What's behind the assault on Basra

by Chris Sturr | March 31, 2008

Naftana (‘Our Oil’ in Arabic) is an independent UK-based committee supporting democratic trade unionism in Iraq. It works in solidarity with the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU). It strives to publicize the union’s struggle for Iraqi social and economic rights and its stand against the privatization of Iraqi oil demanded by the occupying powers. For more information see the IFOU’s website.

Dollars & Sense has covered the IFOU, most recently in David Bacon’s feature article, Iraqi Workers Strike to Keep their Oil.

About the current assault on Basra, David Bacon told D&S: “It is very important to let people in this country understand that under the accusations about the ‘militias’ is an effort by the Iraqi government and the US to consolidate control over the oil and ports, and eliminate those parts of the political opposition that have successfully opposed them.”

Here is the press release Naftana distributed to the media in Britain, in full:

Basra Assault Confirms Presence of British Forces a Threat to Political and Trade Union Rights in Iraq

Naftana 28
March 2008

In a series of telephone calls from Basra over the past 48 hours, Iraqi trade union activists appeal for solidarity and describe how the so-called ‘Security Plan’ started midnight 24 March with intense shelling and fire from all kind of weapons.

The attacking forces now besieging Basra stretched all the way to the city from Dhi Qar province. Two armoured divisions are deployed, in addition to thousands of policemen, backed by US and British planning and air cover.

They have cut off electricity supplies, food and water on the city of 1.5 million people. Hundreds have been killed or injured in a savage, premeditated and unprovoked attack, now spreading to much of Iraq as the people protest and show solidarity with Basra’s beleaguered people.

They describe the attack as far worse than the invasion of 2003 and begun in the same barbaric manner that the criminal Saddam employed against Basra to crush the March 1991 people’s uprising. They remind us that the present puppet Iraqi government sentenced Saddam’s Defence Minister to death few months ago for similar crimes of waging war on civilians.

The assault is backed by the US and British occupation forces, particularly in providing air cover. US planes are also bombarding areas in the Basra, several southern cities and Baghdad, where tens of thousands marched yesterday denouncing the ‘puppet regime’. It is now, along with many other cities, under a strict
curfew enforced by regime and occupation forces.

Trade union leaders have asked us to inform the public in Britain that the government’s attack on Basra serves the occupation. The city is ‘steadfast’ and the onslaught will end in ‘utter failure.’ The city streets were free of the occupying forces before the assault and the regime’s attacks will make it even more dependent on the occupation forces, they stressed.

Naftana, the UK support committee for the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions in the struggle for democratic trade unionism in Iraq, condemns British collusion in the preparation of the assault on Basra city and British participation in air strikes.

Naftana urges all to join in calling for an immediate withdrawal of British forces from Iraq, ending the US-led occupation, and for the payment of reparations to Iraq.

In the absence of adequate media coverage of the nature and context of this savage onslaught, Naftana wants to set the record straight on UK involvement.

In December 2007, the Basra Development Commission (BDC) was formally announced after discussions between Gordon Browne and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih. (Source.) Browne appointed a British businessman, Michael Wareing, Chief Executive of KPMG International as ‘Commissioner’, apparently heading the BDC. (Source.) Wareing visited Basra in February and made outrageous comments, confirming his real interests to be those of predatory business rather than the security, development and well-being of Basra and its people.

Wareing told The Observer: ‘If you look at many other economies in the world, particularly the oil-rich economies, many of these places are quite challenging countries in which to do business. Frankly, if you can successfully operate in the Niger Delta, that is a very different benchmark from imagining that Basra needs to be like London or Paris.’ (Source.)

Wareing’s appointment was welcomed by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a major advocate of the 2003 invasion and of privatisation. On March 13 the British Defence Minister Des Browne met with Salih in Basra Airport.

Browne promised to show new action on ‘security’ in Basra province and to bring Umm Qasr port up to ‘the highest international standards’. (Source.)

What this meant was made clear by Salih who threatened the Governor, people of Basra and port workers’ union of Umm Qasr saying ‘there must be a very strong military presence in Basra to eradicate these militias’. (Source.)

What Salih, himself a former militia leader, was concerned about were organised port workers who had earlier confronted the American SSA Marine corporation in Umm Qasr and the Danish Maersk corporation in Khor az-Zubair in the two years after these companies were imposed by the occupying forces in 2003. (Since 2003 the first shortened its name to SSA Marine. See here and here on Umm Qasr, and see here and
here on Khor az-Zubair.)

The new plans involve privatisation measures opposed by the port workers, who are supported by other trade unions and port management. It is likely that the planned corporate takeover of the port is required in order to facilitate the activities of international oil companies.

Nevertheless, the scale of what was afoot was not apparent, but the link between military action and breaking trade unionism was. On March 17-18 the US Vice-President Dick Cheney was in Baghdad meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who presently heads the attack on Basra city. (Source.) Top of the agenda was the oil law (Source.) and how to insure its passage. The oil law means that international oil majors will control Iraqi oil for many decades.

Various reports reveal that the present carnage was coordinated and agreed with British and American leaders. Naftana believes they commanded it.

Why? The tide of national public opinion has turned against long-term troop deployment in both the UK and the USA. If the war was fought for oil and total domination of Iraq, then those most closely associated to those interests must speed up their plans. The present onslaught aims to break popular resistance, especially from the Sadrist movement, to the passage of the oil law and to the occupation itself.

Beyond that, with local elections looming next autumn, it aims to destroy morally and phy
sically the popular base which would otherwise be set to drive, first from local power, and subsequently from national power, the US/UK allies, Nouri al-Maliki (al-Dawa party), his main allies in the Supreme Islamic Council, led by Abdulaziz al-Hakim, and the Kurdish leaders, Talbani and Barzani.

Naftana calls on all who support democratic trade unionism to stand by the people of Iraq, with the port workers of Umm Qasr and the oil workers of Southern Iraq, with workers in Baghdad and many other cities who are in danger of physical elimination.

Privatization is only part of the story; as David Bacon emphasizes, control over the oil industry is also a central aim of US and British interests. Greg Palast made this point in his interview with D&S back in May of last year:

Dollars & Sense: Many progressives are focused on privatization of the Iraqi economy, including its oil industry, as Bush’s real goal for the invasion. But you write about two radically different plans within the administration, the neo-cons’ versus Big Oil’s—and Big Oil’s plan was the one opposed to privatization. What’s going on here?

Greg Palast: A lot of intelligent folk believe that before the tanks started to roll, Bush had a secret plan to grab Iraq’s oil fields. That’s wrong. He had TWO plans. In Armed Madhouse, I show you both—the result of two years undercover for the BBC. The plans conflict. There’s the neo-con plan: Privatize—that is, sell off—everything, “especially the oil” industry. That’s a quote from the neo-cons’ 101-page planning document. That didn’t happen because a Jim Baker team—he’s the lawyer for both Exxon and Saudi Arabia—secretly wrote a 323-page plan that called for CONTROLLING the oil flow, not owning it. The purpose was to LIMIT the supply of oil from Iraq and keep prices high. This would “enhance [Iraq’s] relationship with OPEC,” the oil cartel—just the opposite of the neo-con plan, which aimed to break OPEC. So dig it: the invasion was about LIMITING the flow of oil from Iraq and keeping prices high, not about grabbing the oil to bring prices down. The secret Baker plan is now the law in Iraq and oil prices are over $50 a barrel. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

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