Jeff Severns Guntzel / Electronic Iraq – 2006-06-20 23:28:41
BAGHDAD (June 20, 2006) — The Washington Post has obtained a cable prepared by the US Embassy in Iraq and marked ‘sensitive’. The cable provides stark indicators of Iraq’s seemingly endless downward spiral.
The cable, which details the daily fear and violence endured by the Embassy’s Iraqi staff, who live outside the heavily fortified “green zone” or “international zone,” arrived in Washington just hours before President Bush left for his surprise trip to Iraq last week.
The cable, titled “Snapshots from the Office,” mitigates dramatically the President’s optimistic message in Iraq.
Here are some details from the report:
• The cable begins with this summary: “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 … have visibly deteriorated.”
• One female Iraqi employee, who “favors Western clothing,” has been “advised by an unknown woman in her upscale Shiite/Christian neighborhood to wear a veil and not to drive her own car.”
• Another female employee reported warnings in her neighborhood telling women “to cover up and stop using cell phones (suspected channel to licentious relationships with men).” The same woman has been told by the taxi driver she depends on daily for a ride to the green zone checkpoint that “he cannot let her ride unless she wears a headcover.”
• Female Iraqi employees have also reported that “some ministries, notably the Sadrist controlled Ministry of Transportation, have been forcing females to wear hijab at work.”
• The cable notes dress code issues for men also: “Staff members have reported that it is now dangerous for men to wear shorts in public; they no longer allow their children to play outside in shorts. People who wear jeans in public have come under attack from what staff members describe as Wahabis and Sadrists.”
• The cable reports stories of evictions based on ethnicity and religion throughout Iraq. Sharing the story of an Iraqi employee eager to secure help in stopping the forced eviction of a Kurdish friend, the cable notes: “An Arab newspaper 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 tit-for-tat reprisals all over Iraq.”
• Employees have told the embassy that at the end of May they were getting one hour of power for every six hours they went without – which amounts to about four hours of power per day. In June, apparently, the situation had improved somewhat, with one neighborhood reporting one hour of power for every three hours without.
One neighborhood in Baghdad, however, has had no power for more than a month. “Areas near hospitals, political party headquarters, and the green zone,” the cable notes, “have the best supply, in some cases reaching 24 hours.” The goes on to cite an employee who “reported that a friend lives in a building housing a new minister; within 24 hours of his appointment, her building had city power for 24 hours a day.”
• Fuel lines have been a problem since the days immideatly followng the invasion. One embassy employee reports having recently spent 12 hours of his day off in a line waiting to top off his tank.
• Iraqi employees have reported kidnapping threats, with one employee taking extended leave a relocating abroad. Iraqi staff plan for their own abductions.
• Green zone checkpoint guards have been reported to be behaving “more militia-like,” announcing loudly – as if taunting – that Iraqi staff passing though are in the employ of the US Embassy. Such knowledge can be a death sentence, the cable notes.
• Employees have to be terribly secretive about their work. “Iraqi colleagues called after hours,” the cable reports, “often speak in Arabic as an indication they cannot speak openly in English.”
• Against what the cable describes as a “backdrop of frayed social networks,” the cable notes, “tension and moodiness” among the embassy’s Iraqi staff “have risen.”
• One employee reports attending a funeral “every evening.”
• The cable concludes: “Although our staff retain a professional demeanor, strains are apparent. We see that their personal fears are reinforcing divisive sectarian or ethnic channels, despite talk of reconciliation by officials. Employees are apprehensive enough that we fear they may exaggerate developments or steer us towards news that comports with their own worldview. Objectivity, civility, and logic that make for a functional workplace may falter if social pressurs outside the green zone don’t abate.”
• The final line of the cable bears the last name of the American Ambassador to Iraq: Khalilzad.
• Leaked US memo paints grim picture of life in Iraq, Christian Science Monitor (20 June 2006)
• Leaked memo reveals plight of Iraqis, The Independent (20 June 2006)
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