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All’s Well in Baghdad: Leaks from the U.S. Ambassador

The Indypendent Jul 13, 2006

On June 18, The Washington Post published a leaked June 12 cable from “AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD” to “SECSTATE WASHDC”. Signed off on by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalildad, the cable describes how dramatically conditions have deteriorated in Baghdad in recent months. It has received little comment in the U.S. media.

*Beginning in March, and picking up in mid- May, Iraqi staff in the Public Affairs section have complained that Islamist and/or militia groups have been negatively affecting their daily routine. Harassment over proper dress and habits has been increasingly pervasive. They also report that power cuts and fuel prices have diminished their quality of life. Conditions vary by neighborhood, but even upscale neighborhoods such as Mansur have visibly deteriorated.

*A Shiite who favors Western clothing… [says] some groups are pushing women to cover even their faces, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative.

*A Sunni said that people in her middle-class neighborhood are harassing women and telling them to cover up and stop using cell phones (suspected channel to licentious relationships with men). She said that the taxi driver who brings her every day to the green zone checkpoint has told her he cannot let her ride unless she wears a headcover. A female in the PAS cultural section is now wearing a full abaya after receiving direct threats in May.

*An Arab newspaper editor told us he is preparing an extensive survey of ethnic cleansing, which he said is taking place in almost every Iraqi province, as political parties and their militias are seemingly engaged in titfor- tat reprisals all over Iraq.

*Temperatures in Baghdad have already reached 115 degrees. Employees all confirm that by the last week of May, they were getting one hour of power for every six hours without. That was only about four hours of power a day for the city. By early June, the situation had improved slightly. In Hai al Shaab, power has recently improved from one in six to one in three hours. Other staff report similar variances. Central Baghdad neighborhood Bab al Mu’atham has had no city power for over a month.] One staff member reported that a friend lives in a building that houses a new minister; within 24 hours of his appointment, her building had city power 24 hours a day.

*Fuel lines have also taxed our staff. One employee told us May 29 that he had spent 12 hours on his day off (Saturday) waiting to get gas.

*One employee informed us in March that his brother in law had been kidnapped. The man was eventually released, but this caused enormous emotional distress to the entire family. One employee, a Sunni Kurd, received an indirect threat to her life in April. She took extended leave, and by May, relocated abroad with her family.

*In April, employees began reporting a change in demeanor of guards at the green zone checkpoints. They seemed to be more militia-like, in some cases seemingly taunting. One employee asked us to explore getting her press credentials because guards had held her embassy badge up and proclaimed loudly to nearby passers-by “Embassy” as she entered. Such information is a death sentence if overheard by the wrong people.]

*We cannot call employees in on weekends or holidays without blowing their “cover.” Likewise, they have been unavailable during multiple security closures imposed by the government since February.

*Some of our staff do not take home their American cell phones, as this makes them a target. Planning for their own possible abduction, they use code names for friends and colleagues and contacts entered into Iraq cell phones. For at least six months, we have not been able to use any local staff members for translation at on-camera press events.

*We have begun shredding documents printed out that show local staff surnames. In March, a few staff members approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate.

*Many Baghdad neighborhoods have selfselected local governments centered around militias that control the people in each neighborhood. People do not trust their neighbors. They do not know the identity of many of the people who are enforcing codes of conduct and dress.

*Against this backdrop of frayed social networks, tension and moodiness have risen. One colleague told us he feels “defeated” by circumstances, citing the example of being unable to help his two-year-old son who has asthma and cannot sleep in the stifling heat.

*Another employee tells us that life outside the Green Zone has become “emotionally draining.” He lives in a mostly Shiite area and claims to attend a funeral “every evening.”

*Personal safety depends on good relations with the “neighborhood” governments, who barricade streets and ward off outsiders. The central government, our staff says, is not relevant; even local mukhtars have been displaced or co-opted by militias. People no longer trust most neighbors.

(signed) KHALILZAD

The full document can be found at http://www.parapundit. com/archives/003524.html