10 million unemployed:
The forgotten issue
02 September, 2003
Under the burning sun of early August, the Iraqi unemployed continue
their demonstrations and sit-in protest in front of the U.S. Occupation
Administration headquarters in Baghdad.
Begun in late July
and organized by the Union of Unemployed in Iraq (UUI), the 24-hour,
daily, continuous protest demands: jobs or social insurance of no less
than $100 per month to every unemployed worker; the rehabilitation of
private and public factories; and immediate restoration of public services.
This is the eighth unemployment demonstration since early May, none
of which have achieved any real progress.
There are 150,000
unemployed workers registered in the UUI, but the number of the unemployed
all over Iraq is estimated to be 10 million. Many of them are ex-soldiers,
ex-prisoners of war, or ex-employees or workers in different Iraqi sectors
that were dissolved or stopped after the war, predominantly because
of lack of security.
During the first
11 days of protest, some demonstrators were arrested and jailed for
24 hours at least twice. They were accused of violating the night curfew.
were arrested the first time. During the second arrest on Saturday,
August 2, 56 members of the UUI were taken away. They were maltreated
and deprived of water and food. Some accused the US soldiers of sexual
harassment and the deliberate use of persistent noise as a tool of sleep
deprivation. They were released after a UN representative, who demanded
that his name not be mentioned, intervened.
In fact, the American
soldiers were on edge during the August 2 demonstration, holding their
guns with bayonets fixed and the safety buttons removed. Some of them
used obscene and racist words against the protesters, according to the
international organizations supporting the demonstration.:
The soldiers were
very sensitive to the media present. In one incident they asked the
International Occupation Watch Center cameraman to erase parts of the
tape which showed their behavior. Some soldiers, however, were more
sympathetic with the protestors and encouraged them to continue their
Qasim Hadi, the
head of the UUI, says that the negotiations with the civil authority
representatives, which began on May 22, did not result in anything but
evasion and unfulfilled promises. They are talking about programs
like what they call Household work and Military work
of which we have seen nothing. They tell us to go to the Local Councils
which have no authority at all, no finance. They can not even furnish
their offices. How are they going to solve the problem of the unemployed?
Mr. Hadi also thinks
that the Governing Council has no authority and does not represent the
poor or the unemployed. He emphasized the extreme urgency of the situation.
We cannot wait until the local and foreign companies start to
operate. This will take time because of the insecurity and the absence
of services. Some of the people who are protesting here do not have
money to return home; some of them walked 12 kilometers to get here.
The Iraqi Media
Net announced that each Iraqi would be given a certain amount of money.
The protesters however declared that they would not accept the Media
Nets statement unless an American official announces it, mentions
a fixed date, and publicly states rules of distribution.
Slogans and chants
reveal different political aspects of the problem: This country
will not be rebuilt only with Iraqi hands; Where is freedom?;
Where are the promises? Samir Adil, political bureau member
of the Workers Communist party says that the issue is certainly political.
The American coordinator of labor issues, Stephen Spiers, told
me that he refused to give the unemployed one dollar because this means
officially recognizing them, and that next they will ask to be part
of the Governing Council. Why not? Adil wonders, No party
in the Governing Council has this number of members [as does the UUI].
The American authorities
distributed a poster saying that while all Iraqi voices are heard through
peaceful protest, freedom is responsibility and therefore any violence
will not be tolerated and will be dealt with firmly.
Many see this as
sheer propaganda. The demonstration is completely peaceful. We
prevented the demonstrators from holding even a small stone. In fact,
we asked the Iraqi police and the American soldiers to protect the demo[nstrators],
but they refused, Hadi said.
The unemployed Iraqis
face many economic, social, and psychological problems. They cannot
afford to pay rent or to support their families. Their families are
disintegrating, and many of their wives are asking for divorce or deserting
their houses. It is her right to do that. I am not providing her,
or her two children, with anything, said Yahia Ismael, an ex-soldier
who is now handicapped after being shot in his left shoulder in Nasiryia
on March 27 of this year.
E.A. Khammas is
the co-director of the Occupation Watch Center in Baghdad. This article
was first published on 10 August, 2003