The Turkish assault on Afrin has forced the enclave's Kurdish defenders into an alliance with the same Assad regime that is committing war crimes in Eastern Ghouta. This tragically poses an obstacle to any solidarity between the respective defenders of the besieged enclaves. But we in the West are faced with no such grim choices, and should be capable of a consistent position. Yet Noam Chomsky, who signed a statement in support of Afrin, has shamefully abetted Putin's propaganda portraying the repeated chemical attacks on Ghouta as "fake news." (Photo of Aleppo ruins from UNHCR)
Burma's Rakhine state is being militarized at an alarming pace, as authorities build security force bases on lands where Rohingya villages were burned to the ground just months ago, Amnesty International charges in a new report. The chief UN official investigating human rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, called for an immediate investigation into "clearance operations" in Rakhine state, stating she is increasingly convinced that actions by the Burmese security forces amount to genocide. (Photo: VOA via Wikimedia Commons)
Colombia's peace process continues to advance, with institutional mechanisms for a post-war order falling into place. But violence in the countryside across Colombia remains at an alarming level, as social leaders are targeted for assassination by paramilitary factions. The ELN guerilla organization—which, unlike the FARC, remains in arms—released a statement noting that January had seen an assassination every day across the country, and charged that rightist paramilitary networks are carrying out a "systematic genocide."
Chilean activists protested in Santiago against the signing of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, now rebranded as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), or TPP-11. Protesters outside La Moneda Palace, headquarters of the Chilean government, held banners reading "No to modern slavery, no to the TPP-11" and "The TPP and TPP-11 are the same!" Lucía Sepúlveda, leader of the organization Chile Mejor Sin TPP, said the agreement would "deliver full guarantees to foreign investors" at the expense of "rights and national interests." (Photo: Chile Mejor Sin TPP)
UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour said that the "ethnic cleansing of Rohingya from Myanmar continues," after a four-day visit to Bangladesh. During his visit, he focused on the situation of thousands of refugees who have fled from Burma (Myanmar). Recently-arrived Rohingya gave credible accounts of continued violence against their people, including killings, rape, and forced starvation, Gilmour reported. Burma has been saying that it is ready to receive returning Rohingya refugees, but Gilmour maintains that safe returns are impossible under current conditions. (Photo: EU/ECHO via Flickr)
Moribund National ID Act Revived by Spitzer-Chertoff Love Fest
By A. Kronstadt, The Shadow
Even here in sophisticated New York City where we are all supposed to know something and be savvy about politics, everyone thinks that there is a big difference between Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer and former Republican New York City Mayor and presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani. Spitzer is certainly identified by most as a New York liberal, whether those doing the identifying like him for that or not. It is becoming more and more apparent, however that Spitzer’s credentials resemble more those of Giuliani than, say, Mario Cuomo, in the sense that Spitzer has a prosecutorial background and mentality and has little respect for the rights of the individual, except perhaps for the big real estate individuals of which he is also one. Spitzer’s role as a “stealth liberal” whose sleek profile is an illusion to disguise a greedy control junkie, is becoming apparent to more and more people, and this is one of the reasons why his popularity is in a tailspin, with a majority of Democrats admitting that they would like a chance to vote for somebody else. Spitzer’s role in promoting and indeed reviving the much-detested Real ID Act, legacy of the Republican Congress that was voted out of office in 2006, shows that his respect for privacy and the American tradition of individual liberties is nil.
With his prosecutorial and real estate background, Spitzer was already an insider in New York State and New York City government, and his victory in the 2006 gubernatorial race with 69% of the vote over little-known Republican John Faso was not the result of any upsurge in old-fashioned Democratic party liberalism or populism. Indeed, after less than a year in office, Spitzer is showing his right-wing prosecutorial side along with a scary ability to cloak his repressive intentions with liberal rhetoric. Spitzer’s plan to “grant driver’s licences to illegal aliens” enabled the right-wing press to skewer him as a wild-eyed liberal, but a careful examination of that controversy reveals the Democratic governor as one of the few enablers that the Bush Administration can count on in its effort to impose a national ID card on the US.
After eight years of Republican misrule in Albany, many here in New York City, who were the biggest victims of the anti-tenant and anti-poor policies of Gov. George Pataki and right-wing, upstate politicians led by State Senate Speaker Joe Bruno, welcomed the victory of Democrat Eliot Spitzer in 2006. Spitzer rose through the prosecutorial ranks, making a name for himself at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office with his probes into mafia control of the garment district, and later as New York State Attorney General, where he spearheaded major probes into Wall Street corruption and earned a reputation as a protector of the American investor. Spitzer is the son of real estate developer Bernard Spitzer, whose fortune has been estimated at upward of $500 million and who is the landlord of several Manhattan high rises including the Corinthian on East 38th Street, as well as the futuristic 200 Central Park South and numerous properties on Madison Avenue. Eliot Spitzer financed his own campaign for Attorney General in 1998 to the tune of $9 million.
Spitzer has demonstrated a tight relationship with Manhattan real estate developers, in particular Larry Silverstein, who acquired a 99-year lease on the buildings and land of the World Trade Center on July 24, 2001. When the buildings were destroyed just a couple of weeks later, Silverstein became embroiled in litigation with his insurers, who insisted that the impact of the planes comprised only one incident, entitling Silverstein to a $3.55 billion payout. Silverstein contended that the attack constituted two separate incidents, entitling him to 7.1 billion dollars. As the case progressed in 2003, Spitzer took time from his busy schedule as NY State Attorney General to file an amicus curiae brief with the 2nd Circuit Court backing the claims of his fellow real estate mogul, who was eventually awarded 4.5 billion dollars in insurance payments in a federal court ruling. (Silverstein is also reported to have hired a former Spitzer advisor, Roberto Ramirez, as his personal lobbyist and pipeline to the governor.)
