Americans should keep lobbying Congress to end the occupation of Iraq, but should also try lobbying the Iraqi government, which appears more open to listening.
Iraqi Electrical Utility Workers Union President Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein (through interpreter Aseel Al-Banna) met with a number of U.S. Congress Members on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., and spoke at an event in the U.S. Capitol together with a number of Congress Members. She even endured a lecture on the history of her country from one of the more ignorant members of our government. At Wednesday's event, I asked Hussein the following question:
There are Congress Members trying to end the occupation of Iraq. There are peace groups and labor unions in the United States urging Congress to end the occupation. But the Iraqi government appears closer to ending the occupation than Congress is. Would it be at all useful for Americans, peace groups, union members, Congress Members to write to members of the Iraqi government asking them to end the occupation, along the lines of "Dear Member of the Parliament or Cabinet of Iraq, please end our occupation of your country and send our men and women home."?
Once Aseel had translated, Hashmeya got a huge smile on her face and said "If that happened it would be the happiest news ever!"
Well what's to stop it from happening? We bang our heads against the brick wall of Congress all the time. We write tens of thousands of Emails and letters all the time. We've been doing it for years now. This woman has braved death threats to herself and her son for daring to stand up nonviolently for the people of Iraq. She deserves to have the happiest news ever. And we can easily give it to her.
Send an Email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Send a letter to Iraqi Embassy, 1801 P Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036
Make a phone call to (202) 483-7500
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Hashmeya was expected to be joined in Washington later on Wednesday by Faleh Abood Umara whose union of oil workers is now on strike in Iraq, and the Iraqi government on Wednesday sent in troops and issued arrest warrants.
At Wednesday's event UPI's Ben Lando (who is covering the oil workers' strike in Iraq) asked Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D., Calif.) whether the US government should intervene on behalf of workers' rights. Woolsey replied that Bush does not even support workers' rights in his own country. But that doesn't mean that we can't urge the Iraqi government to rise above our level.
Hashmeya met on Tuesday with Congressman Dennis Kucinich and on Wednesday with Congressmen McDermott, Delahunt, and Honda. Congress Members Woolsey and Barbara Lee organized and attended the event Wednesday afternoon, together with US Labor Against the War http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org
Congressman Dennis Moore (D., KS) showed up as well and asked whether there wouldn't be total chaos if the United States ends its occupation of Iraq. Hashmeya tried five ways to say No, but Moore wasn't interested in learning anything. Hashmeya said that there is chaos now and that it would be reduced, not heightened. She said that the Iraqi people can do nothing about it now, but could hold their government accountable if the occupation ended. She said that the greatest security is found now in areas that the occupation has withdrawn from. Moore wasn't listening.
Moore said that the Iraqi people had hated each other for centuries for religious reasons. Hashmeya said that she was grateful for the removal of Saddam Hussein and that the Iraqi people would still be grateful if not for the ongoing occupation which is clearly for reasons other than removing Saddam Hussein. But Moore insisted that there is a religious civil war now.
Hashmeya said the civil war did not begin with the invasion, but two years later as a result of the occupation. Moore claimed, remarkably, that – no – the civil war in Iraq has been going on since long before Saddam Hussein. Hashmeya, who was born and raised in Iraq and leads a major national labor union there, corrected him: there was no civil war under Hussein. He oppressed everyone equally, she said.
What is your religion? Moore asked.
Shia or Sunni?
That doesn't help. We're reading different history books.
I'm telling you reality. Who knows who writes your history books.
Congressman Moore, on the verge of having to strain his brain, got up and left.
Several Congressional staffers asked questions as well, most of them supportive. But a staffer for Congressman Randy Neugebauer (R., TX) had concerns along the lines of Moore's.
A reporter from Telesur (the only large camera in the room) asked why Hashmeya believes the United States is still in Iraq. She cited oil and other resources, and the creation of large military bases.
"I don't mean that the American people want these things," she said. "I mean the administration. We consider the American people friends."
Woolsey asked what the unions in Iraq were doing to pressure Parliament to keep Iraq's oil for the Iraqis. Hashmeya described educational efforts and letters of opposition, and said that she believed the pressure was responsible for the delay in adopting the new oil law, which has not yet been adopted.
Earlier Woolsey had asked what the unions do for their members. Hashmeya said they were working, with limited success so far, to overturn an unfair law on salaries put in place by Paul Bremer, attempting to win compensation for risk on dangerous jobs, obtaining payment of late wages, training professional workers, winning ownership of residences for workers long living in them and about to retire, standing up for workers abused on the job, and fighting corruption in government despite resulting death threats and assassinations.
During the Saddam Hussein era, Hashmeya said, there was an unfair labor law (Law 150, from 1987). But the occupation maintained that law and added another unfair law (Law 8750, from 2005). Under Saddam, one could find work by bribing someone. Now, there is no work. There's 60 percent unemployment. And there are attacks on workers. So, compare, Hashmeya urged those present. Which is worse?
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