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Johann Hari's struggle with truth.

Andy Newman


 

The tragic murder of Hadi Salih, the international secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), has been exploited by pro-war columnist Johann Hari to sow divisions in the peace and Labour movements. Writing in the Independent on 7th January Hari asks where are the voices of condemnation of this murder by the international left?

http://www.johannhari.com/archive/article.php?id=544

 

The date of Hari's article is revealing, as Hadi Salih was murdered during the night of 4th January and news did not break until the 5th, and indeed the significance of the event was only slowly spreading around. Given that most left publications are weekly or monthly it was of course easy for Johann Hari to find little response only two days after the atrocity.

 

Many on the left may be surprised at Johann Hari's sudden interest in trade unionists being murdered. He has consistently advocated Western military intervention as a force for good, human rights and democracy. He castigates the left for being tardy in our response to the murder of Salih, but we could counter that he has never commented on Columbia, a country where US military intervention is directly linked to the death squads, and the murder of trade unionists. He now expresses concern over our response to the murder of Hadi Salih, when he has advocated and praised the invasion of Iraq that led to 100000 other deaths.

 

However, the question that Johann Hari asks has also been echoed by figures in the labour movement whose integrity and motives are not in question.

 

In order to address these concerns it is necessary to firstly dispose of a number of falsehoods and sleights of hand that Johann Hari indulges himself with.

 

The most important inaccuracy by Hari is the claim that the Stop the War Coalition issued a statement supporting struggle against the occupation be "any means necessary", this claim was repeated in an Observer article on 9th January by another pro-war "liberal", Nick Cohen. And the allegation appears yet again in the "Open Letter to the leaders of the Stop the war Coalition" being circulated by Labour Friends of Iraq.

No such statement was issued. I understand that these words were in the original draft of a statement from the StWC about the IFTU's intervention in Labour conference. However these words were apparently removed at the request of Ken Smith the Socialist party representative on the steering committee during an e-mail consultation before it was formally issued. http://www.stopwar.org.uk/article.asp?id=111004

In any event, "by any means necessary" is not that objectionable a phrase is it? Malcolm X pointed out that "by any Means Necessary" does not mean doing anything you want: it means doing just as much as is necessary. It would surely be ridiculous to support the insurgency but call on them to refrain from doing what was necessary to win? Indeed supporting the right of the insurgency to use any means necessary also involves an implied limitation that there is no support for violence that is unnecessary or counterproductive.

However, Johann Hari goes further and misrepresents the reason why Mick Rix resigned from the StWC steering committee. Hari says: "The Stop the War Coalition passed a resolution recently saying the resistance should use "any means necessary" - which prompted Mick Rix, a decent trade unionist, to resign from the STWC on the grounds that this clearly constituted support for the murder of civilians. "

 

In actual fact the reason given by Mick Rix was:.

"I wish to resign my position on the steering committee. There are two reasons, one I am not able to make the meetings due to work pressures, secondly I do not agree with assertions made over the conduct of union delegations at the Labour party in the recent statement, and indeed the attacks made on Abdullah. I think in these difficult times, the recent outbursts that have been made, and the personalisation has vastly reduced our influence and support, in the movement. I thought it would have been better and more democratic, before these statements were made, they should have been discussed, and wider views sought."

http://www.labourfriendsofiraq.org.uk/archives/000063.html

 

Now, I personally thought it was unnecessary for the StWC to issue a statement on the IFTU at all, and moved a motion at the next national council saying it was a mistake and calling on Mick Rix to be invited to rejoin the steering committee. Tony Woodley's article in the Morning Star was in my view more appropriate. After all if we are to have a united anti-war movement then it has to embrace the differing views within the Labour movement over the IFTU, and indeed over the ICP's limited involvement in the Allawi government. Nevertheless, this is a legitimate debate amongst comrades, and Johann Hari seems to be deliberately seeking to exploit nuances of disagreement to undermine the anti-war movement. At the November National Council meeting of the Stop the War Coalition 50 delegates from local Stop the War groups broadly approved the handling of the situation by the steering committee and the officers of the coalition after an informed debate.

 

It is also surely inaccurate for Hari to claim that the left has made no condemnation of the murder, for example US Labour Against War issued a fine statement. ( http://uslaboragainstwar.org/article.php?id=7428) "The ultimate source of violence in Iraq is the US occupation. The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions calls for the end of the occupation and the US war.  Salih's murder does not bring this end one step closer. " And there have been condemnations from unions around the world, including the British TUC, NATFHE and RMT.