The ID card controversy began on Sept. 21, 2007, when Spitzer declared that he would implement by executive order a policy whereby the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants living in New York State would be able to obtain valid driver’s licenses. Spitzer justified the measure as promoting road safety by reducing the number of unlicensed drivers. As the governor phrased it “The DMV is not the INS,” referring, respectively, to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and the US Immigration and Naturalization Service—now folded into the Homeland Security Department.
Spitzer was immediately accused of having failed to consult either Homeland Security or the County Clerks charged with administering driver’s licenses in their localities. Spitzer counted on the support of immigrants rights advocates and Latino elected officials such as State Senator Ruben Diaz, who were early supporters of the license plan. Even Republican kingpin Joe Bruno himself, at first, rode the bandwagon. Rapidly, however, an upstate and suburban backlash sent Spitzer waffling. He consulted with his long-time friend and collaborator in hunting down mafia dons: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
Chertoff had warned Spitzer that his department was about to come out against the governor’s initial, more nebulous plan to grant driver’s licenses irrespective of immigration status. Spitzer and Chertoff held a joint press conference on Oct. 27 at which they announced their Memorandum of Agreement, in which the Department of Homeland Security would consent to a form of Spitzer’s proposal to grant driver’s licenses without regard to immigration status—in the context of New York State’s compliance with the Federal Real ID Act. A system of three “tiers” of driver’s license would be created, the upper two of which would be compliant with the requirements of Real ID. Let us restate the sinister provisions of the Real ID Act, which was passed by the Republican-dominated Congress in 2005, tacked onto a military appropriations bill, with no debate:
1. It mandates that all states meet certain minimum requirements for the information that needs to be included in driver’s licenses and state ID cards, including: requirement for “biometric parameters,” understood to mean fingerprints from at least two of the person’s digits.
2. It standardizes the documentation that states must require from applicants for such cards, including proof of a real address.
3. It calls for linking of all state ID information to a national database and to similar databases in Canada and Mexico.
4. It demands that all state-issued ID cards conform to a common machine-readable technology based on magnetic strips or RFID proximity card reading technology.
5. It includes a hodgepodge of other sinister, authoritarian provisions, including a provision nullifying state laws that interfere with the building of the border fence between the US and Mexico and another allowing the Department of Homeland Security to determine at will the legal meaning of the word “terrorist.”
The Real ID Act does not precisely mandate that every citizen needs to carry identification papers as in Russia, China, or apartheid-era South Africa, but it bars, for all intents and purposes, persons refusing to carry an ID card featuring the requirements described above from boarding airplanes or entering federal buildings, or from carrying out numerous other official activities that might be essential to people’s lives.
The Real ID Act attempts to mandate a national ID card at the expense of the individual states, since the bill (originally HR 418, passed as part of HR 1268) does not include any federal funding. Seventeen states have already passed legislation distancing themselves in various ways from the provisions of Real ID, ranging from requiring federal funding as a condition for implementation to outright refusal to implement the Act or calling upon Congress to repeal it. But Eliot Spitzer is by no means a member of the broad coalition of left and right that has formed in opposition to this affront to American individualism. Indeed, he has been one of the few state elected officials nationwide to embrace the Real ID Act (comprising a total of ten states that have made any commitment to the act), and to assert that his state is capable of funding this “unfunded mandate.” At his Oct. 27 press conference with Chertoff, Spitzer stated:
“We can implement—and the Secretary has indicated that we will already be in substantial compliance, based upon what we already do and what we already intend to do. So I think other states will look at this and say, the cost issues can be addressed, and it is, as the Secretary said, in that context, good policy, from a security perspective.”
At that press conference, Spitzer moved off of his initial position that there should be equal access to licenses for all state residents, switching to a position forged in consultation with Chertoff whereby three “tiers” of license would be available. According to the Spitzer/Chertoff Memorandum of Agreement signed at the end of October, the highest and most expensive tier would be simultaneously compliant with the Real ID Act and the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, a treaty that includes Canada and Mexico. This version of the new driver’s license would include the RFID chip and biometric parameters (e.g., fingerprint or face-recognition technology) that are included among the maximum goals of Real ID.
The RFID chip is touted as making it very easy for upstaters to cross the Canadian border via a remote “Easy Pass” type of system that can be read automatically from a toll booth. It would be a particular convenience for residents of New York’s northernmost upstate counties to be able to travel across the Canadian border easily, since commerce with Canada is vital in that part of the state. The only other ID that would otherwise be acceptable for travel into Canada or Mexico under the post-9-11 border regulations would be a passport, which is much more expensive.
There would also be a middle tier of license that would comprise regular driver’s licenses (or non-driver ID that the state Department of Motor Vehicles also issues). These would be technically simpler, but would still require proof of citizenship, several prior forms of ID to establish name and address, and possibly the biometric parameters. This ordinary type of license would be acceptable as ID for boarding airplanes and entering federal buildings, as well as for driving.
The third and lowest tier would be valid only for driving and not for official federal purposes, and that would be the equivalent of the infamous “illegal aliens” license that Spitzer had earlier proposed. This lowest tier of license would also be subject to a lower fee. It would also be stamped “Not Valid for Federal Purposes” in compliance with the Real ID Act. Spitzer was asked whether such a system would stigmatize a person who presented such a “driver’s only” license to the police at a traffic stop as someone likely to be in the country illegally. Spitzer maintained that no stigma would be attached to the lower-tier license and that citizens and legal residents who do not travel, who already have other forms of ID, e.g., green cards, or who have already invested in more expensive US passports for travel purposes would be interested in a cheaper “driving only” license that does not qualify as ID.
