U.S. military attacks Iraqi trade unions

A U.S. occupation force involving 10 armored vehicles and dozens of soldiers attacked the headquarters of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions in Baghdad, Dec. 6. They arrested eight of its leaders and members, who were handcuffed and taken away to an unknown destination. The eight were released the next day with no explanation.

Without giving any reason, the U.S. troops ransacked and destroyed the IFTU’s possessions, removing documents including minutes of union meetings. They tore down union banners and posters that condemned acts of terror. They smashed windows on the front of the building and smeared black paint over the name of the IFTU and that of the General Union of Transport Workers, which provides temporary office space to Iraq’s new national labor federation.

“This is an attack not only on our headquarters but on Iraq’s working people,” Abdullah Muhsin, the IFTU’s international representative, told the World in a Dec. 9 phone interview from London.

“Our building was just a shell. We had absolutely nothing, not even a computer. For them to destroy it is absolutely outrageous,” Muhsin said. “They tore down our posters against terrorism that they are supposed to oppose – why did they have to do that?”

“This must have been sanctioned by a higher level. I’d love to know why,” he said, adding that Iraq’s labor movement will continue its activities defending the interests of workers throughout the country. “We shall not bow our heads. Democracy will not be deterred by guns.”

“We do not initiate violence,” Muhsin said. “At the same time, if someone tries to slap you, you stop it.”

The IFTU is appealing for international solidarity. In Britain, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union issued a statement condemning the attack, and Labor members of parliament are introducing a motion in the House of Commons demanding a Foreign Office investigation. The Congress of South African Trade Unions called on the U.S. to stop any further attacks on trade union offices and leaders and demanded that the U.S. pay compensation for the damage.

The Bush administration has escalated aggressive “counterinsurgency” and covert Special Forces operations in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, major U.S. and British news media report.

These operations include assassination teams targeting individuals said by the U.S. military to be guerilla leaders. A Special Forces assassination air strike in Afghanistan Dec. 6 killed nine Afghan children playing in a field; another U.S. air and ground assault Dec. 5 led to the deaths of six children and two adults. Neither attack killed or captured the targeted individuals.

Citing U.S. military and intelligence officials and former officials, Guardian (UK) Washington correspondent Julian Borger and veteran U.S. journalist Seymour Hersh report that Israeli military commandos and intelligence units specializing in urban warfare are secretly helping train U.S. Special Forces at Fort Bragg, N.C., and in Israel. Israeli military “consultants” have also visited Iraq, two U.S. sources told Borger.

Special Forces teams are operating inside Syria attempting to preemptively kill what they call foreign “jihadists” before they cross the border, and a group focused on “neutralization” of guerrilla leaders is being set up, writes Borger. A Pentagon adviser interviewed by Hersh called the concept “preemptive manhunting.”

“This is basically an assassination program. … This is a hunter-killer team,” a former senior U.S. intelligence official told Borger. The official worried that the new tactics and Israeli involvement would only inflame the volatile situation in the Middle East.

In addition to assassination squads, U.S. forces in Iraq have begun using other tactics like those the Israeli army uses in Palestinian villages and camps in the occupied territories: encasing entire villages in barbed wire; demolishing buildings, including homes, based on suspicions that they are used by guerrillas; jailing relatives of suspected guerrillas.

Hersh writes in the Dec. 15 New Yorker, “An American who has advised the civilian [occupation] authority in Baghdad said, ‘The only way we can win is to go unconventional. … Guerrilla versus guerrilla. Terrorism versus terrorism. We’ve got to scare the Iraqis into submission.’”

In Abu Hishma, north of Baghdad, Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman told New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, “With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them.”

But so far, Filkins observed, that approach appears to be alienating many of the people the U.S. occupation is trying to win over. “Abu Hishma is quiet now, but it is angry, too,” he wrote.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org.

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