Brian Joyce, a member of
the National Executive Committee of the Fire Brigades Union provides
an account of a recent trade union visit to Iraqi Kurdistan by his
union to oversee delivery of 1250 sets of fire kit sent by the FBU.
The FBU has been at the forefront of practical solidarity with the
Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU).
"My journey through
Turkey was coming to an end, signified by mile after mile of empty
petrol tankers, hundreds of the hungry beasts queuing for hours on
the Turkish Kurdistan border; our reliance and need for petroleum
became extremely visual after passing nearly 400 petrol tankers.
"Abdullah Muhsin, the
IFTUs international representative was once again acting as my
interpreter as we travelled to Duhok with Jalal Kayef President of
the Kurdistan General Syndicate Workers Union (KSWU) for the
province of Duhok. We had been joined by him and several other
officials including my old friend Subdi Al-Mashadani, the General
Secretary of the IFTU at the border.
"Having been to Baghdad
and Basra, I now found myself having the opportunity of extending
our relationship to the trade union movement in Kurdistan. The
Kurdistan General Workers Syndicate Union is the equivalent to the
Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions and has unions within Kurdistan
affiliated to it. These unions range from the building industry,
mechanics, public services, to transport, textiles and agricultural
"Meetings had been
arranged in Duhok, Arbil and Sulaimania, each of these provinces
having its own KWSU President. The unions affiliated also having
their own President in each of the three provinces. The structure of
the KWSU is currently under discussion, the debate being that of
unification, many believing this to be the way forward and future
for the KWSU
"I was warmly welcomed
at each meeting; officials were eager to explain the issues,
problems and needs of their unions. Training and education being a
priority, recognised by all as imperative for the future of not only
their officials and members but for the unions themselves.
Computers, printers and faxes were high on the list of requirements
as well as financial funding. These requests and needs are vitally
important, but so is the necessity of a trade union delegation going
to Iraqi Kurdistan this year, in fact it is essential.
"My visit was also to
assist in facilitating the first meeting of KWSU and IFTU; this has
led to successful discussions between the two unions.
"I felt safe and secure
as I travelled through Kurdistan, armed security being apparent and
check points frequent. But with the history and relationship with
Saddam’s Iraq, it is not only understandable but desirable.
"Kurdistan lies across
the top of Iraq in a blanket of beautiful mountains and forms
northern Iraq. The Kurdish people have suffered imprisonment,
torture and death at the hands of Saddam’s Baath’ist party and
military power. In the provinces of Duhok and Arbil over 5000
villages were destroyed, thousands of people made homeless,
countless numbers missing and killed, bombed, machined gunned,
gassed, and poisoned by chemicals.
"Since 1991 due to the
intervention of the United Nations and the courage of the Kurdish
people, the country has had the opportunity to build, improve and
modernise. The difference those years have made is remarkable, and
can only pay tribute to the people of Iraqi Kurdistan and give hope
to the people of Iraq for the future.
"During my days and time
in Kurdistan I visited fire stations in all the provinces. Personal
protective clothing was limited. On one station, there were six sets
of ppc shared amongst the whole station of thirty fire-fighters.
"There were requests
from each brigade visited for technical information, fire kit,
equipment and the need for all types of training was identified as a
"None of the stations I
visited had breathing apparatus, although I was proudly shown some
new appliances recently delivered. As in Iraq these fire-fighters
are not allowed to join a trade union due to existing legislation,
and little appears to be going to change in the near future.
"We have, as a union,
arranged for approximately 1250 sets of fire kit to be sent to
Kurdistan, and should be distributed over the following weeks.
"But there is still a
desperate need for further support and assistance, above all we must
maintain and continue our relationship with those to whom we have
held out the hand of trust and friendship. However, there were no
expectations from those I met, for these were not people who simply
talk about freedom and democracy, most have physically fought to
achieve it and all have suffered under the regime of Saddam’s Iraq
"The KWSU also arranged
for me to meet with the Governor of Duhok Nejerfan Ahmed and the
political leader of the PDK Khader Abdel-Aziz Rashied; I also met
Abdul Razag, minister for humanitarian aid and a member of the PUK.
"This series of meetings
gave me the opportunity to question and explore the views of these
officials over a variety of issues, one of which being the future of
a federal Iraq with specific reference to the role of and political
relationship with the trade union movement. The war and occupation
created debate with views being expressed freely and openly by all.
Further discussions included the unjust and totally unnecessary
legislation in relation to fire-fighters and their right to join a
trade union, as well as the function and responsibilities of the
arranged with two national television networks and several national
newspapers. Television coverage of my trip appeared on the news for
two nights, and was transmitted by satellite over all the Arab
"As I travelled back
from Suliamania, I couldn’t help but notice the regeneration of the
countryside, burnt beyond recognition by Saddam’s air force ten
years past but now young saplings stood four foot high, and the
blackened scorched earth replaced by fresh green. Yet my mind was
still at the Red House in Suleimaniya.
"Simply called the Red
House due to its colour, quite unassuming in appearance, you could
easily be forgiven for thinking it was an office block. But for
thousands of those who walked across its courtyard, the Red House
meant imprisonment, torture and execution. Now it is a museum, its
walls displaying a pictorial history to those who had to flee their
homes and escape to the mountains of Kurdistan. Many died in the
freezing snow, both young and old. There were also pictures of
families, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons who were murdered
simply because they were born Kurdish.
"Two days before Kurdish
partisans attacked this building; all those held within its walls
"Life for many in Iraq
is still unsafe; this is certainly the case for trade union official
Nuzad Ismail President of the IFTU in Kirkuk. Nuzad, has survived
two assassination attempts on his life over recent months.
"Each day he and his
family receive death threats, as Nuzad said “If they can’t get to me
they will get to my family, that’s the way they work”. He was
referring to Saddam loyalists.
"Sadly whilst writing
this article I was made aware of the death of my friend Hadi Saleh,
International Secretary for the IFTU, assassinated on Tuesday night
the 4th of January in Baghdad. Masked assassins broke into his home
bound his feet and hands blindfolded him, and then tortured, burnt
and finally strangled Hadi with electric cord.
"Not surprisingly there
is the belief that Hadi’s murder was carried out by Saddam’s
Mukhabarat, the Baathist KGB. Sadly there are those in this country
who, not only give credibility to these murderers and cowards, but
support them. Called or being named the “new resistance” by those
who seem blinkered to the irony of that statement. The political
amnesia of these individuals and organisations is quite
"Hadi Saleh was a trade
unionist, a man with a wish for a free and democratic federal Iraq.
He worked through the trade union movement to achieve his beliefs
for the people of Iraq.
"Seized at the age of 21
by Saddam’s secret police and sentenced to summary execution for
forming a trade union at his work place. Hadi spent five years of
his life in the filth of one of Saddam’s prisons, tortured and
beaten but still alive, he had his sentence by some miracle commuted
to permanent exile.
"He opposed the war, and
continued his work to unite the people of his country. But he never
gave up his fight against Baathism, and for that he was murdered.
"Finally, I would like
to take this opportunity to thank all those who assisted in making
my trip possible, especially those brigades who made the vital
contributions of fire kit to the fire-fighters of Kurdistan. Equally
my thanks goes to all those who I met during my travels but have not
named, and my special thanks to Jalal Kayif and his family for the
particular friendship and kindness they showed me during my short
time in their country."