At that point, Spitzer had succeeded in framing the issue such that in order to support the right of undocumented people who are living and working in the state to drive a car, one now has to support this plunge into authoritarianism in the form of a nationally standard ID card. It was the conservatives like Joe Bruno who were attacking the proposal because it failed to punish illegal immigrants by taking away their right to drive, The liberals on the other hand, were led up and forced to shake hands with the sinister Michael Chertoff, and to agree to the principle that we all need to accept less privacy and less freedom of movement in this post-9-11 world.
However, with his popularity dropping and his plan to grant licenses to the undocumented identified as his biggest drag in the polls, on November 13, Spitzer withdrew the proposal to grant the “driver’s only” license to persons unable to prove legal residency, leaving the issue completely up in the air. He also announced that he would take a “wait and see” approach on the issuance of Real ID-compliant licenses. Indeed , on that same day, Michael A. L. Balboni, the governor’s top
domestic security aide, said:
“How can it be a nationally secure driver’s license if only 10 states are going to do it? In which case, it would make the entire debate academic…The federal government has a tremendous amount of work to do to convince the nation that Real ID is truly the way to secure this nation’s air travel.”
So, the Spitzer administration is waffling on Read ID, but, seeing the relationship that he has established with Chertoff and Homeland Security, one can only suppose that there is still movement behind the scenes to keep the sinister bill alive in New York State.
To sum it all up, appearing to be compromising to save his generous, egalitarian proposal of granting driver’s licenses even to the undocumented, Spitzer allowed the police-state measure passed by a long-gone Republican Congress to get its foot in the door. By having Chertoff shepherd him through the process and stay by his side as he justified it, he made it look as if it were Chertoff’s idea, so that liberals would still think that he was just compromising. But, with their decades of illustrious service as prosecutors—Chertoff federal and Spitzer state—we are taking about two men who have prosecutorial mentalities and want nothing other that additional tools to enhance their reach and their power. Chertoff and Spitzer worked hand in hand during the ’80s and ’90s, wiretapping and spying in their efforts against organized crime, pushing the envelope of government intrusion in an effort to create a utopia where only the government is allowed to commit crimes. Privacy, to the Spitzers and Chertoffs and Giulianis, is a thing of the past and an emotional excess that has no place in a world where government nannies have a responsibility to protect everyone. Were it not for the fanatics and emotional people like ourselves at the Shadow and a substantial number of others who do not like to have a number placed upon us to identify our status in the anthill, they would go all the way and force us to carry an internal passport like in old-time Russia, which was an even more effective tool for identifying and prosecuting the guilty. After all, what do we have to hide?
This story appeared December 2007 in The Shadow, NYC
National Identity Card Bill Passes in Senate Without Debate
The Shadow, July 2007
Silverstein Places Big Bet on Spitzer Over Ground Zero
New York Sun, March 21, 2006
From our weblog:
Spitzer capitulates on license plan
WW4 Report, Oct. 30, 2007
Enviros lose border-fence fight
WW4 Report, Dec. 20, 2006
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Jan. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution
Toward a People’s Agenda for Climate Justice
by Brian Tokar, Toward Freedom
With all the fanfare that usually accompanies such gatherings, delegates to the recent UN climate talks on the Indonesian island of Bali returned to their home countries declaring victory. Despite the continued obstructionism of the US delegation, the negotiators reached a mild consensus for continued negotiations on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, and at the very last moment were able to cajole and pressure the US to sign on.
But in the end, the so-called “Bali roadmap” added little beside a vague timetable to the plans for renewed global climate talks that came out of a similar meeting two years ago in Montreal. With support from Canada, Japan and Russia, and the acquiescence of former ally Australia, the US delegation deleted all references (except in a nonbinding footnote) to the overwhelming consensus that reductions of 25 to 40 percent in annual greenhouse gas emissions are necessary by 2020 to forestall catastrophic and irreversible alterations in the earth’s climate.
In Kyoto in 1997, then Vice President Al Gore was credited with breaking the first such deadlock in climate negotiations: he promised the assembled delegates that the US would support mandatory emissions reductions if the targeted cuts were reduced by more than half, and if their implementation were based on a scheme of market-based trading of emissions. The concept of “marketable rights to pollute” had been in wide circulation in the US for nearly a decade, but this was the first time a so-called “cap-and-trade” scheme was to be implemented on a global scale. The result, a decade later, is the development of what British columnist George Monbiot has aptly termed “an exuberant market in fake emissions cuts.” Of course, the US never signed the Kyoto Protocol, and the rest of the world has had to bear the consequences of managing an increasingly cumbersome and ineffectual carbon trading system.
Given the increasingly narrow focus on carbon trading and offsets as the primary official response to global climate disruptions, it is no surprise that Bali resembled, in the words of one participant, “a giant shopping extravaganza, marketing the earth, the sky and the rights of the poor.” All manner of carbon brokers, technology developers and national governments were out displaying their wares to the thousands of assembled delegates and NGO representatives. Numerous international organizations used the occasion of Bali to release their latest research on various aspects of global warming, including an important new report from the Global Forest Coalition highlighting the consequences for the world’s forests of the current global push to develop so-called “biofuels” from agricultural crops, grasses and trees.
