiefdom into a pliant free-market economy. Amongst the imperialist powers, the only squeaks of protest have been from those powers, such as Canada, which have so been shut out of the lucrative process.
Yet, there are other forces that are challenging, if on a minor level, the US for control of Iraq. The US has been quick to label the suicide bombings and attacks on US military and civilian targets as the work of the old regime, Al-Qaeda or both. However, as the bourgeois press is now starting to notice, the Islamic fundamentalists are starting to show their strength. While the overwhelming majority of people in Iraq are Muslim, Saddam Hussein maintained a strong secular tilt in the country, if only because he feared that organized religion could become a pole of opposition. With Hussein gone, the Islamists are on the march. A front-page article in the Toronto Globe and Mail on February 27, 2004 noted that in Basra, once the most liberal of Iraqi cities, shops selling alcohol, videotapes and even music, as well as their customers are regular targets for the fundamentalists. Last week, a woman was killed outside a video shop in an apparently random assassination. But it is not just Basra. In Baghdad on February 17, three liquor stores in the centre of the city were the targets of explosions damaging the stores, and injuring employees and customers alike. While the religious forces are not supposed to be armed, it is common knowledge that many of the Islamic militants operate armed militias to further their goal of "educating" people about Islam. As one store owner commented "It was better under Saddam Hussein. Nowadays you can expect anyone to come in and kill you."
But while the bourgeois press has belatedly discovered the threat from the Islamists, so far unreported has been the wave of strikes and workers' resistance to both the old order, the Islamists and the US powers. The following is a small sample of strikes and workers' resistance:
· On January 11 and 12, hundreds of unemployed workers protested in Kut. On January 13, several people were injured after clashes with police. Other demonstrations of the unemployed occurred in Basra and Imra on the same days.
· On January 15, workers at Leather Industries Incorporation expelled the former Ba'ath party general manager of their factory after the management had tried to prevent the workers' efforts to organize.
· On January 31, workers at North Gas Company in Kirkuk struck for higher wages and the removal of the factory's Ba'ath administrators.
· Also in January, workers at al-Nasir Cigarettes struck for higher wages and for new job classifications.
· At the beginning of February workers at Southern Oil Company won a three-month struggle for higher wages.
In Iraq today there is a 70% unemployment rate, and huge numbers of wage violations. The solution proposed by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) is to privatize the bulk of the existing state enterprises, and assume that the non-existent free market will correct the imbalances. Clearly the Iraqi working class has been unwilling to wait for the 'invisible hand' to work its magic. The richest irony in the entire situation has been that the CPA has banned workers' representatives in former state enterprises since a law passed by the Ba'ath party in 1987 forbids them. As one US observer put it: "Unbelievable, they found a Saddam law they like."
The Iraqi working class has a long tradition of militant struggle, against both the Ba'ath party and their allies, and fundamentalist religious forces. This battle is far from over.
Much of the information in this article was taken from publications published by Iraqi groups and organizations:
The Union of Unemployed in Iraq claims 130,000 members across seven provinces in Iraq
The Worker-communist Party of Iraq publishes Forward every two weeks.
Red & Black Notes takes no responsibility for the political positions of these organizations and has disagreements with both, particularly with their advocacy of the union form and for putting forward such demands as "For a Progressive Labour Law." However, they both provide useful sources of information on events in Iraq unavailable elsewhere.
First Published in Red and Black Notes #19, Spring 2004, this article has been archived on libcom.org from the Red and Black Notes website.