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Autonomists at Iraqi Oil Refinery?

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This is cut-n-pasted from the belly of the beast (Bloomberg Financial News), but we have been unable to find more on this story anywhere.

Iraqi Worker Protests May Further Delay Revival of Oil Output

By James Cordahi

Basra, Iraq, May 9 (Bloomberg) -- Major Mark Tilley, de facto chief executive of Iraq's South Refineries Co., is facing a rebellion. Workers at the Basra refinery, the country's second- largest, are demanding elections to choose their managers and the royal engineer from the British Army is having none of it.

``I've got a refinery to run and I can't change the management now,'' says Tilley, reclining in a sofa in the plush office of the plant's former general manager.

As members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, Ibrahim Kazim Mazayid and his deputy are now out of a job. With U.S. backing, Tilley has replaced them with less senior managers, also members of the Baath Party. Some workers at the refinery say the purge hasn't gone far enough and 300 of them, or about 10 percent of the prewar staff, demonstrated on Monday to show their dissatisfaction. ``We Want Liberal Elections,'' ``We Don't Want Another Saddam,'' placards read.

As the Anglo-American coalition seeks to return life to normal by starting up the oil fields and providing fuel for power stations and refineries, they're facing unexpected challenges that risk delaying progress. Unable to speak their minds for decades under Hussein's regime, workers in industries such as oil want to use their newfound freedom to pick their bosses and, in particular, to reject those they identify as supporters of the Saddam Hussein regime.

``This is our country and we should be free to choose our managers now that Saddam is gone,'' says Mehdi Saleh Maatouq, chief engineer at the Basra refinery.

Under Hussein, few could become senior managers in the state- dominated economy without carrying party cards. Distinguishing between active and non-active party members is proving difficult for coalition officials.

``It's a problem we understand and with which we sympathize, but we have to strike a balance between rooting out the Baath Party and getting the country back on its feet,'' says Tim Cross, deputy director of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. Talks are under way.


Industrial unrest at Basra refinery or South Oil Co., which pumped about half the country's crude before the March 20 coalition attack, would have immediate implications at the national level were it to affect production, says Royal Engineer Bob Spears. Spears, who was working at BP Plc before he was called up, is part of Tilley's team resuscitating production at the Basra refinery after it shut because of the war.

The plant is the only one in the country producing cooking gas, which Iraq's 24 million people rely on to make meals and boil water. National demand for cooking gas is about 500 tons a day; Basra's producing 120 tons and a pipeline that used to carry output north to the capital, Baghdad, was damaged in the fighting.


At South Oil, elections are already taking place to choose the heads of the company's 62 departments. With 60 percent of employees in each department necessary for a valid vote, it's proving difficult to carry out the process."