By Greg Mitchell in Editor and Publisher
NEW YORK The Washington Post has obtained a cable, marked “sensitive,” that it says show that just before President Bush left on a surprise trip last Monday to the Green Zone in Baghdad for an upbeat assessment of the situation there, “the U.S. Embassy in Iraq painted a starkly different portrait of increasing danger and hardship faced by its Iraqi employees.”
This cable outlines, the Post reported Sunday, “the daily-worsening conditions for those who live outside the heavily guarded international zone: harassment, threats and the employees’ constant fears that their neighbors will discover they work for the U.S. government.”
It’s actually far worse than that, as the details published below indicate, which include references to abductions, threats to women’s rights, and “ethnic cleansing.”
A PDF copy of the cable shows that it was sent to the SecState in Washington, D.C. from “AMEmbassy Baghdad” on June 6. The typed name at the very bottom is Khalilzad — the name of the U.S. Ambassador, though it is not known if this means he wrote the memo or merely approved it.
The subject of the memo is: “Snapshots from the Office — Public Affairs Staff Show Strains of Social Discord.”
As a footnote in one of the 23 sections, the embassy relates, “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 militiast are seemingly engaged in tit-for-tat reprisals all over Iraq.”
Among the other troubling reports:
— “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 coopted by militias. People no longer trust most neighbors.”
— One embassy employee had a brother-in-law kidnapped. Another received a death threat, and then fled the country with her family.
— Iraqi staff at the embassy, beginning in March and picking up in May, report “pervasive” harassment from Islamist and/or militia groups. Cuts in power and rising fuel prices “have diminished the quality of life.” Conditions vary but even upscale neighborhoods “have visibly deteriorated” and one of them is now described as a “ghost town.”
— Two of the three female Iraqis in the public affairs office reported stepped-up harassment since mid-May….”some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative.” One of the women is now wearing a full abaya after receiving direct threats.
— It has also become “dangerous” for men to wear shorts in public and “they no longer allow their children to play outside in shorts.” People who wear jeans in public have also come under attack.
— Embassy employees are held in such low esteem their work must remain a secret and they live with constant fear that their cover will be blown. Of nine staffers, only four have told their families where they work. They all plan for their possible abductions. No one takes home their cell phones as this gives them away. One employee said criticism of the U.S. had grown so severe that most of her family believes the U.S. “is punishing populations as Saddam did.”
— Since April, the “demeanor” of guards in the Green Zone has changed, becoming more “militia-like,” and some are now “taunting” embassy personnel or holding up their credentials and saying loudly that they work in the embassy: “Such information is a death sentence if overheard by the wrong people.” For this reason, some have asked for press instead of embassy credentials.
— “For at least six months, we have not been able to use any local staff members for translation at on-camera press events….We cannot call employees in on weekends or holidays without blowing their ‘cover.'”
— “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.”
— The overall environment is one of “frayed social networks,” with frequent actual or perceived insults. None of this is helped by lack of electricity. “One colleague told us he feels ‘defeated’ by circumstances, citing his example of being unable to help his two-year-old son who has asthma and cannot sleep in stifling heat,” which is now reaching 115 degrees.
— “Another employee tell 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.'”
— Fuel lines have grown so long that one staffer spent 12 hours in line on his day off. “Employees all confirm that by the last week of May, they were getting one hour of power for every six hours without…..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.”
— The cable concludes that employees’ “personal fears are reinforcing divisive sectarian or ethnic channels, despite talk of reconciliation by officials.”
The final line of the Cable is: KHALILZAD