Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Iraq Embassy Memo portends Busherdammerung? (Ami Isseroff)

A reality check and wake-up call from Ami Isseroff (on MidEastWeb).

For reasons I have explained on several occasions, I was and remain convinced that the 2003 Iraq war was necessary and justified, in light of the realistically available alternatives. (For some of these reasons, see here and here.) I am also strongly convinced that for the US to simply abandon Iraq now would be massively unwise and morally indefensible. This would guarantee a total failure of the post-Saddam reconstruction of Iraq, involving all-out civil war, probably accompanied by interventions from other regional powers, and possibly ending in a takeover by fascists and/or jihadis of the "insurgency." The consequences would be catastrophic--for Iraqis, and for the rest of us.

Unfortunately, an outcome of this sort remains possible even if the US maintains its commitment to Iraq for a while--not inevitable, but possible. And the main reasons for that lie in the truly spectacular incompetence and irresponsibility with which the Bush administration has so far planned, conducted, and mismanaged the war, especially the post-Saddam occupation and (non-) reconstruction of Iraq. None of this was inevitable.

Thus, the statement with which Ami Isseroff begins his discussion has been true from the start:
Those who lend uncritical support to the Bush administration's conduct of the war in Iraq may be doing as much damage as critics of the war.
Isseroff's closing advice is also on target:
Read it and weep - or do something before it is too late. It's your call.
(Isseroff's post on MidEastWeb includes the full text of the relevant memo from the US Embassy in Baghdad. Some highlights are quoted below.)

--Jeff Weintraub
Ami Isseroff (on MidEastWeb)
June 21, 2006

Iraq Embassy Memo portends Busherdammerung

Those who lend uncritical support to the Bush administration's conduct of the war in Iraq may be doing as much damage as critics of the war. An anonymous memo sent from an office in the US embassy in Iraq apparently, reveals details of the unraveling of Iraqi society and of confidence in the US. The memo, outed by the Washington Post tells us that in Iraq the coalition forces are making steady progress, but they are marching straight off a cliff. You don't read glowing progress reports about Iraq because there is no progress to report, and the person who is supposed to type up the reports probably got blown up yesterday anyhow.

The memo documents increased Islamist religious harassment, sectarianism, deteriorating economic conditions, threats to the safety of staff and lack of confidence in the war effort among employees. Iraq is divided into "sectors." These are not government or military sectors, but fiefdoms of control by different groups and sects. As in a bad movie about world chaos after a disaster, people moving through the different sectors camouflage themselves according to the local customs - becoming Shi'a in Shi'a areas, Sunni in Sunni sectors and so on.

Staff are asking what provisions are made for them when the US evacuates. One can almost hear the chopper blades on the roof of the embassy in Saigon. "Don't worry, dear employees, just hold on tight to the landing skids of the helicopters." Oh, sorry, helicopters are only for US citizens. Who will take in all the Iraqi boat people? Or will they be camel people?

Conditions such as those described below are probably not a secret to anyone. If the US were really serious about winning the war, they would have provoked a stormy reassessment. However, nobody in the United States government is concerned it seems. They can't say they don't know. Apparently they don't care.

A debate in the US Senate about Iraq "turned emotional", but the emotions were over the kidnapping, mutilation and killing of US soldiers. It is after all unheard of, that soldiers get killed in war time. The Senate passed a resolution against amnestying kidnappers of US soldiers. Presumably it is OK to amnesty people who blow up old age pensioners in Basra, as they are only Iraqis. Apart from defeating a bill to supervise waste in military spending, the Senate didn't do much else about Iraq.

The messages: Americans don't care about Iraqi casualties. They don't care what happens to Iraqi society. They don't even care how American tax money is wasted. Americans forgot that soldiers get killed in wars. It never occurred to them that this is possible. Three years of atrocities against Iraqi civilians did not teach American senators that terrorists do not obey the Geneva conventions. This was only evident for the first time when American soldiers were kidnapped. Americans are still clueless about the Middle East. They were apparently unaware that mutilation of bodies is par for the course in Arab culture. If you are going to fight a war in Iraq, expect that this will happen. Terrorists only remember war crimes conventions when they are giving press conferences about Western "massacres."

Of course, if the US leaves Iraq in defeat, the consequences will be very consequential - not only for Iraq, but for the US and for all of its allies in the Middle East. We don't even want to think about that. However, if the US continues in this way, it really is going to lose the war, or leave Iraq with a Mullahcratic government that will be a monument to Western folly and a breeding ground for movements that will make Osama Bin Laden seem like Mohandas Gandhi.

Some quotes:



1. (SBU) Beginning in March, and picking up in mid-May, Iraqi staff in the Pubic 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 Mansour have visibly deteriorated.

Women's rights

2. (SBU) The Public Affairs Press office has 9 local Iraqi employees. Two of our three female employees report stepped up harassment beginning in mid-May. One, a Shiite who favors Western clothing, was advised by an unknown woman in her Baghdad neighborhood to wear a veil and not to drive her own car," the cable said. "She said some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative.
14. (SBU) Some of our staff do not take home their American cell phones, as it makes them a target. 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 for translation at on-camera press events.

15. (SBU) More recently, 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. [Emphasis added by MEW]

Sectarian Tensions Within Families

16. (SBU) Ethnic and sectarian faultlines are also becoming part of the daily media fare in the country. One Shiite employee told us in late May that she can no longer watch TV news with her mother, who is Sunni, because her mother blamed all the government failings on the fact that Shia are in charge. Many of the employee's family left Iraq years ago. This month, another sister is departing for Egypt, as she imagines the future here is too bleak.
18. (SBU) Another employee tells us life outside the Green Zone has become "emotionally draining." He claims to attend a funeral "every evening." He, like other local employees, is financially responsible for his immediate and extended families. He revealed that 'the burden of responsibility; new stress coming from social circles who increasingly disapprove of the coalition presence, and everyday threats weigh very heavily. This employee became extremely agitated in late May at website reports of an abduction of an Iraqi working with MNFI., whose expired embassy and MNFI badges were posted on the website.

Staying Straight with Neighborhood Governments and the 'Alasa'
19. (SBU) Staff members say they daily assess how to move safely in public. Often, if they must travel outside their own neighborhoods, they adopt the clothing, language and traits of the area. In Jadriya, for example, one needs to conform to the SCIRI/Badr ethic; in Yusufiya, a strict Sunni conservative dress code has taken hold. Adamiya and Alihiya, controlled by the secular Ministry of Defense, are not conservative. Moving inconspicuously in Sadr city requires Shiite conservative dress and a peculiar lingo. Once-upscale Mansur district, near the Green Zone, according to one employee, by early June was an "unrecognizable ghost town."


Read it and weep - or do something before it is too late. It's your call.
Ami Isseroff

Don't go away -
Posted at with the entire text of the memo in fast loading image files. Be sure to read the whole thing.

Original text Copyright 2006 by MidEastWeb for Coexistence and Ami Isseroff. Please forward or link to the URL and extract text within reason. Other uses by permission. Distributed by MidEastWeb for coexistence