ESF: Collaborators out!


Arab Media Watch

Feelings of outrage overflow in "The war on Iraq" plenary on the first day of the European Social Forum in London, writes Arab Media Watch director Tahrir Swift.

More than 1,000 people crowded the West Hall 1 in Alexandra Palace as Subhi Meshadani of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), the only trade union recognised by the now defunct US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, arrived at the platform flanked by two dark-suited stocky bodyguards.

As we arrived, representatives of Workers Liberty - an organisation whose leader describes himself as a Zionist - were distributing leaflets in support of the IFTU, replying to the Stop the War Coalition`s statement that denounced the union`s efforts at the Labour Party conference, published recently in the Morning Star.

As soon as the name of the first speaker and his organisation were announced, more than 100 people from the anti-war movement across Europe rose to their feet and started to shout "collaborators out" and "shame on you".

The IFTU is a "paper organisation", claim Iraqis who know Abdula Muhsin, its representative in the UK, and reiterate that he was never an active trade unionist in Iraq. Muhsin was reported in the Independent to have been instrumental in persuading trade union delegates at the Labour Party conference in Brighton last month to drop their demands for Tony Blair to set a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Also due to speak at this plenary was Sabah Jawad of AMW and Iraqi Democrats Against the Occupation, as well as Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition.

Commotion and chaos broke out as the protestors refused to sit down or leave the meeting. Sami Ramadani, a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University and a member of AMW`s advisory committee, explained to the crowd that he is a supporter of Iraqis` right to resist occupation and appealed to the protestors to stage a dignified walk out when it is Meshadani`s turn to speak, rather than destroy the meeting.

He added that this would allow the anti-war speakers to expose the role of the IFTU and US crimes in Iraq to the large audience. He also strongly criticised the organisers` decision to invite a pro-occupation speaker to an anti-occupation rally.

The protestors were reluctant to do so. This was not helped by the organisers` insistence that Meshadani speaks first at the meeting. More people were in favour of allowing the IFTU representative to speak, but it was evident that they knew nothing about the organisation`s role in trying to undermine the anti-war movement.

Earlier that morning in a packed Unison meeting on globalisation, an Iraqi woman claiming to be the president of the Iraqi electricity and power workers in Basra read out a statement. She was accompanied to the meeting by a known member of the Iraqi communist party and backer of the US-appointed interim government of Iraq.

Professor Kamal Majeed, a Kurdish retired engineering academic and veteran campaigner against US wars on Iraq, got up on the platform and expressed his belief that this woman was not a genuine representative of Iraqi workers and her speech was probably written by her Allawi associates. He also exposed the role of Muhsin (who was present in the hall) at the Labour party conference. Majeed`s denunciations of imposters who seek legitimacy from the anti-war movement only to serve Blair and George Bush`s purposes were greeted with rapturous applause.

Members of the anti-globalisation audience then staged an impromptu protest, demanding that Abawie leaves the room. He had little choice but to do so.

Muhsin, in one of his articles published in the Morning Star, said the IFTU is in favour of public-private partnership - a euphemism often used in the UK for the privatisation of public services.

Nisreen Parwari, the interim Iraqi general works minister, has already expressed her enthusiasm for privatising the utilities in Iraq. This policy, together with order number 39 - allowing foreign investors to own the utilities and take out of Iraq 100% of the profits with a low taxation percentage of 15% - will spell disaster for the already impoverished Iraqis.

On Friday afternoon, writer and Guardian columnist George Monbiot warned against pro-privatisation officials being given a platform to try to dress it up as a reasonable solution. He spoke about the shameless use of aid budgets for third-world countries for bribing governments to kickstart the privatisation of public utilities, offering European companies such as "Northumbria Water" as the leading light in this field. The UK government is effectively helping these companies win the contracts and rake in the profits while the poor of the third world, who are at the frontline, suffer hardships and die.

Monbiot described this as a crime akin to the war on Iraq, and demanded that people expose those who help and facilitate such policy as war criminals. He called on members of the audience to stop such people being given a platform, and suggested that the microphones should be ripped out of their hands.

Haifa Zangana, a Kurdish writer who was tortured by Saddam, and a long-time campaigner with Act Together - Women`s Action for Iraq (an organisation that has vigorously campaigned against sanctions on Iraq), was not happy that the organisers of the plenary should invite a representative of the IFTU without an explanation of the organisation`s recent actions.

"Iraqi women and children are at the frontline of the policies of privatisations. I do not expect the IFTU to defend their rights. Iraqis who were oppressed by Saddam will be condemned to a life of squalor and poverty in one of the richest countries in the world if this occupation is to succeed," said Zangana.

Sabah Jawad of AMW expressed his frustration that he was denied an opportunity to expose the IFTU as nothing but a tool of the occupation. He was also concerned that the negative protest might have the opposite of the desired effect, as Mashadani might now be seen as a victim of the "lack of democracy" at the ESF.

The role of the IFTU was seen by many anti-occupation Iraqis as but one in a series of attempts to falsify Iraqi public opinion. In a similar move Patricia Hewitt, UK secretary of trade and industry and the minister for women, last year invited to her offices pro-occupation Iraqi women exiles, prepared documents for them to establish an Iraqi women`s organisation and present its members as genuine voices of present-day Iraq in order to sway British public opinion.

AMW`s Ramadani warned against several Iraqi organisations in Europe, of which IFTU is one, whose members claim to be opposed to war and occupation and present in the name of "moderation" a modified view which can only serve to split the continent`s anti-war movement.

German delivered an inspiring speech and harshly denounced the protestors in the audience, who in the end succeeded in disrupting the meeting.