Indeed, the problem of deforestation, which is now responsible for 20% of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, was very much on the agenda in Bali. In anticipation of a future UN scheme to address what it calls “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation” (REDD), the World Bank announced the creation of a new “Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.” World Bank funds will now be available for governments seeking to preserve forests, but given the Bank’s long history of funding environmental destruction, observers remain skeptical. The effort mainly perpetuates the fatuous idea that wealthy nations (and individuals) can “offset” their excessive carbon dioxide emissions by paying for nominally carbon-saving projects in poorer countries.
Carbon offsets have already spurred the replacement of vast native forests with timber plantations, more readily assessed for their carbon sequestration potential, and able to be harvested for “energy crops” such as palm oil and highly speculative cellulose-derived ethanol. A statement issued by nearly 50 critical NGOs assembled in Bali stated, in part, “The proposed REDD policies could trigger further displacement, conflict and violence; as forests themselves increase in value they are declared ‘off limits’ to communities that live in them or depend on them for their livelihoods.” A central underlying assumption of the REDD, as with similar World Bank initiatives in recent years, is that traditional forest-dwelling communities are incapable of managing their forests appropriately, and that only international experts affiliated with the Bank, national governments, and compliant environmental organizations such as Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund are capable of doing so. Ultimately, timber companies and plantation managers, in league with the World Bank, will be demanding, in the words of Simone Lovera of the Global Forest Coalition, “compensation for every tree they don’t cut down.”
The Bali meetings also led to the creation of a new UN fund to help poor countries adapt to climate changes. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made it clear in their exhaustive 2007 report that the people least responsible for climate change will likely bear the worst consequences, as they are most vulnerable to the widespread increases in floods, droughts, wildfires and other effects of a rapidly changing climate. The UN’s biannual Human Development Report, also released in Bali, states that at least one out of every 19 people in the so-called developing world was already affected by a climate-related disaster between 2000 and 2004.
The new UN adaptation fund will be managed by the Global Environment Facility, a semi-independent partnership of the UN’s environment and development programs and the World Bank, and funded through a two-percent levy on carbon offset transactions under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The CDM’s carbon offset schemes, however, have been widely criticized for manipulations, abuses and the funding of highly questionable projects including, once again, large scale commercial timber plantations displacing tropical rainforests. The new adaptation fund binds governments of poor countries even more tightly to the questionable practice of carbon offsets, even as it offers only a miniscule fraction of the estimated $86 billion needed just to sustain current UN poverty reduction programs in the face of the myriad new threats related to climate change.
So while the continued obstructionism of the Bush administration is the main story in the international press, the successful entrenchment in the UN system of “market-driven” policies introduced by the Clinton-Gore administration may prove to be the more lasting obstacle to real progress on global warming. Carbon trading and offsets help to further enrich Gore’s colleagues in the investment banking world, but contribute almost nothing to actually reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. What are we to do?
Over the past year, activists across the US and in other industrial countries have begun to dramatize the reality of potentially catastrophic global warming and pressure their governments to do something about it. Al Gore’s movie has had a positive educational impact, as has the latest IPCC report, documenting the “unequivocal” evidence that global warming is real and that we can already see the consequences. But most public events up to now, at least in the US, have been rather timid in their outlook, and minimal in their expectations for real changes. The failure of the Bali talks suggests the urgency of a far more pointed and militant approach, a genuine People’s Agenda for Climate Justice. Such an agenda would have at least four central elements:
1. Highlight the social justice implications of global climate disruptions. Global warming is not just a scientific issue, and it’s certainly not mainly about polar bears. As the UN’s Human Development Report describes so eloquently, global warming is a global justice issue, and its implications for the half of the world’s people that live on less than $2 per day are truly staggering. Bringing home these implications can go a long way toward humanizing the problem and raise the urgency of global action.
2. Dramatize the links between US climate and energy policies and US military adventures, particularly the war in Iraq, which is without question the most grotesquely energy-wasting activity on the planet today. Author Michael Klare has documented that troops in the Persian Gulf region consume 3.5 million gallons of oil a day, and that worldwide consumption by the US military—about four times as much—is equal to the total national consumption of Switzerland or Sweden. This past October, people gathered under the banner of “No War, No Warming” blocked the entrances to a Congressional office building in Washington, demanding an end to the war and real steps to prevent more catastrophic climate changes. Similar actions across the country could go a long way toward raising the pressure on politicians who consistently say the right thing and blithely vote the opposite way.
3. Expose the numerous false solutions to global warming promoted by the world’s elites. Billions of dollars in public and private funds are wasted on such schemes as a revival of nuclear power, mythical “clean coal” technologies, and the massive expansion of so-called biofuels (more appropriately termed agrofuels): liquid fuels obtained from food crops, grasses, and trees. Carbon trading and offsets are described as the only politically expedient way to reduce emissions, but they are structurally incapable of doing so. We need mandated emission reductions, a tax on carbon dioxide pollution, requirements to reorient utility and transportation policies, public funds for solar and wind energy, and large reductions in consumption throughout the industrialized world. Buying more “green” products won’t do; we need to buy less!
4. Envision a new, lower-consumption world of decentralized, clean energy and politically empowered communities. Like the anti-nuclear activists of 30 years ago, who halted the first wave of nuclear power in the US while articulating an inspiring vision of directly democratic, solar-powered communities, we again need to dramatize the positive, even utopian possibilities for a post-petroleum, post-mega-mall world. The reality of global warming is too urgent, and the outlook far too bleak, to settle for status-quo false solutions that only appear to address the problem. The technologies already exist for a locally-controlled, solar-based alternative, at the same time that dissatisfaction with today’s high-consumption, high-debt “American way of life” appears to be at an all-time high. Small experiments in living more locally, while improving the quality of life, are thriving everywhere. So are experiments in community-controlled renewable energy production. Al Gore is correct when he says that political will is the main obstacle to addressing global warming, but we also need to be able to look beyond the status-quo and struggle for a different kind of world.
