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ISIS crisis continue in Iraq

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Blog from Abdullah Muhsin on Iraq labour law


Northern Iraq - Civilians in the line of fire (Amnesty International)

The international trade union movement and civil society organisations have deep concerns about the escalating sectarian violence in Iraq. The NASUWT, the UK’s largest teachers’ union, has received regular factual updates from its sister unions, the Iraqi Teachers’ Union (ITU) and the Kurdistan Teachers’ Union (KTU), who are seeking solidarity support from the international community.

In the last month, Al Qaeda (aka ISIS or DAASH) has gained control of Iraq’s second largest province, Nineveh, and its capital Mosul, large parts of Salah ad-Din, Diyala and Al Nabar provinces. Baghdad is also surrounded by ISIS. Additionally, ISIS has recently taken control of border areas and crossing points with Syria, part of Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

ISIS have claimed that they have established a borderless Islamic state, based on a Caliphate model established originally in 632CE, staking claim on Iraq, Syria, Kuwait and beyond.

In the last month it has been reported that Saudi Arabia has moved over 30,000 of its troops along the Iraqi border. There are also signs that Jordan has increased border security in order to counter any possible incursions into their territory.

Impact on the population

The widespread violence is having a major effect upon the general population of these areas of Iraq. Over one million people, many from ethnic or religious minorities, have fled their homes to escape violence and persecution, and are now displaced, often living in very poor and insanitary conditions. Numbers of displaced persons continue to rise and, according to the UN, June 2014 was the deadliest month, with over 5,000 dead or injured.

According to a report recently published by Amnesty International, ‘Northern Iraq – Civilians in the Line of Fire’, sectarian killings in the areas controlled by ISIS have been widespread, and Amnesty have uncovered accounts of extrajudicial executions of detainees by Government forces.

Services in the areas under attack are in paralysis. Many do not have access to water or electricity, and educational institutions, including schools, have been closed and will only be allowed to reopen under a revised curriculum controlled by Isis. The central government has stopped paying thousands of public employees, including teachers, exacerbating the hardship people are facing.

In recent developments, ISIS has destroyed the oldest library in the city of Tal Afar, 50 kilometres west of Mosul, which contained thousands of original, rare and unique books and manuscripts. This is an outrageous attack on the cultural history of Iraq and the region.

Many of the newly displaced refugees are in makeshift desert camps and include many teachers and teacher trade unionists, including the leadership of the unions from the Mosul, Salah ad-Din and Al Nabar provinces.

Impact on children and young people

The impact on children and young people as a result of the crisis has been massive. Reports from the Red Crescent have suggested that as many as 80% of refugees are women and children.

Fears continue to be expressed about the conditions in which children are currently sheltering, and the likelihood of harm not only through violence but also from disease and lack of food and shelter. These concerns caused UNICEF to upgrade the Iraq crisis as a Level 3 Humanitarian Disaster in June.

Even in Iraqi Government-controlled areas, prospects for children remain bleak. Reports from the ITU confirm that thousands of schoolchildren have been denied access to school and many students who were due to take examinations this summer have been denied the opportunity to do so. This will impact seriously and adversely on the next generation of Iraqis.

Despite protests from students and their families, and calls for a resolution to the issue made by the National Technical Sector of the ITU, the Iraqi Government has failed to make any alternative provision available.

Political Instability

A political crisis now engulfs the country, and the Iraqi Government has been slow to react to secure Parliamentary stability following elections earlier in the year.

The Kurds in the north are governing themselves with a president, parliament and separate judiciary with little co-ordination from the Federal Government of Iraq, causing tensions with the Federal Government.

The Iraqi Government is nominally in control in the centre, although instability has been apparent since the election and evidence is emerging that Government forces are fortifying Baghdad rather than dealing with the impact of ISIS elsewhere.

Isis is currently in control of the west, north-west and north-east of Iraq, with opposition from the Iraqi army variable and with little prospect of a solution being found unless the Iraqi Government adopts a policy of political reconciliation.

Activity by the international community

The ITU President and Ahmed Jassam (pictured), the President of the National Technical Sector/ITU, have remained in contact with the NASUWT throughout the crisis.

Reports confirm that the offices of the ITU and other unions in the conflict areas have been closed as a result of violence and intimidation.

ITU representatives have called on trade unionists around the world to demonstrate their solidarity by sending messages of support to the ITU and by making representations to their government representatives.

National and international solidarity actions have included:

  •     Messages of support to ITU and KTU colleagues in the wake of the crisis, issued by unions including the NASUWT.
  •     The TUC has published a statement of support for the Iraqi unions.
  •    Updates from the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW).
  •    A statement of solidarity from Education International, the global federation representing 30 million educators worldwide.
  •     Campaigning materials issued by Amnesty International.

Although the situation is grim, trade union colleagues value the support and messages of solidarity that we are able to send. They also value the support that we are giving through national and international campaigning. In a recent conversation, Ahmed Jassam said:

“We are appealing to our fellow teachers for political and moral support. The NASUWT’s stand is crucial for us now to continue with the struggle to overcome this extremely difficult situation. Your solidarity is very important and much valued.”

It is vital that the pressure must be to ensure that there is Government and international engagement in these issues.


Message of Solidarity

The National Executive of the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union in the UK,  wishes to affirm the NASUWT’s continuing solidarity with and support for the ITU as it struggles for democracy and  workers’ rights, including those of teachers.

