Frustration personified

They were out of work following a recent US decree dissolving the information ministry.

   

"America is against human rights. American democracy in Iraq means poverty and unemployment," they chanted outside Baghdad's Palestine hotel.

 

US civil administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer sacked more than 5,000 staff who used to run Iraqi state television, radio, the Iraqi News Agency (INA) and several newspapers, when he abolished the ministry a week ago.

   

The demonstrators, some of whom had spent more than 30 years at the information ministry, urged Bremer to reconsider his decision.

   

"It is an unjust decision," Abdul Mutaleb Mahmoud, former journalist at al-Qadissiya newspaper said.

 

US officials say each ministry employee is eligible for a termination payment of $50, but Mahmoud said this was pitiful. "I'm not going to take that money. It is humiliating," he said. "In Europe and America, they pay the unemployed at least $300 per week, why they are paying us only $50?"

 

Why us?

   

Amad al-Ataibi, a former editor at INA, said Bremer should negotiate with the sacked employees, saying they had suffered under Saddam Hussein when there was no freedom of expression.

   

"Before they invaded, the Americans said they would make Iraqis live better. Is firing 5,000 employees who feed around 25,000 people the way to make us live better?" INA engineer Samir Mehdi al-Ubaidi asked.

   

Some said they were not Baathists and demanded their pension rights. "I spent 25 years running al-Hurriya printing house in Baghdad and had nothing to do with Saddam's media, so why am I sacked?," asked Nuha Najeeb, a mother of five.

   

The information ministry building in central Baghdad was heavily bombed during the US assault on Baghdad that ousted Saddam on 9 April. Later it was looted and set on fire.

   

The ministry used to house foreign news agencies and television networks, which had to work under its close watch.

   

Other ministries that escaped the US axe have yet to get back to business. Thousands of disconsolate employees stand for hours in the sun every day outside ransacked and burned government offices waiting for work to resume.