Iraq's energy ministry is using a Saddam-era decree to crack down on trade unions and stifle dissent against foreign exploitation of the country's vast oil reserves, the Basra-based oil workers' union claims.
Hassan Juma'a, the union's leader, has been at the forefront of a public campaign against the signing of a controversial new oil law - demanded by Washington - that would lead to long-term profit-sharing contracts being signed with multinational oil giants.
But Hussein Shahrastani, Iraq's oil minister, has now issued a directive banning unions from participating in any official discussions about the new law, 'since these unions have no legal status to work within the state sector'.
Juma'a said the minister's approach echoed an infamous law passed by Saddam Hussein in 1987 - the so-called 'Article 150' - suppressing trades unions. He insisted this weekend that his members would not recognise the directive, saying 'we are working for Iraq'.
The union argues that, like other Gulf states, Iraq should keep its oil ventures in state hands. With the second-largest reserves of quality crude oil, the union claims the country should borrow the funds needed to restore Iraq's oil production.
While the debate over the American-initiated oil law expands, Iraq's electricity grid is said to be on the verge of collapse as temperatures soar to 45 C. The country's electricity network fell into serious deterioration as a result of the sanctions imposed on Saddam's government after the 1991 Gulf war.
Compounding the problem are provinces that have better electricity generating assets taking their systems offline for their own benefit. Particularly hard hit by this is Baghdad.
Hazim Obeid, who sells clothing at a Kerbala market stall, said: "We no longer need television documentaries about the stone age. We are actually living in it. We are in constant danger because of the filthy water and rotten food we are having."