The NASUWT National Executive  was horrified and shocked to hear of the murder of another ITU colleague,  ITU vice president in Mosul colleague Hussein Darwish,  who was gunned down on 5 June while going to work. This is not only tragedy for us all, it is crime against humanity. The coldblooded murder of a peaceful human being who loved his family, his country Iraq and his union, the Iraqi teachers’ union and who campaigned for the establishment of democracy and rule of law,  is abhorrent  and the NASUWT National Executive deplores and condemns this in the strongest possible terms.

At this very difficult time for the ITU and Iraq, the NASUWT Executive, while expressing its deepest condolences and sorrow to Hussein’s family and friends , believes that the principles for which our brother Hussein fought and died  will eventually triumph and the forces of tyranny shall not prevail.

The NASUWT National Executive is horrified by the situation  your country Iraq is facing at the hands of murderous terrorists.  The NASUWT Executive is deeply concerned for the safety of all our sisters and brothers in the ITU and their families.

The NASUWT stands with the ITU as it endeavors, with Iraqi progressive patriotic forces, to maintain Iraq’s unity, sovereignty and the fragile post 2003 democratic national political process and is ready to offer what ever assistance it can.

See TUC message of solidarity

Education International Statement - Critical time for security to be restored for all citizens in Iraq

Education International expresses concern about the rapidly deteriorating security situation and mounting sectarian violence, within Iraq and beyond its borders.The violence has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people and has been marked by numerous human rights violations also affecting schools, children and teachers, particularly in the regions of Fallujah, Mosul and Tikrit.

In recent weeks, EI has also been notified by its affiliate the Iraqi Teacher Union (ITU) of targeted attacks against teacher union leaders and their families by the armed group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other armed militia.

It is not the first time that in Iraq violence is used against teacher union leaders who are actively engaged in building a democratic, independent and cross sectarian education union. On 5 June the ITU Vice-President in Mosul, Hussein Darwish, was assassinated on his way to work. He leaves behind six children. Family members of the previous ITU President, Ahmed Jassam Salih, were also assassinated recently.

EI appeals to the international community and all parties in Iraq to work towards a peaceful, democratic civil society, where human rights are respected, where education unions can function freely and where schools are safe.

EI is working closely with its affiliates* in the areas worst affected, assessing the immediate needs of the teachers and pupils affected by the conflict and the damage caused to school buildings. We call on the UN agencies to scale-up assistance to the growing number of displaced people.

* Education International is the global union federation of teachers which represents over 30 million members in 171 countries including the Iraqi Teachers Union and the Kurdistan Teachers Union.

Message of solidarity from UCU

The University and College Union, the largest trade union for academics and academic-related staff working in UK higher and further education, wishes to express its solidarity with the ITU in your struggles for democracy and workers’ rights. 

We were appalled to hear of the horrific murder of the ITU Vice President Hussein Darwish on 5 June as well as the recent assassination of family members of the previous ITU President, Ahmed Jassam Salih. We would like to extend our sincerest condolences to their family and friends. 

The UCU is deeply concerned about the rapidly deteriorating security situation and growing sectarian violence within your country.  We stand with the ITU in your efforts to ensure a peaceful, democratic Iraq, where human rights are protected, where trade unions can function freely, and where schools, colleges and universities are safe places to work and study.  

Iraqi trade unionist wins solidarity award


Ahmed Jassim receives International Solidarity Award

NASUWT presented its International Solidarity Award to Ahmed Jassam Salih, National President of the technical sector of the Iraqi Teachers’ Union (ITU).

The award was presented to Ahmed in recognition of his immense courage in defending the human and trade union rights of teachers in Iraq.

Ahmed has been active within teacher trade unionism since 2003, despite constant threats and intimidation against him and his family from forces opposed to social justice.

Three of Ahmed’s brothers have been murdered since 2008, one just last month.

Despite the threats to his life, Ahmed has travelled Iraq extensively to help build and develop the ITU.

He has played a leading part in supporting women teachers to play an active role in the leadership of the ITU and has led an NASUWT-supported training programme for ITU members in Iraq.

Chris Keates, NASUWT General Secretary, said:

“Ahmed has displayed immense courage in his work to defend the human and trade union rights of teachers in Iraq.

“He is a powerful symbol of resistance to all oppressive and violent regimes and an inspiration to us all.

“I am proud that the NASUWT has been able to play a part in supporting Ahmed and all the brave teachers and trade unionists across the world fighting for freedom, social justice and human rights.

“It is a great honour to have Ahmed here at Conference to receive in person the NASUWT International Solidarity Award.”

Ahmed Jassam Salih said:

“It is an honour and a privilege to receive this award.

“The ITU leadership wishes the NASUWT success in realising your members’ and that of all UK teachers’ objectives for fair pay, pensions and working conditions and for quality public education that cares for all.

“The ITU values the NASUWT’s principled international, political and practical solidarity and support that started soon after the end of the 2003 war and occupation of Iraq. The ITU jointly struggles with other Iraqi progressive and patriotic forces for peace, democracy and social justice and for an end to the onslaught of sectarianism and terrorism that has brought widespread corruption, mass death, destruction and mayhem.

The ITU values the NASUWT’s support as we endeavour to build a democratic, united and independent ITU which is, in our opinion, a vital factor in creating a free and secure federal Iraq that is free from the poison of sectarianism, terrorism and corruption.”


Follow Abdullah Muhsin, NASUWT International Officer, on Twitter.

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