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Military and support staff bitter at redundancies
20 June 2003
BAGHDAD - On the wall of Lt Riyad Abd al-Rahman's shabby Baghdad flat is a faded photograph showing him standing proudly next to his colleagues - all senior commanders under Saddam Husayn. But those days came to an end two weeks ago when the Coalition told him he was fired. All the marching he does now is with demonstrators in front of the Republican Palace, headquarters of the Coalition forces, to ask for his job back.
Jobless Iraqis are becomig desperate. On Wednesday the demonstration outside the palace turned violent and then deadly. More than 100 heavily armed US troops formed a cordon at the palace gates as about 1,000 demonstrators shouted: "By our souls, by our blood, we will fight for Iraq!".
The protesters rushed and pushed vehicles entering the palace grounds, and they tried to breach a labyrinth of barbed wire and concrete retaining walls blocking the palace entrance. The troops fired warning shots in an attempt to quell stone-throwers and two demonstrators lost their lives.
"I fought in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Cyprus. I canít be asked to leave my job just like that without a source of income. What about my family?" Al-Rahman asked. The disbandment of the army, including all noncombatants such as drivers, clerks, administrators and secretaries in the defence ministry, has left more than 400,000 people unemployed. In militaristic Iraq under Saddam, the defence department was the biggest government institution in the country in terms of numbers of employees, each receiving a salary ranging between 50,000 dinars (US $35) to 500,000 dinars a month to its employees.
Much of the rest of the old bureaucracy has been left intact. "Everybody who used to be working for the government is taking salaries on a monthly basis except for those who work for the ministries of defence and information," said In'am Midhat, a former accountant with the defence ministry.
"We are the civil administration, which includes around 2,447 men and women in addition to those 400,000 people in the military administration," she added. "Since we took our salaries in the middle of March before the war, we didn't have anything. Iíve been working in the ministry of defence for 20 years as an accountant, and I have other colleagues working as technical assistants and other jobs that have nothing to do with military affairs. I donít have anything to do with the Baíth Party."
Francois Dubois, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) representative in Baghdad told IRIN that his agency had started a new programme in May called the Iraq Reconstruction and Employment Programme (IREP), which simultaneously addresses high unemployment and the effect of war on Iraq's environment and infrastructure. IREP seeks to implement labour-intensive public-works projects in a transparent and demand-driven manner.
"The programme was necessary to bring Iraqi people to work, as unemployment has reached 60 percent," Dubois said, adding that IREP was community based and would target women and young people. It will cost about US $6 million for the Baghdad region.
Meanwhile, the US-led administration's head, Paul Bremer, has unveiled a $100-million fund for public works projects to tackle chronic joblessness, which he put at 50 percent even before the war.
The need for such projects is apparent in places like the information ministry. Here, ex-employees of the ministry, which was been burnt and looted of all its expensive communications and photographic equipment, are very unhappy. "We thought our life would be easier after the war since we will have the freedom of expression, but now we are stripped of our jobs and have no choice but to go begging," a former cartographer said.
"We were asked to end our jobs and stay home, and we took $50 after we havenít been paid for two months, said Salim Da'ud, former manager of the personnel department at the ministry. Now he scratches a living working in the reception at one of Baghdad's downtown hotels.
He added that the information ministry of Information, which was separated from the culture ministry in 2001, included radio, TV, journalism and internal media, printing presses and the state news agency. "Although I take now much less money than before, I have had more luck finding a source of income than other colleagues," Da'ud said.
Meanwhile a union for unemployed people was formed this week with the support of the Iraqi Communist Party, which has enjoyed something of a renaissance since Saddam was toppled. The party wants to draw attention to the social impact of the increasing number of newly-unemployed.
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