Fw: from Zehira Houfani in Baghdad (# 4)

Raymond Chase r_chase at sympatico.ca
Wed Aug 20 21:38:59 MDT 2003

I thought this first hand account of life in occupied Iraq would be of

Raymond Chase

----- Original Message
Sent: Wednesday, August 20, 2003 1:21 PM
Subject: from Zehira Houfani in Baghdad (# 4)

Bonjour / Hello

Below <snip>, the FOURTH message from Zehira
Houfani, member of the Iraq Solidarity Project, recently returned
from Iraq.  The article was written on August 4th, while she was
still in Baghdad; but its content is still very current.

Solidairement / in solidarity

Raymond Legault
Montreal member of the Iraq Solidarity Project (PSI/ISP)



Since the United States have taken over their oil,
Iraqis are surviving on charity

More than 4 million Iraqis have lost their jobs following the invasion of
their country by the United States. To take the measure of the drama
represented by this figure, it must be multiplied by five to obtain the 20
million Iraqis (women and children) who survive on little bits of nothing
under the indifference of the new masters of Iraq, all too busy with their
looting strategy and subcontracting of power in this country.

 From the first bombardments to this day, that is almost six months, workers
and their families have been without resources and their situation is
deteriorating day by day. To make their demands in what is now pompously
called 'The New Iraq', they have created the Union of the Unemployed. This
organisation has made repeated requests to the occupation forces, without
any result whatsoever. Once again, it mobilised its members for another
demonstration on Abu Nawas street, Tuesday July 29th. The rallying point was
an old bank building, burned down during the war, which was now home to the
Communist Party of Iraq.

Actually, unemployed workers were not the only ones gathering there. Other
action groups such as the Organisation for the Freedom of the Iraqi Women,
the Union of Iraqi Workers, among others, had come to show their support. Th
ere was a lot of activity all around the offices of the party. The street
was alive with approximately 800 persons, in small groups, while interviews
and other meetings with journalists covering the event were taking place in
the offices inside the building. The preparation of placards and slogans was
being completed.

"This is the 8th demonstration we've had since May 1st , 2003 ", declares
Kacem Madi, secretary-general of the Union of the Unemployed. But he
maintains that this action will be different from the previous seven. The
demonstrators are ready to continue their action until they obtain their
rights, which means either a job or an unemployment allowance. In reality,
they all know that they will not have a job, since all the infrastructures
destroyed by the US army have remained in that state. And even salesmen can
no longer work because of the bandits and other thieves who steal their
merchandise before they reach their sales point. For all these workers, the
Union is asking an unemployment allowance, until the occupation forces
restore security and employment in Iraq.

There are still no statistics to know exactly how many Iraqi men and women
have lost their employment because of the war. According to Kacem, there are
around four million. Among them, a large majority have had no income over
the last six months. " This is truly a tragedy for these families who have
already lost so much in this war ", stresses Kacem Madi.

The Union which he represents has organised 8 demonstrations for the same
demands: a job or an unemployment allowance. "At each demonstration, he
recounts, the representatives of the occupation forces meet and discuss with
us, promise to solve the problem, but each time their promises are not
fulfilled and we are forced to take to the streets again" . From Major
Patterson to David Jones (of the Oil for Food programme) as well as from
other US military and civilian people in charge, the Union has obtained
nothing but empty promises. This situation lead to a decision to change
their program of action.

This Tuesday's demonstration takes place in torrid heat and the
demonstrators, not the least discouraged, are shouting slogans calling for
democracy, employment and the end of the occupation. The demonstration then
proceeds to the headquarters of the Council commonly called El-Beit
Al-madani.  For nearly one hour, the demonstrators shout slogans in front of
the building guarded by US soldiers equipped with heavy artillery. Later,
the demonstration becomes a sit-in. This was the new initiative introduced
in the protest programme of the Union of the Unemployed. They had adopted a
resolution to set up a tent in front of the building to establish a
permanent presence. They call this action " civil disobedience ". But all
they got back from the Americans was a "Bush style" ultimatum: Disperse the
demonstration, otherwise there will be no talks !

But the Iraqi workers are encouraged by the presence of the media and by the
messages of support they have received from outside; and they have drawn the
lessons from the preceding fruitless meetings.  So they refuse to submit and
decide to continue their action and to camp on location, as planned. After
all, isn't peaceful demonstration a democratic right?  But things will
quickly take a turn towards dictatorship. At 8:30 pm, there is a first visit
from soldiers who come to ask the demonstrators to leave the premises. But
the latter show the permit to demonstrate that was granted to them and
refuse to comply. The 3 soldiers leave, only to return later in stronger
numbers around 1:00 am, during the curfew. And they have not come to
discuss. They invade the tent and arrest all the coordinating team, 21
persons in total, who are taken away and locked up in a room. They are
regrouped together in a corner of the room, forced to sit on the floor, and
then isolated with barbed wire. They were detained in these conditions,
without water and without food, until 11:00 am the following day. " We could
not even move, declares Ali Djaafri, aged over fifty, my knees and legs were
really aching but each time I was trying to stand to alleviate my pain, the
soldiers were shouting 'sit down!'. It was very humiliating. At no other
time during the occupation has my resentment towards the US soldiers been
that strong. I became fully conscious of my colonised situation and I was
ashamed in front of the younger Iraqis in our group. I would have preferred
death rather than having to live through this at 58 years old ".

Amar Djaafri is one the the 120,000 members of the Union of the Unemployed.
He has worked all his life in a local administration which was totally
burned down, after being looted and vandalised like the vast majority of the
infrastructures of the Iraqi state.  The country was no longer keeping up
with technology. Almost everything was operating on paper, not computers:
universities, administrations, hospitals, etc. All the archives have
vanished in the fires. Which makes Khaled, another unemployed worker, say:
"No other country has known the kind of colonisation that we are living in
Iraq. The US army has torn down everything which Iraqi life was made of. We
have no references anymore, anywhere."

By burning the archives of a State, and destroying the history and culture
of a people, the United States have truly committed an unprecedented crime.
All in Iraq, workers, students, or any other sector of Iraqi society are
unanimous in saying that the future does not look promising. And all are
preparing for it, notably by organising the struggle against the occupation
of their country. «There are 35 million American citizens living in poverty
and injustice in the United States, it is unthinkable that the US
authorities establish a democracy for the Iraqis!declares Kacem of the Union
of the Unemployed."

Baghdad, August 4th, 2003.

Zehira Houfani (writer and journalist),
Montreal member of the Iraq Solidarity Project (PSI/ISP)

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