Brian Tokar’s books include Earth for Sale (South End), Redesigning Life? (Zed Books), and Gene Traders (Toward Freedom).
This story first appeared Dec. 18, 2007 in Toward Freedom.
Climate Talks in Montreal: Can we save the planet?
by Brian Tokar, Z Magazine, February 2006
UN Human Development Reports
Global Forest Coalition
No War, No Warming
THE REAL SCOOP ON BIOFUELS
“Green Energy” Panacea or Just the Latest Hype?
WW4 Report, December 2006
From our weblog:
Indigenous peoples protest UN climate meet
WW4 Report, Dec. 8, 2007
New coalition bridges Iraq war, climate change
WW4 Report, March 10, 2007
Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Jan. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution
The Secular Left Opposition Stands Up
by Bill Weinberg, WW4 Report
July 4, 2007 saw the Fred Hampton-style execution of the leader of a popular citizen’s self-defense force in Baghdad. According to the Iraq Freedom Congress, the group Abdelhussein Saddam was associated with, a unit of US Special Forces troops and Iraqi National Guards raided his home in Baghdad’s Alattiba neighborhood at 3:00 AM, throwing grenades in before them—and opening fire without warning at him and his young daughter. The attackers took Saddam, leaving the girl bleeding on the floor. Two days later, his body was found in the morgue at Yarmouk Hospital.
Abdelhussein had been the leader of the Safety Force, a civil patrol organized by the IFC civil resistance coalition to protect their communities. Like many IFC leaders, he had been an opponent of the Saddam Hussein regime, and was imprisoned for two years in the ’90s. Head of the Safety Force since late last year, his death went unnoted by the world media.
But on Aug. 3, some 100 activists from the Japanese anti-war group Zenko—an acronym for National Assembly for Peace and Democracy—gathered near the US embassy in Tokyo to protest the slaying. One banner read: “Do US-Iraqi security forces promote civil rights or Big Brother thuggery? Abdelhussein found out!”
Among those speaking were two IFC leaders who had flown in for the 37th annual Zenko conference. IFC president Samir Adil addressed the rally: “Because he said ‘no Sunni, no Shi’ite, yes to human identity,’ because he wanted to build a civil society in Iraq without occupation, without sectarian militias—for that they killed Abdelhussein. They think they can defeat the IFC, the only voice in Iraq that says yes to a free society, yes to a nonviolent society; no to occupation, no to sectarian gangsters. But contrary to that, after the assassination, many people joined the IFC, we received messages of solidarity from around the world. As long as have the support of people like you, we will never give up.”
The IFC was formed in 2005, bringing together trade unions, women’s organizations, neighborhood assemblies and student groups around two demands: an end to the occupation, and a secular state for Iraq. Zenko’s most significant achievement over the past year has been the raising of $400,000 which allowed the IFC to establish a satellite station, Sana TV.
Nadia Mahmood, an exile from Basra who is the chief presenter at Sana TV’s London studio, told the protesters: “We established the IFC to oppose occupation or rule by Sunni or Shi’ite militias. That is why the US, which says it came to Iraq to bring democracy, assassinates our leaders and raids our offices. And that is why we must demand an end to the occupation.”
Sana TV: Voice of Progressive Iraq
The protest was given extra urgency by news that another IFC figure, Prof. Mohammed Jasam, had been killed the previous day in an ambush on the road from Baghdad to Siwera. The killers were this time presumably members of an as yet unidentified sectarian militia. Jasam had been a reporter and commentator on labor issues for Sana TV, which began broadcasting in this spring in Arabic, Kurdish and English, with studios in Baghdad and London.
Mahmood says Sana TV regularly produces programming on labor struggles, women’s concerns, and the impact of the occupation on Iraqi society. Its Baghdad studio continues to face material challenges—such as unreliable electricity, necessitating on-site generators. Mahmood says Sana TV hopes to build “mobile studios” for Iraq, citing the threat of attack from either occupation forces or sectarian militias.
The US supports its own TV networks in Iraq, while Iran and the Gulf states have satellite stations operating in the country that promote Shi’ite and Sunni political Islam, respectively. Yet it is Sana TV which has been singled out for attack.
The Baghdad office which serves as Sana TV’s studio and the IFC headquarters was raided by US troops on June 7. The premises were damaged when the soldiers forced down the door, and five of the office’s guards were arrested and their weapons confiscated. Documents were also seized. September 2006 saw a more violent raid, in which a mixed force of US and Iraqi troops ransacked the office, destroying furniture and equipment and confiscating records and documents, according to the IFC.
Mahmood and Adil say the IFC is becoming more of a threat because of its growing successes—uniting with organized labor to oppose the pending privatization of Iraq’s oil, bringing together secular anti-occupation forces in a common front, and liberating space in Baghdad and other cities from rule by sectarian militias.
Autonomous Zones of Co-Existence
While Adil says the Safety Force does bear arms—”every home has a rifle in Iraq, it is just a question of how they are used”—he emphasizes that they are not insurgents, and the IFC is pursuing a civil struggle. “In principle, we believe in the right of armed resistance,” says Adil. “But we believe a civil resistance is needed in Iraq now. Armed resistance has only brought terrorism to Iraq, turned the country into an international battlefield.”
He also cites the human cost—and the potential to build solidarity with the American citizenry. “In four years of occupation, there are 3,500 US troops dead and perhaps a quarter of a million Iraqis. There is no difference between the pain of Cindy Sheehan and mothers in Iraq.” And finally a tactical consideration: “It is not so easy to attack the civil resistance.”
