IRAQI OIL WORKERS THREATEN TO STOP WORK – as demonstrations spread throughout the country

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At Iraq’s state-owned North Oil Company (NOC) on Saturday a demonstration of 300 day workers warned they would go on strike if their work conditions did not improve, threatening oil production – the lifeline of the country’s economy.

‘We are demonstrating peacefully for our rights, but if the management of the NOC does not meet our demands we have several means to pressure them, including a strike,’ said Jamal Abdel Jabbar, head of the oil workers union in Iraq’s northern oil hub of Kirkuk.

‘We are like camels that carry the gold, but are fed thorns,’ Jabbar said.

The company employs 15,000 people, including 3,700 day workers, who Jabbar said would join in a strike. The strike will be the first oil industry strike since US-led invasion in 2003.

Jabbar said: ‘It is certain that oil production will be affected if more than 3,000 employees in the operations department, production, extraction and transportation stop work’

‘There are employees at NOC who earn $2,000 per month, while temporary workers earn 250,000 dinars ($210 dollars),’ he said.

Inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt where president Husni Mubarak resigned, Jabbar said ‘We are pleased with the results of events in Tunisia and Egypt.

‘The government should pay attention and respond to our demands, otherwise we will stop work and it is we who produce the wealth of this country, which ends up in the pockets of officials and MPs,’ he said.

Last year, Kirkuk exported 150 million barrels of oil, earning $11.5 billion. Production from Kirkuk is exported through a pipeline linked to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

Meanwhile, several protests have been staged in the Al-Muthanna, Basra, Baghdad, Babil, and the Al-Anbar governorates.

Last Friday Husayn al-Shahristani, deputy prime minister for energy affairs, said that people of limited income will be exempted from paying the electric bill.

During a press conference he held at the Ministry of Energy, Al-Shahristani said that the exemption will include the people whose energy consumption is no more than 1000 KW per month.

However, this was not enough to satisfy millions of Iraqis.

A protest was staged in Al-Samawah City in the Al-Muthanna Governorate on Sunday against the poor services provided for the city inhabitants, in particular, and the governorate inhabitants, in general.

The protesters, who gathered in the city centre, repeated slogans that denounce the poor services, deprivation, and unemployment.

They demanded the state officials review their promises made before being elected, with slogans that warn against ignoring their demands and called for a fair distribution of resources.

Their spokesman said that citizens have joined the protest because they desire to change their current living situation, especially the poor services situation.

He said they will remain until the services improve, and noted the possibility of the Tunisian and Egyptian sparks reaching Al-Samawah City, due to the poor services and ignoring the demands of the governorate’s inhabitants.

In Basra, writers, intellectuals, and academics have organised a gathering to demand their basic rights for services, security, freedom, and fighting the widespread unemployment.

They said that the government is focusing on choosing people to run the authoritative ministries, while totally ignoring the services ministries, which are related to the lives of Iraqi people.

The circle of protests became wider in Iraq and has started to escalate.

Baghdad witnessed two protests in Al-Shu’lah and Al-Husayniyah cities that demand freedom, improving services, and fighting the government institutions’ corruption.

The protesters held banners that express the people’s discontent as a result of the poor services situation.

They demanded the government officers go out to the streets on a field tour to see the citizens’ sufferings.

In addition, the protesters called for improving the ration card supplies and delivering them on time.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Babil inhabitants protested, for the second time last week, to demand the resignation of the Babil Provincial Council, due to deteriorating services.

They called for improving the bad electricity situation in the governorate, and warned that if their demands are ignored then they will be staging other protests that will demand changing the federal government.

The protesters accused the parliament members of breaking their election promises.

In Rawah District in the Al-Anbar Governorate hundreds of people staged a protest and called for releasing the Rawah District’s mayor and one of its local council members, who were arrested by a security force from Baghdad.

The protest that included chieftains, scholars, and educated people headed to the district’s council.

They held banners that demanded the central government intervene and release Mayor Hamid Khalil al-Rawi and Subhi al-Rawi, members of the local council, who were arrested one month ago.

The protesters demanded and end to the random arrests and security raids by forces from outside the governorate.

Elsewhere, Al-Iraqiyah leader Iyad Allawi has threatened to oppose the current political process if the Arbil agreements – reached through the Kurdistan Regional President Mas’ud Barzani’s initiative – are not implemented.

Allawi, during a meeting of the National Al-Wifaq Accord Movement held in Baghdad, said that Barzani’s initiative included nine documents, six of which were signed, and that the political blocs had not abided, so far, by the signed documents.

Allawi said that Al-Iraqiyah will not abandon participation in forming the political decision.

He highlighted that the national project adopted by the Al-Iraqiyah is to release the detainees, bring back the refugees to the country, and support the national project.

• Anti-occupation cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr issued the a statement last Friday following the ousting of Egyptian president Mubarak.

He said: ‘The beloved Egyptian people have written down the greatest pages of a glorious history that reflects the bright and brilliant image that continues to inspire us with the noblest meanings of sacrifice, courage and pride.

‘The Islamic resistance in Iraq will continue to walk down the path of the ancestors and free people and reject injustice and occupation.

‘May God greet the Egyptian people and the revolutionaries who are staging an uprising against injustice and tyranny so that they can live under Islam and enjoy the resources of their country away from foreign interference and dictates that have eaten up and destroyed their country.

‘We in Al-Hawzah (Shi’ite religious seminary) in holy Al-Najaf extend to you, and even to ourselves, congratulations crowned with love and faithfulness for you and for all Arab peoples who reject injustice.’