ERBIL, Iraq, May 30 (UPI) -- The Iraqi government has moved, demoted or fired more than a dozen people within the southern Iraqi oil sector this month as domestic and international union officials decry their treatment.
This week reports surfaced that South Oil Co. Director General Abdul Jabbar Lauby was removed from the head of Iraq's largest and most productive state oil company, as well as the head of the South Gas Co. and Iraqi Oil Tankers Co.
United Press International is told that the leadership at the top of the South Refineries Co. will be removed as well.
Lauby was offered a position as adviser to the Oil Ministry but reportedly has not accepted the position. Phone calls and e-mails to the ministry were not returned.
"It's something up to the government," said Hassan Juma'a Awad, president of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions.
He said 11 people from the South Refinery Co. were demoted or fired. Eight were union members, including the vice president, the central committee manger and the secretary of culture and information, Awad said. The three administrative staff include the director general's secretary, and administration and finance officers.
He said he expects more jobs shuffled or lost, including his, adding, "While Shahristani is in power, it will happen."
Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani launched the Oil Ministry's series of most recent crackdowns on the union -- which officially are not legal, because a Saddam Hussein-era law has not been overturned or replaced despite the 2005 constitution calling for such a move. The workers, however, immediately formed a union after Saddam's overthrow, and attempts to break them have failed.
Abu Bakr Faqi Mohammed, president of the oil union under the Kurdistan General Workers Syndicate Union, told UPI the government "tried twice to close our office" in Kirkuk.
"Our workers demonstrated, and they didn't allow our office to be closed," he said.
This month both the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation and the president of the AFL-CIO wrote to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in part to protest the government's attempt to control upcoming union elections.
Shahristani last year sent letters telling the state companies not to communicate or recognize the unions. And a short strike in part of the southern oil industry to protest working conditions, among other issues, was met by arrest warrants for leaders and was surrounded by security forces.
Mohammed said people in the south have been fired this month but are still working "because workers refused to have other people lead them." He said some are pegged to be transferred to Kirkuk, Baiji, Mosul and Samawa.
The unions also have been one of the more vocal opposition groups in the debate over the draft oil law. They view it as not supportive enough of the domestic oil industry and too generous with Iraq's oil toward international oil companies.
Lauby, the removed South Oil Co. head, was against the Oil Ministry's new plan to bring international oil companies in for long-term development deals for Iraq's largest-producing oil fields.
The energy information service Platts reports he welcomed the companies "as consultants and not as partners."
Lauby, who is a native Basrawi, had the lead role in the South Oil Co. since 2003. He kept production up during Maliki's military incursion into Basra earlier this year.
Although the government said the mission was to eradicate gangs and militias, the nearly sole targets were those loyal or believed to be aligned with Moqtada Sadr, the popular cleric whose followers include the Mehdi Army and local and national politicians.
With Basra more calm after the action, Maliki's government -- led by the Dawa Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq -- appears to be clearing out two other opponents of its policies.
"A vote by the Basra provincial council -- reportedly by consensus, and thus conceivably even involving some 'defections' from the local ISCI branch -- protested against the central government's decision to remove the head of the Southern Oil Co.," wrote Reidar Visser, Iraq expert at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and editor of the Iraq-focused Web site Historiae.org.
The Basra council and the government of the oil capital of Iraq is controlled by the Fadhila Party, which withdrew its members from Maliki's governing coalition and is attempting to keep power of Basra from ISCI.