Mundher Al-Adhami

It is with great sadness that we have learned of the death of Mundher Al-Adhami, a dedicated Iraqi activist. Mundher was the husband of Iraqi novelist and activist Haifa Zangana and was a fierce and relentless opponent of the occupation of his country by the US-led military coalition. A member of the BRussells Tribunal, and Iraq Occupation Focus, he will be greatly missed by all who worked in solidarity with the people of Iraq and against the Western occupation.

Below we republish an article he wrote for Labour Briefing in 2005, on the second anniversary of the military invasion, which encapsulates the incisiveness and humanity of Mundher’s outlook.

Behind the media image of democracy

Iraqis are struggling to survive in a steadily deteriorating environment of Occupation, resistance, chaos and plunder, argues Mundher Al Adhami.

More photo opportunities in Baghdad this week, more nonsensical claims about the march of democracy in the Middle East. Under the massive security provided by several thousand foreign contractors in the Green Zone, the newly elected interim national assembly briefly showed itself to the media on 15th March. Six weeks after an ‘historic’ election, delegates sat for a couple of hours and listened to the ex-exiled politicians and warlords covering up with fine words their powerlessness and disarray, and their shameful fall into the sectarian-ethnic formulas hated by most Iraqis. Once the media event was completed, they went back to their fortified ‘zone’, escorted by six security contractors each, dodging the mortar attacks.

It wasn’t clear how many of the 275 delegates, elected under an obscure system of numbered lists, attended, or what they had to say, if anything. They haven’t formed a government, or even agreed the head of the assembly. More time is needed for haggling while the rest of the country sinks deeper into chaos, disease and despair. It was perhaps a well managed show, and good for the $80 billion extra funding by the US Congress. But this national assembly and the elections have been similar political spectacles to those that preceded the catastrophic US failure in Vietnam. They are as irrelevant as the ‘historic steps’ that preceded it, like ex-Governor Bremer’s interim governing council, the handover of sovereignty, the now-lapsed provisional government and provisional national council.

All this show is meaningless since no real politics in Iraq is possible without accepting the legitimacy of resistance to the Occupation, and finding ways of negotiating with it. This applies however much the resistance is mixed up with terrorism and atrocities which Iraqis regard as the work of agents of the Occupation. All is meaningless without a genuine commitment to withdraw all troops and an assurance that no strategic changes are made to the country’s historic territorial integrity, public ownership of Iraqi oil resources and provision of welfare.

The ‘march of democracy’ is also meaningless since the livelihood of most Iraqis continues to deteriorate. Thankfully, we have stopped hearing Iraqi and Western charlatan politicians harping on about how much better the country is now after Occupation. Unfortunately, however, we do not see the truth of the Iraqi predicament either.

Writing in The Guardian in early March, the Iraqi novelist and ex-prisoner under the Ba’ath regime, Haifa Zangana, said: “Daily life for most Iraqis is still a struggle for survival, with human rights abuses engulfing them. A typical Iraqi day begins with the struggle to get the basics: petrol, a cylinder of gas, fresh water, food and medication. It ends with a sigh of relief: Alhamdu ilah (thanks, God), for surviving death threats, violent attacks, kidnappings and killings. For ordinary Iraqis, simply venturing into the streets brings the possibility of attack. Most killings go unreported. With no names, no faces, no identities, they cease to be human beings. They are ‘the enemy’, ‘collateral damage’ or, at best, statistics to argue about.”

Curfew starts at 9pm but streets are deserted from 5 or 6pm. In many areas, like Al-Adhamia district, in Baghdad, where I grew up, people fear less the terrorists than the National Guards, now with embedded marines and mercenaries who operate anonymously behind masks. They have acquired the trigger-happy impunity of the US army who recognise no legality. On 16th March, the Sharqiya satellite station showed the bodies of three youngsters sprawled in their blood in Omar bin Abdul Aziz Street in Adhamia with a scribbled note to the effect that “This is the fate of those who attack us”.  There are no enquiries about this, nor in the case of the seven youngsters, one aged 14, killed and mutilated in the same area last November. It is a war-zone in much of the country now after two years of Occupation, with the greatest atrocities committed by those with the greatest armour and impunity.

No one knows how many Iraqis have died in this war. The British and US governments are shamelessly refusing to count, while dismissing the Lancet report and the more recent appeal by internationally known scientists. But the numbers are really not as important as the human tragedies involved. For me, the bodies thrown in the street are for Hussein, Ahmed and Amer, classmates in my ex-secondary school. Hussein has three younger sisters and an ailing mother who is receiving no treatment because the hospital is closed except for emergencies. Ahmed has an unemployed father and works one of the numberless mini-cabs of Baghdad, supporting a family of five that still relies on the ration system, plagued with shortages and threatened with stoppage. Amer repairs bicycles on a stretch of street near his home with seeping sewage and four hours’ electricity a day. In my mind, I place every Iraqi corpse I see on the screen or hear about, as a person, with a mother, home, neighbourhood, childhood, and dreams.

Foremost in my mind nowadays is Minas Ibrahim al-Yousufi, a gentle giant of a man in his fifties, whom I met briefly last December. He leads the Iraqi Christian Democratic Party of Iraq, a member of the anti-Occupation umbrella group, the Iraqi National Foundation Congress which boycotted the elections. He was kidnapped on 28th January, two days before the elections, while on his way from Baghdad to his native northern city of Musel. He has been absent
for 50 days today.

Yousufi was instrumental last summer in rallying Iraqi communities in Musel and Baghdad to protect the Christian churches from a campaign of bombing and intimidation, which followed the failure of the American Christian fundamentalist missionaries to convert Iraqis. Some churches were bombed and there was much talk of exodus amongst Iraq’s 800,000 Christians. Answering Yousufi’s call, dozens of Muslim scholars issued calls for people to be alert and to protect their Christian brethren. The scholars, from across the Muslim denominations, Sunni, Shi’i and Sufi, and other volunteers, travelled on Sundays to be with Christian congregations. This was an effective mobilisation that put Yousufi in the limelight.

His colleagues in the NFC, an umbrella organisation of fifteen secular and cross-faith parties, veteran statesmen and academics, suspect groups allied or known to the US occupation to be implicated in Yousufi’s kidnapping. We saw him appear three weeks after his abduction on a video with a rifle pointed his head reading a statement. In the background talk there was a demand for a ransom. This is the kind of image we are repeatedly told is the work of terrorists, which also in Iraq means criminal gangs let loose by the Occupation forces and their allies for the purposes of intimidation and worse.

The kidnapping and murder of activists is now a mainstay of the Occupation of Iraq. We recently received news of the attempted assassination of Samir Yasin Sabbah of the General Union of Oil Employees in the port city of Fao in the south of the country.  This is widely seen as connected to the dramatic events on 1st March when 3,000 Iraqi workers encircled the nearby Khor-al-Zubair port forcing the Danish company Maersk to withdraw from the country with immediate effect. The machinations in the southern ports and oilfields are linked to the plans for privatisation of the nationalised Iraqi oil sector and to multi-billion dollar illegal contracts. The oil-workers’ unions are in the forefront of the fight against this neoliberal agenda.

It is clear that Iraq is not exempt from the manipulation of news and obfuscation of facts that prevail in the American empire’s current state of illegality. The veneer of democracy and freedom here is too thin to hide the ugly face of imperial greed and the price Iraqis pay in blood and dignity.

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