 

I also think there is a sleight of hand by Hari in quoting George Galloway speaking before the murder, and describing the IFTU as Quislings, and thereby implying some affinity with the assassins. The context of Galloway's remarks was the unprecedented intervention of an IFTU representative, Abdullah Muhsin, to sway the vote on Iraq at the 2004 Labour Party Conference. Galloway is renowned for his colourful turns of phrase, and he did indeed write a controversial article in response for the Morning Star, but in the traditions of the left and of that paper, there was debate about it; and indeed the Morning Star also published an interview with IFTU activists, (expanded version at http://www.socialistunitynetwork.co.uk/news/iftureps.htm) and an interview with Salam Ali of the Iraqi Communist party describing why the ICP feels it is tactically advantageous to participate in Iraq's interim government. There is an on-going debate in the peace and labour movements about the IFTU, and it is quite possible to hold very different views on this matter and still unconditionally oppose the occupation of Iraq.

 

In any event, George Galloway's views are simply the views of one individual member of the Stop the War Coalition, and being a coalition it is recognised he does not speak for everyone.

 

Johann Hari also seeks to link by implication the murder of Hadi Salih to the treatment of Subdhi al-Mashadani at the ESF, where the IFTU representative was heckled off the stage. Of course there is no causal link: the armed insurgents in Iraq do not take their lead from ultra-leftist protesters in Britain. Hari also makes a sleight of hand by implying that a majority of the ESF audience jeered al-Mashadani, when surely it was only a tiny minority, and the only organised current in the British left who supported the disruption of that meeting was the minuscule sect, Workers Power.

 

Unfortunately Johann Hari's article is being widely circulated, it is therefore certainly worth noting that Andrew Murray, the chair of the Stop the war Coalition wrote the following response in a letter to the Independent: "Johann Hari falsifies the position of the Stop the War Coalition in relation to the recent brutal murder of Hadi Salih. We condemn this killing and its perpetrators, whoever they are. The Coalition has never adopted a resolution or issued a statement as outlined by Mr Hari, and we have repeatedly denounced the murder of civilians. Also, we did our best to ensure that the Iraqi trade union speaker invited to the European Social Forum was able to be heard, and publicly criticised those who disrupted his meeting. We differ from Hari in two respects. Firstly, we condemn all civilian deaths in Iraq, including those tens of thousands which are the responsibility of the occupying forces he supports. And we recognise the right of Iraqis to resist that unlawful occupation, which is at the root of violence in Iraq and is the consequence of the war which Hari promoted."

 

However, even once the slurs by Johann Hari have been disposed of, it is necessary to recognise that the differences of opinion that he is seeking to antagonise are real ones. There are two strands of disagreement, firstly as to the nature of the resistance, and secondly the nature of the IFTU, and those other parts of the Iraqi labour movement who do not support the armed insurgency.

 

There clearly is a huge wave of insurgency in Iraq that has widespread popular support, but it is a very multi stranded phenomenon, and not only do some of those fighting have Ba'athist or Theocratic aspirations, more importantly the tactics being adopted by some parts of the insurgency are to disrupt reconstruction, murder workers and increase the misery of the Iraqi people, and are therefore an obstacle towards any favourable outcome. There was an interesting article in "al Ahram" (Egypt) that said the Iraqi resistance had directly killed around 3000 civilians at a time where Iraq Body Count had the number killed by occupation forces as 8000 - Both estimates were using the same method of reporting recorded deaths in the press. The Lancet article quoting 100000 dead (plausible, but inconclusive) makes no distinction between deaths directly resulting from the occupation forces, those caused by the insurgents, and those caused by the breakdown of the security situation (primarily the responsibility of the occupation forces, but murdering the police is a deliberate tactic by insurgents to increase the security vacuum). Therefore although the resistance is broadly popular, at this stage it still seems to be inchoate and instinctive, rather than a directed military campaign with clear objectives.

 

Certainly there have been deplorable murders of ordinary workers and trade unionists. According to US Labor Against War: "IFTU members and rank-and-file workers have been murdered and kidnapped as they tried to carry out normal union activity, or simply do their jobs.  On November 3, four railroad workers were killed, and their bodies mutilated.  On December 25, two other train drivers were kidnapped, and five other workers beaten.  On the night of December 26, the building of the Transport and Communications Workers in central Baghdad was shelled." However, it must be recognised that there is no collective strategy behind the insurgency, and these murders are not necessarily endorsed by all, or even a majority, of those who take up arms against the occupation forces. The strategy of that part of the insurgency who seek to disrupt Iraqi civil society in order to prevent the occupation from normalising its rule inevitably but incidentally targets workers. The importance of this is that although some parts of the resistance may be hostile to trade unionism, it would be a mistake to characterise the insurgency as animated by a systematic opposition to the Labour movement. The insurgency is not fascist, even if there are elements within it historically associated with the suppression of trade unions.