Adil is a veteran of political struggle against the Saddam Hussein dictatorship and a follower of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq, founded after Operation Desert Storm to oppose both the regime and US designs on the Persian Gulf region. Born in Baghdad in 1964, he was imprisoned for six months in 1992 for labor activities in the construction trade. He was tortured in prison—he never removes his cap, but a long scar can be seen extending down his scalp to his temple. Supporters in Canada launched an international campaign which finally won his release. Realizing he was no longer safe in Saddam’s Iraq, he fled first to the Kurdish zone, then Turkey, and finally Canada. He returned to Iraq in December 2005 to help revive an independent political opposition.
Adil is clear that this opposition faces two enemies: the occupation and what he calls “political Islam”—a Sunni wing linked to al-Qaeda and supported by Saudi Arabia, and Shi’ite militias with varying degrees of support from Iran. These have turned Baghdad into a patchwork of ethnically cleansed, hostile camps. The IFC includes secular Muslims (and non-believers) of both Sunni and Shi’ite background in its leadership, as well as Kurds and people of mixed heritage. Adil claims the IFC now has a presence in 20 cities, including Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk and Tikrit. “We have thousands of followers,” he says, “and we are growing every day.” The IFC’s first national convention, held Oct. 21 in Kirkuk, was attended by elected delegates from all of Iraq’s major cities.
The IFC’s self-governing zone of some 5,000 in Baghdad, established in the district of al-Awaithia last September, is an island of co-existence in a city torn by sectarian cleansing, says Adil. Thanks to the Safety Force, the district has become a no-go zone for the sectarian militias. “There has been no sectarian killing in Husseinia since September 2006,” Adil boasts. Despite the slaying of Abdelhussein Saddam, the Safety Force is continuing to grow, he says, with new training sessions underway.
The IFC is now establishing a second self-governing zone in Baghdad’s Husseinia, also a mixed Sunni-Shi’ite district that militias on either side are trying to cleanse. The IFC’s first autonomous zone was established in late 2005 in a community they dubbed al-Tzaman (Solidarity) in the northern city of Kirkuk. Al-Tzaman has a mixed population of 5,000 Sunni Arabs, Christians, Turcomans and Kurds.
Adil is clear on where he places the blame for the crisis of violent sectarianism in Iraq. “The occupation and the US-imposed constitution have divided Iraq, Sunni against Shiite. The IFC is the only force to oppose this division of society.” He calls the IFC’s success in carving out zones of co-existence a testament to “the power of the people.”
In addition to securing the IFC’s self-governing zones, the Safety Force is active throughout Baghdad. In April, a sniper started shooting at children attempting to flee a school in Alatba’a suburb when fighting between US troops and insurgents was closing in on the district; the Safety Force arrived, calmed the students and teachers, promised to defend them, and established a perimeter around the school until the danger passed. When residents in Babalmuadham district sought to prevent the Shi’ite Mahdi militia from establishing a camp there, they called on the Safety Force, which secured the area and confronted the militiamen, who retreated. The Safety Force has worked to protect residents from looters who take advantage of the chaos when fighting breaks out.
A related effort, IFC Doctors, has started to provide free health services from the IFC headquarters in Baghdad, as well as forming traveling teams to provide treatment off-site for people who cannot reach the office.
The Safety Force is increasingly made up of trade unionists, a growing pillar of support for the IFC. In November 2006, the General Federation of Trade Unions-Iraq (GFTU-I) merged with the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI), already an IFC member organization. Workers from both groups have volunteered for the SF. And more unions are joining with the IFC’s new campaign against Iraq’s pending US-written oil law, which would grant unprecedentedly free access to foreign multinationals.
Struggle for the Oil
In a Sept. 8 press conference in Basra, representatives of the IFC’s Anti-Oil Law Front joined with leaders of Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) to warn the Iraqi parliament against passing the draft oil law. IFOU president Hassan Jumaa, also a member of the IFC’s central council, announced that the union will shut down the pipeline leading from Iraq’s southern oilfields if the law is approved, and is prepared to halt operations entirely if the Anti-Oil Law Front calls for a strike. Five days earlier, the Front staged a protest in Baghdad’s Liberation Square. US forces surrounded the rally, blocking access to the square, and took pictures of the protesters who carried banners reading “The oil law is the law of occupation.”
An IFOU march against the oil law in Basra on July 16 brought out thousands, with simultaneous protests in Amara and Nassiryya. Local governate officials made statements in support of their demands. The 26,000-strong IFOU calls for immediate and complete withdrawal of all occupation forces from Iraq, and has already demonstrated its muscle. On June 4, it went on strike for four days to protest the oil law and demand the release of delayed benefits due workers, paralyzing the Basra-Baghdad pipeline.
Four IFOU leaders, including Hassan Jumaa, were ordered arrested for “sabotaging the Iraqi economy.” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had averted a strike in May by promising dialogue in a meeting with IFOU leaders, now warned he would meet threats to oil production “with an iron fist.” The arrest orders, never formally dropped, hadn’t been carried out when the strike ended. But a heavy presence of Iraqi army troops remained in Basra, surrounding and blocking marches by the oil workers. The government recently threatened to carry out the arrest orders if the unions go ahead with a new strike to protest the oil law.
“The oil law does not represent the aspirations of the Iraqi people,” Hassan Jumaa said at a May press conference. “It will let the foreign oil companies into the oil sector and enact privatization under so-called production-sharing agreements. The federation calls on all unions in the world to support our demands and to put pressure on governments and the oil companies not to enter the Iraqi oil fields.”
