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The Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions : protests and public power in post-Saddam Iraq

conference contribution
posted on 2012-01-01, 00:00 authored by Benjamin IsakhanBenjamin Isakhan
Since the democratic elections held across Iraq in 2005 and 2010 much attention has understandably been paid to the new Iraqi government. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly clear that much of Iraq’s political elite are practising the type of governance referred to in the literature on other Arab states alternatively as ‘liberalised autocracy’ (Brumberg, 2002), ‘semi-authoritarianism’ (Ottaway, 2003) or ‘pluralised authoritarianism’ (Posusney & Angrist, 2005). That is to say, that the Iraqi government actually utilises (and controls) nominally democratic mechanisms such as elections, media freedoms, political opposition and civil society as part of their strategy to retain power. This is perhaps best demonstrated via the nine month political stalemate that followed the March 2010 elections and PM Maliki’s refusal to step down despite having narrowly lost the election. Not surprisingly, the Iraqi people have become increasingly disillusioned and critical of their political leaders – hence the mass protests that have swept across Iraq in the context of the popular Arab Revolutions of 2010-11.

However, these latest Iraqi protests are only the most recent and overt sign of the hidden geographies that are agitating towards democracy in this deeply troubled and increasingly authoritarian state. Since the invasion of 2003, a complex array of political, religious and ethno-sectarian factions have formed civil society movements; uncensored news has been consumed across the nation; ordinary citizens have taken to the streets to protest key government decisions; and various local councils have been formed, deliberating on key decisions facing their immediate communities (Davis, 2004, 2007). Given this context, this chapter focuses on the specific case of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), Iraq’s largest and most powerful independent workers union. The IFOU has repeatedly taken the Iraqi government to task over their poor pay and the dangerous nature of their work, as well as the government’s initial kowtowing to US plans to privatise the entire Iraqi oil sector. To do this, the IFOU have utilised a variety of very democratic mechanisms including peaceful strikes and protests, media campaigns and political lobbying. Such moves have met with mixed results in Baghdad – at times the central government has pandered to the requests of IFOU, but it has also gone as far as issuing arrest warrants for its senior members. The IFOU therefore serve as an interesting example of public power in Iraq and may well pose one of the greatest challenges to rising authoritarianism there.



Middle East Studies Association of North America Conference (46th : 2012 : Denver, Colo.)


Middle East Studies Association


Denver, Colo.

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[Denver, Colo.]

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E2 Full written paper - non-refereed / Abstract reviewed

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MESA'12 : Middle East Studies Association of North America annual conference

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