Cartoonists Draw Black Humor From Iraq’s Woes: Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times

May 15, 2005
BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 14 – Iraq is awash in carnage and politics, and Muayad Naama is on hand to help people laugh at it.
Using jagged lines and potato-shaped figures, Mr. Naama, a 53-year-old cartoonist, tells the story of Iraq today. It is a place where people have become inured to street violence; state corruption exists on a giant scale; politicians argue endlessly.
A dealer points out which vehicles are best for car bombs in a cartoon by Muayad Naama.
As violence has surged throughout Iraq, and in Baghdad in particular, over the last few weeks, Mr. Naama has sketched images that make light of the very dark situation, in which car bombings and killings tear through Iraqis’ schools, and follow them to the market, to work and home. His cartoons appear in several daily newspapers.
In one recent cartoon, a sneaky-looking character in a dishdasha, the traditional men’s gown, looks around a used car lot while a salesman points out which brands are best for car bombings. In another, a man drinking tea watches as an exploding car bomb sends heads, hands and steering wheels sailing in all directions. “Don’t worry,” he reassures his friend. “It’s not our car.”
Perhaps five other professional cartoonists of such note work in Iraq today, using wit to give Iraqis exhausted by war and dread an honest, if dark, moment of humor. One, Abdel Rakhim Yassir, showed the Iraqi under Saddam Hussein as a painter at an easel, surrounded by brick walls – and painting those walls on canvas after canvas. In another cartoon, two modern Iraqis, surrounded by the same brick walls, squabble and hit each other at the base of a single escape ladder. The next frame has each man standing alone, with the ladder sawed in half. Neither piece is tall enough to reach the top of the wall.
“Some people think the cartoon is only for fun,” said Mr. Naama, sipping spicy Arabic coffee at a hotel cafe in central Baghdad, his cartoons spread before him. “But here we have the black joke. You may laugh at it, but it’s painful.”
Corruption crops up frequently in Mr. Naama’s cartoons. Iraqis complain bitterly about theft by government officials, which they say has ballooned since the fall of Mr. Hussein. In a drawing published in March, a doctor operates on an obese patient labeled “Government Ministries.” His arm deep inside the man’s belly, the doctor declares the diagnosis: an enlarged pancreas from “too much public money.”
Mr. Naama works in a small room in an apartment in western Baghdad. His paintings decorate the purple walls, and his tools – pencils, pens, erasers and a small desk – fit neatly into a corner of the tidy room. He prefers to work at night, when there are no distractions, he said. Mr. Naama is far more unassuming than his cartoons.
“They say that when he talks, you don’t hear his voice,” said Athir Haddad, a professor of finance at a private university and a fan. “But when you see his drawings, you feel he is boiling up inside. That he is someone who feels the people’s pain.”
Mr. Naama’s fortunes have risen and fallen with Iraq’s own painful history. He was born in 1951, almost two decades before Mr. Hussein’s Baath Party took control of the country. At the time, Baghdad was a bustling, cosmopolitan city with lively cafes and bars.
But when Mr. Hussein began in the late 1970’s to clamp down on political opposition, including by the Communist Party, of which Mr. Naama was a member, his life quickly changed. In 1979, he was arrested and beaten. He still barely hears out of one ear as a result of the beatings.
Now, after decades of dictatorship, a chaotic political scene has burst forth. And unlike Mr. Hussein’s government, under which open criticism brought dire, often fatal, consequences, the new Iraqi government appears to be fair game.
For that, and many other reasons, Mr. Naama said, life is better now. People can speak freely and practice their religion as they like, he said. The chaos and lack of rules, he said, must eventually improve.
But democracy is slow going. Iraqis voted in nationwide elections more than three months ago, and it was not until May 7 that the government was fully formed. In a recent Naama cartoon, an Iraqi family huddles hungrily around a caldron, labeled “Iraqi Constitution.” It is cooking over a pitifully small candle.
“People are hungry,” he said. “They want rules. They want a government.”
Zaineb Obeid contributed reporting for this article

IFTU Celebrates May Day in Baghdad

The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions celebrated May Day in Baghdad with a mass rally at the Iraqi National Theatre in Baghdad. The May Day rally was reported in ‘Tareek al-Shaab’, the weekly newspaper of the Iraqi Communist Party. The report (in Arabic) is here.

Morning Star: Iraqi praises solidarity of firefighters

Iraqi praises solidarity of firefighters
(Friday 13 May 2005)
IRAQI Federation of Trade Unions spokesman Abdullah Muhsin praised Britain’s firefighters yesterday for their “magnificent show of solidarity” with the Iraqi people in their struggle against war and occupation.
The trade unions’ international representative told conference of the “brutal and systematic” torture and murder of his comrades at the hands of Saddam Hussein. But he stressed that Iraqi people never wanted the US-led war and occupation.
“The principled position that the FBU took against the war and occupation of Iraq and your call for the return of the full sovereignty of that country is highly appreciated by the people,” he said.
“The IFTU was against the war from the outset because we knew that the victims would be innocent civilians, not the regime.
“We knew that Saddam had no support among the masses and could be overthrown by the Iraqis. But our cry for genuine international help was ignored.”
Mr Muhsin called for Iraq’s “crippling” debt to be cancelled and condemned the US-led occupation’s “squandering” of the country’s oil wealth.
“The country’s oil wells were looted by the regime for arms, wars and personal enrichment. And today, that wealth is squandered to pay for the occupation,” he noted.
He explained that the Iraqi trade unionists’ priorities are now to “keep Iraq intact” – as the risk of Iraq decending into a civil war is still very real – and to include free and democratic trade union laws in the new constitution.
“We accept nothing less than a strong and democratic trade union movement and a fully sovereign Iraq,” the speaker declared.
Mr Muhsin gave a dark and horrific account of the fate of Iraqi trade unionists under Saddam’s regime, noting that, like many others, he was forced to flee the country in 1978, as the regime launched a merciless campaign against the progressive elements in the country – in particular, trade unionists, communists, students and women’s organisations.
“Saddam’s regime initiated a campaign of terror, where most of the union activists were imprisoned, tortured, executed or disappeared,” he said.
“For many Iraqi people, the term union became associated with oppression and terror. Their response to joining a union was ‘keep away from us. We want to live in peace.’.”
As a result, an underground movement was established in 1980 and this helped to organise strikes around the country. Many of those strikes were “brutally crushed.”
Mr Muhsin blamed the high unemployment for the recent explosion of violent attacks in the country and condemned the insurgents as “a sinister and reactionary coalition” of religious fundamentalist who exploit the popular anti-US sentiment in the country.
“The foreign troops must leave in order to isolate the cynical and the anti-social forces that indiscriminately bomb and kill innocent people,” he insisted.
Mr Muhsin went on to highlight the Iraq election in January, branding it a “historic breakthrough.” He said that 60 per cent – 8.5 million – Iraqis had gone to the polls, despite the constant bomb attacks on voters.
“As lines of voters were being blown up by suicide bombers, they cast their ballots. These are the martyrs of the new Iraqi democracy,” he added.

