Australia: Conservatives admit it’s the oil

The Australian government has come clean about why 1,600 Australian troops are stationed in Iraq. Defense Minister Brendan Nelson told the Australian Broadcasting Co. on July 7 that “the Middle East itself, not only Iraq, but the entire region, is an important supplier of energy, oil in particular.” He continued, “What would happen if there were a premature withdrawal from Iraq?’”

Right-wing Prime Minister John Howard quickly backtracked, asserting that “we don’t remain there because of oil,” but rather to encourage democracy, he said. But two days earlier, Howard himself had sought to justify long-term troop deployment because strategic interests “converge in the Middle East.”

A Labor Party spokesperson, quoted by the UK Independent, said, “It’s taken them four years to acknowledge that fact” — i.e. that oil was the motive. Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd is preparing to campaign on the issue of troop withdrawal in elections expected later this year.

Iraq: Chronicler of women’s suffering is murdered

Increasingly Iraqi women and girls are being subjected to sex slavery, according to the State Department’s recent “Trafficking in Persons Report.”

Writing for Iraqi news outlets like, Sahar al-Haideri reported individual stories of women leaving their homes for ostensibly legitimate jobs, usually domestic work, and being forced into prostitution in exchange for payments to desperate families. The women end up elsewhere in Iraq or in nearby countries.

Iraq’s deteriorated security situation, lack of applicable laws, want of jobs, and killing off of breadwinners contribute to women’s plight. Women from rural areas are particularly vulnerable. The government has failed to prosecute traffickers, protect victims or take preventive measures, according to the report.

In June, al-Haideri was murdered in Mosul. A fundamentalist group claimed responsibility. The veteran journalist, mother of three, had received 13 death threats. She was the 106th murdered journalist in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003, most of them Iraqi.

Dominican Republic: Left-led general strike rocks nation

The Alternative Social Forum (FSA), a coalition of dozens of left-wing opposition parties, labor unions and social movements, carried out a daylong general strike that extended throughout the Dominican Republic on July 9.

Targeting President Lionel Fernandez’s “politics of hunger,” organizers demanded business oriented leaders “come back to earth” and give up on “mega-projects” and corruption, according to AFP, the French news service. Calling for investments in health care and education, protesters also marched for salary raises, adequate housing, reduced food and fuel prices, and access to drinkable water.

Even though FSA leaders urged strike participants to engage in nonviolent demonstrations and avoid police provocations, one striker was killed and five were wounded. Highways were blocked, and 35 percent of factory workers stayed home, reported the National Business Council. Last year, having raised the specter of an eventual U.S. base in the region, the FSA led demonstrations against joint U.S.-Dominican military exercises carried out in Barahona province.

Kenya: Prisoners await voiding of death sentences

The death penalty is a major issue in Kenya. No one has been executed there since 1987, yet judges continue to sentence people to death — 748 annually since 2001. Thousands are now in jail awaiting executions, according to Inter Press Service.

Less than 500 sentences have been commuted to life imprisonment through presidential decrees and judicial appeals. Government leaders and opposition parties alike back the death penalty’s abolition.

Kenya’s constitution mandates capital punishment for murder, treason, and robbery, or attempted robbery with violence, although rights groups point to a lack of deterrence on violent crime. Condemned inmates need jobs and rehabilitation services, they say.

Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights has recommended urgent parliamentary action and called for a stopgap moratorium on death sentencing and commutation of present sentences to life imprisonment. Assistant Justice Minister Danson Mungatana told reporters on June 21 that the government has an “advanced plan,” but that “it will finally have to be resolved in Parliament.”

Ireland: Labor federation supports Palestinian people

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Ireland’s largest labor organization, one representing unionists throughout the island, unanimously passed two motions on July 6 condemning Israel for human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing and war crimes against the Palestinian people.

The ICTU condemned the Irish and British governments and the European Union for policies of “constructive engagement” that have evolved into “appeasement” of Israel’s expansionism. Citing EU obligations under agreements with Mediterranean trading partners, the ICTU criticized the EU for preserving Israel’s preferential trading status.

The conference called upon labor organizations throughout Ireland to undertake boycott and divestment campaigns, pressure European governments, and promote trade union solidarity throughout the EU through its Trade Union Friends of Palestine. In a public statement, the latter group recalled that at its last conference in 2005, the ICTU committed itself to “solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

In mid-June UNISON, the U.K.’s largest trade union, similarly called for boycotting Israel.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit