The Guardian March 10, 2004

Iraqi women demand "US out"

Susan Webb

As Iraq moved to take back political sovereignty, Iraqi trade 
unionists and women's organisations condemned bloody terrorist 
attacks that killed some 300 people and wounded many others at 
religious observances in Baghdad and Karbala.

"These are acts of violence against innocent people, terrorist 
acts of mass murder", said Abdullah Muhsin, Iraqi Federation of 
Trade Unions international representative.

The attacks are aimed at destabilising the situation in Iraq, 
Muhsin told the People's Weekly World, speaking by phone 
from London. They can be used by the US occupation to suggest 
that Iraqis are not capable of self-government, providing "a 
pretext to stay longer", he said. In fact, Muhsin said, the US 
occupation has failed to provide security. "Let us do this by 
ourselves", he said. "We will prove that we are capable."

The bloodshed is "the responsibility of the occupiers", Clair 
Meshal, a leader of the Iraqi Women's League, Iraq's oldest 
women's organisation, told the World in a phone interview.

Meshal, a longtime political refugee living in London, charged 
that the US has freed top-ranking "Ba'ath fascists" including 
Saddam Hussein's propaganda chief, without trials, allowing them 
access to media and putting many in important administrative 

The deadly attacks came one day after the Iraqi Governing Council 
announced agreement on an interim law to govern a transitional 
Iraqi administration after the US occupation hands over power 
June 30.

The Transitional Administrative Law guarantees a broad range of 
civil rights and liberties, including freedom of expression and 
opinion and the rights of assembly and due process. Although it 
terms Islam the official religion, it guarantees freedom of 
religion and says Islam is "a source" of the country's laws 
rather than the sole source.

It also guarantees social and economic rights that many Americans 
would like to have, including health care, education, and the 
right to strike.

The interim constitution is a compromise among the widely varying 
political trends represented on the Iraqi Governing Council. It 
sets forth a federal structure for Iraq, giving significant 
authority to individual regions, but leaves many details to be 
ironed out later. It makes Kurdish and Arabic official languages. 
Between now and June 30, in a process yet to be worked out, an 
interim Iraqi administration will be formed.

The transitional law says elections for a new government must 
take place by January 31, 2005. That elected government will 
oversee the drafting of a permanent Iraqi constitution. The 
transitional law sets a goal of having women comprise at least 25 
percent of the new legislature.

Muhsin welcomed the new law as a positive step, giving "a chance 
of rebuilding a new sovereign Iraq". Building trade unions and 
other civil society organisations are crucial to building 
democracy, he said.

Two key challenges face Iraq's union movement in the coming 
period, said Muhsin. One is waging "an enormous struggle in the 
face of uncontrollable market forces".

The other is educating Iraqi workers about the need to build a 
powerful trade union movement. "After 34 years of oppression most 
Iraqi workers don't know what a union is", he said. Today, they 
suffer mass unemployment or wages that do not even cover rent.

In order to move forward, Iraq needs new technology, re-skilling 
of workers, new kinds of jobs, Muhsin said. "For this we welcome 
foreign investment." But, he emphasised, "foreign investment does 
not mean privatisation".

Iraq's public sector, which includes the country's oil riches as 
well as water, electricity, health and education through 
university level, should be off-limits to privatisers, he said.

Iraqi women are continuing to organise for their rights and for 
greater representation in the new Iraqi government. The Iraqi 
Women's League, which worked underground during the Saddam 
Hussein regime, has branches in every town and village.

People's Weekly World, Communist Party USA, (abridged)

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