Boston University Professor. Assaf Khoury, a member of the editorial team at Occupation Watch has remarked on this as follows: "...It is most unlikely that Salih was killed by 'fascist Saddam loyalists' [as the IFTU is claiming]. Much of the armed resistance is carried out by an assortment of unemployed city and small town people, politically marginalized groups, often using religion to find an ideological context, some of them disabused ICP people who had been suppressed by the Baathists.... I think we should condemn the targetting of all trade unionists, many of whom are not in the IFTU or have broken with it (I can't give you statistics or firm evidence on this, but there are many anecdotal stories that point to this)."

So although Salih was an IFTU official it is probable, according to Sami Ramadani, that he was murdered not for his trade unionism but rather because of his association with the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), who are regarded as targets by some due to their participation in the Allawi government. "Mr Salih's murder, and that of another ICP leader few weeks ago, were widely reported in Iraq and seen as part of a campaign against "collaborationists." Hardly any in the Iraqi media, both pro and anti occupation, paid much attention to his role as an organiser of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU)."

 As Professor Khoury writes: "I think the ICP lost its bearings completely since the early 1990's.  ... The ICP is now riven with dissent, factionalism, and debilitating internal struggles. The official leadership of the ICP has two ministerial posts in the Allawi government, one very minor and one of average importance, while the big posts (defense, foreign affairs, interior) are occupied by representatives of the pre-occupation exile groups or the two pro-US Kurdish parties. The ICP people inside the Allawi government are targets of the resistance, just as much as other members of the government. But there are ICP factions against the government, one of them called the "ICP-cadre wing (or faction)" which is vociferously attacking the US, Allawi and the rest. To confuse things even more, the ICP-cadre faction refuses to split and considers itself the "'legitimate' ICP. There are other communist/leftist groups around, such as the Workers Communist Party of Iraq. Because the ICP has been historically rooted in the labor unions of the large cities (Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, etc.), with really dominant positions in them at one time, they still have a very strong presence among labor organizers (not much heard of in the US corporate media) who are of course paralyzed by the internal factionalism or utterly confused. "

Now it is clear, that despite the politics of some of the leading figures in the IFTU, this is a genuine trade union body, although admittedly not the only genuine trade union body in Iraq. As RMT activist Alex Gordon has written: "It would be difficult to imagine how a 'perfect' democratic trade union movement could possibly emerge overnight from three and a half decades of dictatorship, war and now foreign occupation and fascist [sic] terror. The critical demand that has to be made on any Iraqi government is whether they will ratify International Labour Organisation Conventions concerning the right of workers to form and join trade unions of their choice and the right to take strike .... The IFTU has consistently made this demand and has pursued it consistently in discussions with the ILO and the Iraqi Interim Government."

 

What is more, many Iraqi socialists express the concern that an immediate victory for the insurgency (as it is currently constituted) would, in the words of Salam Ali of the ICP see "the return to power of those who are supporters of the previous regime and also extremist groups, Islamic or otherwise, who have other agendas - either the return of dictatorship or religious dictatorship - and have nothing to do with the real liberation of Iraq."

 

The position of the ICP, and therefore of the IFTU that the occupation should be ended under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1546 (elections in January 2005, troops out by June 2005 unless authorised to stay by an elected Iraqi government), is not irrational, and is a legitimate opinion to pursue within the labour movement. However it is wrong and dangerous.

 

It is wrong because it sows illusions that the election process will be allowed any sort of independence from the aims and objectives of the US government. What is more, there will be no simple outcome in Iraq, and the occupation forces are not going to just leave. The process of driving them out is at an early stage, and the insurgency will change its character in the course of the struggle, which makes the task of the Iraqi labour movement of raising their own demands all the more important.

 

It is dangerous because although the ICP nominally supports military actions against the occupation forces, as Salam Ali describes: "when attacks are targeted against US forces specifically, people have no problem with that - no political organisation, including those who have been accused as collaborators, condemns attacks on the occupying military forces.", the murder of Hadi Salih shows that the ICP participation in the government has tarred the trade union movement with the implication that they are collaborators with the US occupation forces. To build independent trade unions it is necessary to distance workers' organisations from the US occupation.

 

It is quite correct that the anti war movement stays focused on its main aim of opposing the occupation and calling for the withdrawal from Iraq by US and UK troops. We must recognise that there is a diversity of opinion within our movement, and we should beware those like Johann Hari who seek to turn diversity into division.

 

 

January 2005

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Correction:

In this article it states that a google search did not reveal any articles about Columbia by Johann Hari. This is of course because the search term used should have been Colombia.

There are in fact two articles by Johann Hari on his archive about Colombia. But neither of these articles refers in any way to the murder of trade unionists, which is the issue under discussion. Andy Newman apologises for any offence caused to Johann Hari by falsely claiming he had never referred to Colombia. We challenge Johann Hari to similarly apologise for the false claims he has made about the Stop the war Coalition

Johann Hari on Colombia:
http://www.johannhari.com/archive/article.php?id=426
http://www.johannhari.com/archive/article.php?id=258

 

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