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Dateline: Baghdad (Al-Royders)

In yet another sign of the region's slow but steady recovery from the devastation caused by the unprovoked 2003 US attack, Iraq's leading labour union held it's first annual convention this weekend at the Al-Rashid hotel in downtown Baghdad.

The International Brotherhood of Terrorist and Martyrdom Workers event was a celebration of their successes to date, but it was also a time for serious business. At the top of the list of the Union's goals was better compensation and improved working conditions for their membership.

"It's an old saying that 'You never meet an elderly Martyr'", said Achmed Waleed, a delegate from Fallujah, "and it's unfortunately true. Martyrdom Workers have very short careers." He noted that while severe dismemberment was the leading occupational risk to Martyrdom Workers, it is less known that repetive stress injuries and second-hand smoke are also significant workplace hazards.

They resolved to seek more comprehensive health-care benefits and a 15% across-the-board increase in compensation to Martyrs. The increase would translate to, among other things, a boost up to 83 Virgins for the successful completion of a Martyrdom mission. "It's only fair,", said Hussein El-Tikriti, a member of the union's board of directors, "83 Virgins may sound generous, but for most of our members, this benefit will have to be stretched out over an eternity."

The International Sisterhood of Heavenly Virgins, also meeting this weekend in the same hotel, initially balked at this demand, but intense behind the scenes negotiations resulted in a formal statement of support from the that union in exchange for a work rule requiring all Martyrs to bathe prior to blowing themselves up.

Non-martyr members of the Brotherhood sought to have their concerns heard amidst a perceived bias in the union ranks towards those who die for the cause. "Those of us who do not give our lives for Allah still have something valuable to contribute." said Goeffrey Larence, an unemployed waiter and aspiring actor from San Francisco. "We are the backbone of support for those on the front lines." He claimed that without the money, intelligence, and the undermining of the will of the enemy that so called "sleeper" cells such as Larence's quietly provide from thousands of miles away, the battle in the streets of Iraq would falter.

Akbar Khalimari, an Al-Quaeda Certified Trainer(TM) from Khandahar agreed, stating, "We smuggle supplies and fighters from Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, and many other places at extreme risk to ourselves. Without us, the Martyrs would have to walk into crowded Isreali discotheques and Baghdad marketplaces with little more than bottles of Pop Rocks and Coke strapped to their chests. We deserve recognition and protection."

Khalimari's faction was attempting to put language into the union charter to recognize their interests, such as demands that employers provide more ergonomic IED assembly equipment, a minimum height requirement on cave facilities that would allow Workers to stand fully upright, and a small Virginal stipend for Workers who don't actually Martyr themselves. "Even the occasional infidel Virgin would be a gesture of good faith from our employers." he added hopefully.

A stirring keynote speech was given by Kofi Annan, who also accepted a lifetime acheivement award and honorary membership on behalf of the entire UN. "I want to thank the International Brotherhood of Terrorist and Martyrdom Workers for their tireless efforts in furthering our common cause." he said, "It is only through pooling our varying talents and combining our efforts on many fronts that we can acheive our shared vision of a better world."

Notable breakout sessions included "Tactical Moral Relativism: Epistemological Disruption as a Weapon of Mass Deconstruction", hosted by Cindy Sheehan and Ward Churchill, and "Guilty Until Proven Innocent: The Role of Asymmetrical Justice in Modern Warfare", with a panel of experts that included Dan Rather and US Congressman John Murtha.

The US had planned to honor the occasion with a "donation" of several 500 lb bunker-buster bombs, but eventually bowed to international pressure. "It's a shame that the Bush administration is so tone-deaf in it's approach to international labour relations.", said Andy Whiner, a spokesman for United for Peace and Justice, a major sponsor of the event, "The presence of Big Capitalism would only undermine our efforts, and even the idea that they might participate in any form signals complete disrespect for the interests of Workers."


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