Activists shame Iraqi Governing Council minister, derail Iraq business forum in Manila

MANILA (May 3) – Filipino anti-war activists disrupted the presentation of a visiting Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) minister in a business forum, calling her a “collaborator” and an “illegitimate” representative of the Iraqi people.

The forum, entitled “Rebuilding Iraq: Challenges and Opportunities for Business,” was organized by the Asian Institute of Management, a graduate school for business, and the German foundation Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. It was attended mostly by academics and businessmen.

As IGC minister for municipalities and public works Nesreen Berwari stood up to approach the rostrum, four women members of the newly formed coalition anti-occupation coalition Iraq Solidarity Campaign – Philippines held up placards saying “IGC Illegitimate” and “IGC = American Puppets.”

Two other members tried to unfurl a banner that read “Collaborators Not Welcome in Manila” but they were quickly accosted by the hotel's security personnel. The placards were also confiscated. The activists then stood up and filed out of the room, chanting “IGC illegitimate, US puppets.”

They were chased out of the room by the security personnel then joined around 150 other members of the coalition who had massed up outside the conference venue to denounce the the IGC ministers' visit.

Panelists, which included former Philippine finance secretary Roberto de Ocampo, were visibly surprised and flustered. Senatorial candidate Amina Rasul, an AIM fellow who was directly responsible for inviting Berwari, dismissed the protesters as “fringe elements,” even as past surveys showed that majority of Filipinos opposed the invasion of Iraq.

Berwari's visit came in the wake of the death of a Filipino worker in Iraq, the first casualty among the 3,000 workers based there.

“Ms Berwari has no right to speak o­n behalf of the Iraqis because she was chosen by the United States, not by her people,” said Rasti Deliso, o­ne of the organizers of the action.

“More importantly, she has no right talking about business opportunities in Iraq because legitimate economic policies still have to be put in place by a sovereign and independent Iraqi government.”

“We Filipinos, like the Iraqis, are very hospitable and gracious hosts,” said Milette Morante, o­ne of the women who disrupted the meeting. “But like the Iraqis who do not welcome the occupying forces, we Filipinos do not welcome collaborators in our country.”

The IGC is the body established by the United States as the temporary governing entity of Iraq. Its 24 members were all chosen by the United States.

Herbert Docena, a researcher who just came back from a o­ne-month stay in Baghdad working with the Iraq International Occupation Watch Center, underscored the illegitimacy of the Iraqi Governing Council. “When I was in Iraq, many of the Iraqis I spoke with think of the IGC as a big joke,” saidDocena.

“This has been confirmed by a Gallup survey saying that 75% of Iraqis believe that the IGC members merely follow the dictates of the United States, as well as by a BBC survey saying that Iraqis trust the hated Saddam regime more than they trusted some IGC members.”

“The Philippine government should therefore have nothing to do with this body and should refuse to recognize any Iraqi government not chosen by the Iraqis themselves,” Docena said.

Even as the protesters were driven out of the conference room, Berwari continued to be hounded by questions during the open forum.

Referring to Berwari's assurance that power will be transferred to Iraqis o­n June 30, Joseph Purugganan from Focus o­n the Global South asked, “What kind of power will be transferred when all of the laws enacted by the occupation forces will remain binding o­n the next government and when the coalition soldiers will stay o­n indefinitely in permanent military bases?”

Because of the disruption and the type of questions from the floor, the minister failed to touch o­n business opportunities in Iraq — the intended focus of the event.

The Iraqi Solidarity Campaign was formally formed as an alliance of political blocs and organizations after the outbreak of widespread uprising in Iraq at the beginning of April. It calls for the ending of the US-led occupation and the withdrawal and evacuation of Philippine troops and workers from Iraq.# (ISC)