Hassan Jumaa Awad of the General Union of Oil Employees in Basra addressed a meeting organised by Manchester trades council and Greater Manchester Coalition to Stop the War on 24 November.
The union, which represents 23,000 workers, was set up in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq. We print an edited transcript of his speech.
I would like to talk about the main motives for the occupation of Iraq and how we are rebuilding our trade union in the face of US pressure.
The US claims that its motivation for the invasion of Iraq was to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein. But its real political goal was to seize control over the oil resources in the Middle East.
As you know Iraq has the third highest reserves of oil in the world, and the US has to keep control over this oil in order to maintain its position as an economic superpower. The main aim of their war is to control our oil and our economy.
It would have been easier to topple Saddam Hussein in 1991 after the US-led coalition had driven the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. After the withdrawal from Kuwait there was a popular uprising in 14 cities across the country.
It was US policy during this time not to remove the regime as it did not have an alternative to Saddam Hussein, so it abandoned the Iraqis and the uprising was crushed.
Instead the US took its time to prepare for the destruction of our poor country. It fabricated the case for invasion based on Iraq’s supposed possession of chemical, nuclear and biological weapons.
It also claimed that Iraq was harbouring terrorists, when in reality our country was never a base for terrorism. Terrorism became just another excuse by the US for its war.
The lies that were used to launch the war are now well known and deserve few words.
Divide and rule
One of the main aims of the US today is to divide Iraq. The divisions and killings we are now witnessing are the result of this occupation.
The sectarianism that is pitting Sunni against Shia, Kurd against Turkmen and Christian, did not exist at such a level before the occupation of our country.
We see all the options presented to us, privatisation of the oil industry and the dominance of US companies over the industry.
The US has decreed that only its companies can bid for oil contracts, sidelining the companies of other countries, whether from Europe or elsewhere.
Only two months after their troops crossed the border, US companies — Kellogg Brown & Root and Halliburton — arrived to take control over our industry. These US companies are the real beneficiaries of the invasion.
For this reason many Iraqi trade union activists who had suffered under the previous regime came together to relaunch the oil workers’ union.
Our union has two strategic considerations. The first is how best to protect the rights of the Iraqi worker in light of the laws brought in by the then US proconsul Paul Bremmer.
The second is how do we maintain oil production—which is the main source of income for our country.
The US has destroyed all the infrastructure of our country—the hospitals, schools, universities, factories and workshops.
The one type of infrastructure they did not destroy were oil facilities and pipelines. This is because they wanted to control our oil.
Our union has organised despite the threats of US forces, in fact under the noses of their tanks and soldiers.
We have been organising despite the ban on independent unions, and the ban on demonstrations implemented under the transitional administrative law imposed by the US in 2003.
Our union has six main objectives:
- We demand the unconditional withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
- We want the freedom for Iraqis to decide our own future and set our own policies.
- We denounce all acts of terrorism against the Iraqi people and hold the US responsible for these attacks.
- We condemn the attempt by US companies to take control of our oil.
- We support the Iraqi resistance in their campaign to drive the US occupiers out of Iraq.
- We demand the cancellation of all debts incurred by the former regime.
Ordinary Iraqis did not benefit from these debts.
All the money that was borrowed was not used to build Iraq. It was used to fund Saddam Hussein’s military adventures that caused so much destabilisation in the region.
The Iraqi oil workers’ union is determined to prevent any US company from taking over the oil industry.
Iraq exports up to 1.8 million barrels of oil a day, yet even with the present high oil price the people are living in poverty and misery.
There is little healthcare, no social welfare and the education system has collapsed. The Iraqi people are living under very difficult circumstances. This is the reality of life under occupation.
When we organised our first anti-privatisation conference in the southern city of Basra, many of our friends from the United States and Britain were able to see first hand the poverty and misery of our people. Yet we live over a lake of oil.
Basra experienced deep suffering under the previous regime — more than any other city in Iraq—and suffered eight years of war against Iran from 1980 to 1988, the invasion of Kuwait and repercussions of that war in 1991.
Now we are suffering a new war caused by the US and its coalition. Up to 85 percent of the people in Basra are suffering in some way from the pollution caused by these wars — this pollution has been documented by the United Nations.
The effects of the weapons used on us are being felt by Iraqis across the country, whether in Basra, Amara, Nassiriya, Ramadi, Baghdad or any other city. It is only by god’s will that we can survive the misery of this occupation.
George Bush and Tony Blair claim that they have brought democracy to Iraq, yet everyday we see this so called “democracy”, with the military convoys that fire on innocent people and human rights violations.
We call on all people who want peace and organisations which opposed the war to help in our struggle. Since we are struggling to oppose the forces of evil we need all the support we can get.
I thank you for all your support — and Iraq needs all the support it can get.
We will remember the real friends who stood by us during these terrible times, and hope that one day we can welcome you all to a free, democratic and united Iraq.
War on Want has revealed that multinationals are set to make a £111 billion windfall in profits from Iraqi oil. The report, Crude Designs: The Rip-Off of Iraq’s Oil Wealth is available on www.waronwant.org
Hassan is also speaking at the International Peace Conference this Saturday.
For more on the oil workers’ union go to www.basraoilunion.org