7 November 2003
Bush and Blair have made much of the ‘fact’ that they invaded Iraq to bring democracy to the Iraqi people after thirty-five years of Saddam’s dictatorship. But what are the realities on the ground?
A visit to the website of the Coalition Provisional Authority http://www.cpa.GOV/regulations/ is quite revealing where you’ll find the regulations and proclamations of the pro-consul (you’ll have to download a bunch of pdf files in order to find out exactly what you can and can’t do).
For example, under “COALITION PROVISIONAL AUTHORITY ORDER NUMBER 19 FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY”, you’ll find the following:
Suspension of Laws
The provisions of the Third Edition of the 1969 Iraqi Penal Code, Part Two, Chapter Two, at paragraphs 220 to 222 which unreasonably restrict the right to freedom of expression and the right of peaceful assembly are hereby suspended.
But wait, Bremer’s new law tells us that:
1) It is unlawful for any person, group or organization to conduct or participate in any march, assembly, meeting or gathering on roadways, public thoroughfares or public places in more than one specific area of or location in, any municipality on any given day, unless acting under authority of the Coalition Force Commander or a Divisional or Brigade Commander (hereinafter “Approving Authorities”).
2) It is unlawful for any group or organization or any individual acting with such group or organization, to conduct or participate in any march, assembly, meeting or gathering on roadways unless limited to such numbers as, upon the determination of an Approving Authority, will not unreasonably obstruct pedestrian or vehicular traffic. The Approving Authority shall, within 12 hours of receiving a notice of assembly under this Order, inform the group or organization as to the maximum number of authorized participants.
3) It is unlawful for any march, assembly, public thoroughfares or public places, to be held within 500 meters of any CPA or route, and its time of inception and duration at least 24 hours before such inception.
So at one stroke, the occupiers abrogate the laws of one dictator and replace them with the laws of another. But this is only a part of the story as the major repression of the Iraqi people is directed at the working class and especially as it organises itself, not only to improve the conditions of work but to resist the occupation.
It’s the poor wot gets the blame
Virtually all of the coverage of the occupation omits the fact that around 70% of the population is now unemployed as a result of the wholesale destructiion of the infrastructure that followed the occupation. And it occurred to largely state-owned enterprises, and herein I contend, is the reason why the US sat back and allowed the destruction to take place. In other words, it wasn’t lack of foresight or bad planning, it was deliberate policy. For not only did this strike at the heart of the economy and bring it to its knees, its major impact was on the working class, especially those in the state-owned industries who are in the best position to organise and who were oppressed under the Ba’ath regime.
And as the article I reprinted from the USLAW site http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org/ even more draconian repression is directed against workers, only this time, Bremer is using Saddam’s old laws. In another article from the same site, we learn:
“The U.S.-named Coalition Provisional Authority that now runs Iraq will not change Iraqi labor law — which severely curtails unions — for at least two years and, on Oct. 16, banned strikes, say two U.S. unionists who traveled there.
Freelance writer David Bacon, a Newspaper Guild member, and former International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 Secretary-Treasurer Clarence Thomas, of California, said those decisions left most Iraqi workers without union representation and unable to strike.”
That’s because [old] Iraqi labor law bans unions in state-run companies, a large share of the pre-war economy, they said.
The article goes on to say:
“[O]n June 6, the authority issued a public notice in English and Arabic, saying it “respects Iraqi laws.”
“This extends to Iraqi labor laws prescribing the conditions under which employees of government instrumentalities and enterprises continue to work,” the notice added.
“Those are the laws, the two U.S. unionists said, that ban unions from government-owned firms.
“The form of industrial and labor relations ultimately will be a matter for the Iraqi people and the future Iraqi government to decide,” the authority’s notice concluded.”
So when it’s convenient for the new colonial masters, the very laws it’s supposedly invaded and occupied the country to get rid of are now used to continue the repression! And of course, it’s no coincidence that the occupiers have actually extended Saddam’s repressive anti-labour laws:
“[I]n June, Bremer issued another regulation about ‘prohibited activity.’ Item B under prohibited activities is encouraging anybody to organize any kind of strike or disruption in a factory or any kind of economically important enterprise. And the punishment for this is being arrested by the occupation authority and being treated as a prisoner of war.”
Note that the law covering ‘illegal’ public assembly carries a maximum one-year jail sentence, whereas under the extended labour laws, illegal strikes and occupations will get you treated as an enemy of the state and “being treated as a prisoner war”! It’s obvious from this that the major objective is the establishment of an economic system that favours capital and attacks the rights of workers and that this is the real reason for the invasion.
For more information on these and other news on the occupation, I also recommend a visit to a very useful Website http://www.occupationwatch.org/ where you’ll find a lot of information on the impact of the occupation and opposition to it in the US and elsewhere.