The IFOU, which is demanding the resignation of the general manager of the Southern Oil Company for corruption, also went on strike over these demands in September 2006. It has carried out its own reconstruction work on rigs, ports, pipelines and refineries since the invasion with minimal, mostly local resources.
Iraq’s labor leaders are, of course, targeted for repression and death.
On Sept. 18—just two days after the notorious Blackwater massacre in Baghdad—IFOU announced that an engineer and leading union member, Talib Naji Abboud, was killed in an “unprovoked attack” by US forces on Basra’s Rumaila oilfields. Sabah Jawad of the IFOU’s support committee in the UK says the troops opened fire on his car without warning while he was on his way to work—admitting that it could have just been a case of “trigger-happy” soldiers rather than a targeted assassination.
In al-Aadhamiya, outside Baghdad, municipal workers started a strike August 30 to protest the raid of their offices by US troops. The soldiers broke doors and windows and smashed the employees’ desks, under the pretext of a general search for arms in the municipality.
In February, US-led forces twice raided the Baghdad offices of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW), destroying office equipment and arresting a member of the union’s security staff. Also that month, the Iraq Syndicate of Journalists was raided, and computers and membership records were confiscated.
In January, militia gunmen abducted eight Oil Ministry engineers on their way to a FWCUI press conference on fuel price increases. Four were released, but one engineer, Abdukareem Mahdi, was later found dead, with signs of torture. The other three remain missing and are presumed dead. Days later, FWCUI organizer Mohammed Hameed was among a group of 15 civilians who were randomly gunned down in a marketplace in southern Baghdad.
In July 2006, Kurdish security forces in Suleimanyia opened fire on striking workers at a cement factory, leaving three dead and more wounded. A month later, sectarian militias in Mahmoodya, near Baghdad, assassinated the local secretary of the health workers union and IFC member Tariq Mahdi. Ali Hassan Abd (better known as Abu Fahad), a leader at the Southern Oil Company’s refinery, was gunned down while walking home with his young children in February 2005. That same month, Ahmed Adris Abbas, a leader in Baghdad’s transport union, was assassinated by a hit squad in the city’s Martyrs’ Square.
Yet despite danger and intimidation, the effort against the oil law is building. A second rally at Baghdad’s Liberation Square called by the Anti-Oil Law Front Sept. 22 brought out hundreds—a significant achievement in an atmosphere of terror.
For a Secular State
An incident which helped spark the IFC’s founding came in March 2005, when a Christian female student was physically attacked by Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia at a campus picnic at Basra University, and a male student who came to her defense was shot and killed. Thousands of students marched in protest, a solidarity march was held by students in Suleimanyia, and the Mahdi militia was driven from the campus. These struggles led to the establishment of the National Federation of Student Councils, another IFC member organization.
Another of the IFC’s founding organizations, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), led a campaign against Iraq’s new constitution. Article 41 of the new constitution overturned the more secular 1959 Personal Status Law, enshrined as Article 118 of the old constitution, which barred gender discrimination. The new measure instead refers family disputes to sharia courts—Shi’ite or Sunni depending on the affiliation of the litigants. In 2004, a campaign by OWFI and allied groups—including street protests—succeeded in keeping the sharia measure out of the draft constitution, by a narrow vote of the then-Governing Council. However, a basically identical measure is in the permanent constitution approved by referendum the following year. OWFI believes the sharia courts will mean denial of divorce, inheritance and child custody rights to women.
OWFI leader Yanar Mohammed says the new constitution is encouraging an atmosphere in which acid attacks are on the rise even in once-secular Baghdad against “immodest” women who refuse to take the abaya (Iraq’s version of the veil). The Mahdi Army as well as its rival Sunni militias publicly flog and even hang women accused of “adultery” (which can include having been raped). Last year, OWFI sent teams to Baghdad’s morgue under cover of searching for missing relatives to reveal the horrific nature of Iraq’s reality. They found that hundreds of unclaimed women’s corpses turning up monthly at the morgue—many beheaded, disfigured or bearing signs of extreme torture.
OWFI runs a shelter in Baghdad for women fleeing “honor killings,” which have surged under the occupation. Mohammed, of course, has received numerous death threats.
The draft constitution for the Kurdish region also includes a measure recognizing sharia law as a foundation for legislation. OWFI’s spokesperson for the Kurdish region, Houzan Mahmoud, has also received e-mailed death threats—even as she pursues her education at the University of London.
Samir Adil says sectarian militias and US troops alike tear down IFC posters reading “No Sunni, no Shi’ite, occupation is the enemy.”
Appeal for Solidarity
In addition to Zenko, IFC solidarity groups have been established in the UK, France and South Korea. In America, US Labor Against the War has brought Iraqi union leaders on speaking tours. IFOU general-secretary Faleh Abood Umara was in Ohio on tour with USLAW when the arrest order was issued against him in the summer. The American Friends Service Committee also brought Samir Adil on a tour of the Northeast in 2006.
But there is still little awareness in the US about Iraq’s civil resistance. The dichotomized vision of occupation-vs-Islamist insurgents infects the mainstream as well as the anti-war forces. In its efforts to groom proxies, as with the Sunni “Guardians” in Anbar, the US is exacerbating the civil war—co-opting one gang of tribal reactionaries to fight against another. Meanwhile, when a progressive and secular self-defense force emerges—in opposition to the occupation, rather than collaboration, giving it real legitimacy—the US executes its leader. And the anti-war movement remains largely oblivious.
