The Guardian 26 January, 2005

World unions denounce
murder of Iraqi union leader

Susan Webb

Hadi Saleh, International Secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), was murdered in his Baghdad home on January 4. His hands and feet were tied, he was blindfolded and beaten, forced to kneel, and strangled with electrical wire.

These are the methods used by Saddam Hussein's secret police, Abdullah Muhsin, IFTU international representative, told the People's Weekly World.

Saleh, 56, a former printer and an Iraqi Communist Party member, served five years on death row in Hussein's prisons and spent years in exile helping to build Iraq's underground labour movement. His assassination was "a tragedy against an ordinary, decent man who spent three decades of his life in the struggle" for democracy, Muhsin said emotionally. "For what? Because he wanted to see Iraq free."

Nevertheless, he emphasised, "We are not intimidated. They cannot silence us."

Saleh's murder sparked a strong response from the world labour movement. The President of the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor Congress of Industrial Organizations), John Sweeney, called Saleh "a courageous trade unionist fighting for Iraqi workers [who] put aside all thoughts of his own personal safety".

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and other labour federations also condemned the murder.

Iraqis say they are caught between a brutal US occupation and terrorism by Ba'athists working to retake power. Many feel the elections set for January 30 represent the best hope for a way out.

The IFTU, which represents over 200,000 workers in Iraq's main industries, is urging its members to vote in the January 30 elections for parties "who advocate labour rights and social policies that benefit working people", Muhsin said. Noting that those elected will draft a permanent Iraqi constitution, he said it is "of enormous importance to us" to achieve "a constitution that will guarantee the rights of workers, a secular constitution".

Over 100 groups are running national lists containing more than 7000 candidates for 275 seats in a transitional assembly. The seats will be filled by proportional representation, with no minimum percentage required to win seats, so most if not all lists, and a range of ethnicities, religions and regions, will be represented in the new body.

The Iraqi Communist Party has fielded a slate of 275 including non-Communists and 91 women.

The ICP is renowned for its decades-long resistance to Hussein, enduring torture, murders, jailings and exile. In recent months, some 16 of its members have been assassinated. "But the party showed its mettle by holding a two-day national conference, or assembly, on December 23-24, the first party conference of this type to be held in Baghdad in three decades." Over 250 delegates from throughout Iraq attended. The meeting was organised in great secrecy, and the party provided its own security.

"We made a point to hold the meeting despite security concerns, to prove to other groups that they can and should stand up to blackmail", said Salam Ali, a member of the ICP Central Committee.

The Party also held a spirited election rally December 17 in a stadium in the centre of Baghdad. Organised by word of mouth in two days, it drew 3000 attendees.

While there are real concerns about security and participation, a new elected government will have more legitimacy than the present US-handpicked one, Ali said. The election's legitimacy comes from the United Nations, he notes it is prescribed in the political process unanimously approved by the Security Council.

This new government, if it is really independent, unified and backed by the people, can tell the Americans to leave, Ali told the World in a phone interview from London. "Otherwise, we go down the path of internal strife and further bloodshed", where the people "will pay the price".

People's Weekly World (abridged)

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