An historic victory for the British Labour Party.

An historic victory for the British Labour Party.
The British Labour Party has, for the first time in its history, secured an unprecedented third term victory in the May 5th 2005 general election with about 360 seats compared with just under 200 seats for the Conservatives and just over 60 seats for the Liberal Democrats.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has matched Mrs Thatcher

Campaign for solidarity with Iraqi human rights activist, Dr. Shakir Al-Dujaily

Campaign for solidarity with Iraqi human rights activist, Dr. Shakir Al-Dujaily
The Amman Center for Human Rights Studies has received an appeal from the National Society for Human Rights Advocacy in Iraq giving news of the disappearance of an Iraqi citizen, Dr. Shakir Hassoun Al-Dujaily who holds dual Swedish/Iraqi citizenship follwing his arrival at Damascus Airport on Thursday 31 March on Swedish Airlines, flight number (SAS 79025).
News of him was cut off after calling his wife in Iraq on Thursday 31 March at 10:20 pm when he informed her of his arrival at Damascus Airport.
In light of the above, the Amman Center for Human Rights Studies is calling upon all International and Arab organizations to question the Syrian Authorities and put all their efforts into uncovering the fate of Dr. Shakir Hassoun Al-Dujaily.
Please click on the following link to add your signature for solidarity with Dr. Shakir Al Dujaily
Please pass this on to your friends and colleagues.
Amman Center for Human Rights Studies
Amman – Jordan
Telefax: 00962-6-4655043

ICEM brings together middle-eastern energy unions at Amman Conference

The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions – ICEM recently held a very successful Conference and series of workshops for trade unions from Arabic-speaking countries in Amman, Jordan.
Two Iraqi unions affiliated to the IFTU, from the all-important energy sector participated in the ICEM conference from 16-20 April 2005.
Jim Catterson from ICEM and general secretary, Fred Higgs welcomed the IFTU delegation to the Amman Conference
ICEM in coordination with the German Social Democrat Foundation, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Amman and the Jordanian General Trade Union for workers in the Mining and Metal Industries organised workshops for oil, energy and mining unions across the middle east.
The two IFTU-affiliated unions (the Oil and Gas Workers

May Day greetings to the labor movement and working people of Iraq: USLAW

In the name of peace, freedom and social justice, US Labor Against the War sends our greetings to the labor movement and workers of Iraq on May Day. With great courage, you have begun to reorganize your country’s unions, and reclaim the historic traditions of Iraq’s labor movement.
You are organizing in the face of very difficult economic conditions, including massive unemployment and extremely low wages, which have been imposed on you by the US/British occupation. In spite of these difficulties, workers throughout Iraq have organized strikes and demonstrations, and have successfully begun to raise the living standards of working families.
You have opposed the Bush administration plan for the privatization of Iraq’s workplaces and resources. You have called for an end to the US occupation, and for a democratic political process to ensure that Iraq has a government that represents the needs and aspirations of Iraqi workers. We share these goals.
You have faced extreme violence, and the assassination of your leaders, without succumbing to fear, terror and intimidation. In the face of all these challenges you have remained courageously resolute in your commitment to a peaceful, democratic and just multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Iraq. You deserve the congratulations and support of unions and workers throughout the world for your efforts.
We are very proud that May Day, the international workers’ holiday, was born in the United States in struggle for the 8-hour day. Our own country contributed martyrs like Albert Parsons and the murdered labor heroes of Chicago, who died for the same ideals for which you fight today. We are your brothers and sisters in this struggle We will redouble our efforts to end the occupation of your country, to achieve full respect for the sovereignty and independence of Iraq, and to support you in your struggle to establish a democratic state with full respect for workers’ rights. We will march beside you, and support your movement, in any way we can.
Long live May Day! Long live the solidarity between the workers of Iraq and the United States!

Trajectory of violence: Faleh Jabar*

Trajectory of violence
The new multi-ethnic, multi-religious political class in Iraq wishes to curry favour with voters not bombers, writes Faleh Jabar*
Two years have elapsed since the deposed president’s statue crashed down at the Firdaws Square, at the centre of Baghdad. The Iraqi army had been defeated in the south and the middle of the country; military formations in the northern, predominantly Sunni, provinces negotiated surrender and went home. In the eyes of US planners the landscape seemed promising for a thorough liberalisation scheme to transform Iraq after the US experience in post- WWII Germany and Japan.

Continue reading Trajectory of violence: Faleh Jabar*