When asked about secular civil resistance movements in Iraq, Middle East scholar Juan Cole, publisher of the popular Informed Comment blog, says: “I don’t know of any significant such groups; they don’t show up in the Arabic language newspapers I read, and nobody votes secular when they vote… I think they are by now mostly in exile. The religious groups are better organized, get outside money, and have paramilitaries.”
Gilbert Achcar, author of The Clash of Barbarisms: September 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder, largely concurs. “What is tragic is that in the whole area actually, left-wing, progressive, emancipatory forces are quite marginal. As a product of historical defeat—or even bankruptcy, because of very wrong policies in some cases—the overwhelming forces in the mass movement have been of a very different nature, mainly Islamic fundamentalist forces. Iraq is a country where you have had historically a very powerful communist party with a tradition of building workers’ movements and all that, and one would have hoped that this would at least lead to the survival of a progressive current—but the problem is that the communist party joined the governing council set up by Bremer and ruined its credibility as an anti-imperialist force by doing so.”
Achcar also takes a dim view of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq. The WCPI was founded in 1991 in response to Desert Storm, the demise of the Soviet Union and emergence of the US as the single superpower, viewing these developments as mandating a return to militant workers’ self-organization in the Persian Gulf region. Samir Adil and other IFC leaders are followers of the Worker-Communist Party, which views the Iraqi regime as illegitimate and collaborationist. But in Achcar’s view, the Worker-Communist Party’s anti-clericalism is too dogmatic. “They have a discourse which is very violently opposed to all Islam—not only Islamic fundamentalism,” he says. “They have formulas that would be provocative for ordinary Muslim believers, I would say. They denounce Islamic fundamentalist forces, but they don’t take the necessary precaution of clearly making a distinction between these currents and the religion of Islam.”
The IFC, however, insist that they also have secular and progressive Muslims in their leadership. Recently, the IFC has held meetings with traditional tribal leaders in Basra province, issuing joint statements of unity against the occupation and Oil Law. In any case, the decision to launch the IFC has prompted a split in the WCPI, with the hard-liners who reject coalition politics leaving to form a “Left-Worker Communist Party of Iraq.”
Achcar does acknowledge worthwhile work by WCPI followers. “They organized activities on the women issue, and a trade union movement,” he says. “I mean, when you look at the landscape in Iraq, they are much more progressive than most of what you’ve got.”
And Achcar urges support for the oil workers, with whom the IFC are now allied. “What I think would be worth support in Iraq is the oil and gas workers union in Basra,” he says. “This is a genuine union, a genuinely autonomous union, not the off-shoot of any party. And they are in a very sensitive position because the oil industry is the main resource of Iraq, and that’s the main target of the occupation, of course. Therefore I think they deserve strong support in their fight, which is presently concentrated on opposing the privatization plans or designs concerning the oil industry…”
Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies articulates the dilemma: “There has been a huge problem since the beginning of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, that the only resistance we hear about is the military resistance. Certainly Iraqis have the right under international law to fight against an illegal military occupation, including through use of military force—but that has never been the only kind of resistance. Key sectoral organizations—oil workers, women, human rights defenders and many others-have all continued their work to oppose the occupation, at great risk to their own safety. Many of them operate in local areas, and almost all function outside the US-controlled ‘green zone,’ so few western journalists, and almost no mainstream US journalists, have access to their work.”
She too sees hope in the struggle of the oil workers. “The oil workers union has provided one of the extraordinary models of local/national mobilization in defense of workers rights as well as defense of Iraqi sovereignty and unity (through the unions’ opposition to the US-drafted oil law which would privatize a huge part of Iraq’s oil industry). The international solidarity mobilized by the oil workers unions, particularly among trade unionists in Europe and the US, has provided an important model of how that kind of cross-border collaboration can take shape. The work of US Labor Against the War, in mobilizing labor opposition to the Iraq occupation and simultaneously building support for the Iraqi oil workers, also provides a model for international solidarity from the other side.”
That the work of the IFC goes largely unnoticed outside Iraq is particularly ironic in light of Bush’s recent statement that there can be no “instant democracy in Iraq” because “Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas.” As the death of Abdelhussein Saddam indicates, Bush is continuing the work of Saddam Hussein in eliminating progressive Iraqis who support co-existence. However, despite the best of his efforts, they are not all dead yet.
“The occupation and puppet government in Iraq created this conflict,” says Nadia Mahmood. “They supported the militias and opened the door to terrorist networks to come and function in Iraq. Before the war, George Bush said he had to invade Iraq because of al-Qaeda—but what happened was al-Qaeda came after the occupation. They control many cities in Iraq and are imposing the most reactionary practices on the civil population. Before, Iran had no role in Iraq, but now we see the Iranian government empowering militias in many cities in Iraq, especially in Basra. The US is not supporting political freedom in Iraq. They just seek to loot our resources, and its time to go.”
But she emphasizes that if the US exit is to lead to peace and a secular order, the civil resistance will also need support from friends abroad. “The victory against US forces in Iraq will not be a local victory—it will be an international victory.”
Iraq Freedom Congress
Organization of Womens’ Freedom in Iraq (OWFI)
Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI)
General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW)
General Union of Oil Employees in Basra-IFOU
Worker-Communist Party of Iraq (WCPI)
Left Worker-Communist Party of Iraq (LWCPI)
National Organization for the Iraqi Freedom Struggles (NO-IFS)
VOICES OF IRAQI OIL WORKERS
Oil & Utility Union Leaders on the Struggle Against Privatization
from Building Bridges, WBAI Radio
WW4 Report, July 2007
From our weblog:
Iraq: public-sector workers launch sit-in campaign
WW4 Report, Dec. 23, 2007
Special to World War 4 Report, Jan. 1, 2008
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