Christine Stuart photo
Iraqi Labor leaders spoke candidly Saturday afternoon at a union hall in East Hartford about the occupation of their country and what they’re doing to uphold the Iraqi people’s right to control their country’s oil, while also seeking an end to the U.S. occupation.

Faleh Abood Umara, general secretary of the Southern Oil Company Union and Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, said through a translator that “I deeply believe the U.S. occupation is because of oil.” He said in 2014 the U.S. will need about $28 million a day to cover its demand for petroleum.

Umara who was detained in 1998 by Saddam Hussein’s regime said since Saddam was toppled his laws against unionizing public workers remained.

Umara said the new government and occupation forces are trying to privatize the oil industry in Iraq by bringing in foreign companies and foreign workers to work the oil fields. He said he’s fighting for Iraq to maintain control of its oil fields, and although he welcomes foreign companies coming in to modernize operations for a percentage of compensation, he rejects the “theft of Iraqi oil” through these contracts.

He said the U.S. has had a plan to occupy Iraq since the 1970s and that the American government thinks the presence of oil in Iraq is simply a mistake—the oil should be in the United States. This comment received a chuckle from the more than 50 people who attended the afternoon forum.

Hashmeya Mushin Hussein, the first woman president of the Electrical Utility Workers Union, said she’s met about five U.S. Congressmen during her trip, which is sponsored by U.S. Labor Against the War.

She said that on one occastion, she didn’t realize she was speaking to a congressman and honestly expressed her views about the situation. The unnamed Congressman said that if it wasn’t for the U.S., there would be infighting among Iraqi factions following the ouster of Saddam Hussein. She said she responded: “Do we live in peace nowadays with the occupation?”

Mushin Hussein said she told the congressman that at least when Saddam Hussein was in charge, his injustices were spread evenly among everyone. She said the congressman responded that he was familiar with her country’s history, and proceeded to ask her if she was a Sunni or Shiite.

“I am an Iraqi woman,” she responded. After hearing her response, she said the congressman got nervous and left.

Mushin Hussein’s statement clearly showed the labor movement in Iraq is concerned about jobs and not religious divisions. With an almost 60 percent unemployment rate, the number of Iraqis joining unions is increasing despite the threats from both the occupation forces, insurgency, and terrorists.

Umara said Hashmeya and he had hoped they would come here and find Americans who support the occupation so that they could unveil “the blindness of their eyes” and expose them to the “real truth behind the occupation.” But Umara said that’s not what he has found. Instead, he has found understanding.

During a question and answer period, someone asked what the two thought of U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman’s recent suggestion that the U.S. take military action in Iran.

Umara said Lieberman’s ideas were “strange” and any attack on Iran will threaten the whole area.

“We have to be united behind a responsible policy and hope peace will prevail,” he said.

Mushin Hussein said while the Iraqi people were happy to see Saddam and his regime go, the U.S. attacks “reduced to shadows the infrastructure of Iraq.” She said she hopes the United States doesn’t intend to attack Iran or even Syria.

Hussein and Umara will be in the United States visiting several more cities through the end of the month. For more information about the tour visit: US Labor Against the War.