WASHINGTON, June 14 - Iraqi trade unionists called on Tuesday for a bigger voice in Iraq where they said they were targeted for attacks by insurgents and intimidated by the U.S and Iraqi military.
Six leaders of the Iraqi trade union movement, who said they represent hundreds of thousands of workers in Iraq, are on a two-week visit to the United States to raise the profile of their groups.
"We need to get our voices heard and by coming to the United States we hope this will happen," said Adnan Rashed, executive officer of the Union of Mechanics, Printing and Metal Workers.
"We are trying so hard to organize workers and make our lives better," he said, adding he hoped the new Iraqi constitution would take workers' rights into account.
Brought to the United States by a group called U.S. Labor Against the War, which opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the union leaders also called for foreign forces to leave.
Speaking at a news conference translated from Arabic, the unionists said their attempts to mobilize workers were being thwarted by all sides -- from foreign companies working in Iraq to insurgents and the U.S. and Iraqi military.
Rashed said at least 10 of their unionists had been killed and tortured by insurgents and others were constantly harassed and intimidated for trying to mobilize workers.
Union offices have been shut down and raided, and eight activists were arrested by U.S. forces in 2003 and held for seven months until they were released, said Rashed.
"We have a very difficult time," said Rashed.
Falah Alwan of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of Iraq, cited a case where a woman working at a grain silo was labeled mentally unstable for organizing protests.
Faleh Abbood Umara of the General Union of Oil Workers demanded that U.S. forces quit Iraq.
His union has actively opposed the use of U.S. companies in Iraq, such as Halliburton <HAL.N> , which was once run by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. It also opposes plans to privatize the oil sector.
The unionists are visiting 20 U.S. cities, including Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles, before returning to Iraq on June 26.
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