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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 gobernment 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 far 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

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000478.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Moderator @ 10:00 AM CST [Link]


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Replies: 7 comments

I don't see any solution except either that the Americans leave and allow Iraq to brake down and rebuild under some terrible despotic modus vivendi, like Lebanon and Vietnam, or that they restore the draft and send 500,000 or as many troops as necessary to do what is necessary to restore order by force.

Posted by Micha @ 06/21/2006 04:03 PM CST

My thoughts exactly. It's all very well saying "do something", but what? Some people have suggested an Arab League force, but that would probably not sit well with the Shia even if the Arab League were up for it, or capable, which I would bet my net worth they are not.

We can certainly say "I told you so" very loudly, particularly whenever the subject of Iran comes up for discussion, but that's no help to the Iraqis.

I can't see the US "allowing" Iraq to break down after a withdrawal. More likely they would cut a clandestine deal with one or more potential "strongmen" who would institute a military coup as soon as the US were in a position to deny responsibility or the ability to restore democracy. Sort of a Pakistan solution.

Their interest in the region is after all mostly economic and allowing a Somalia to develop on top of all that oil is surely unthinkable.

Posted by Chris @ 06/22/2006 06:00 PM CST

You are attributing to the Americans abilities beyond their competence. They could not find a reliable strong man to do the coup and they could not be sure he would remain pro-American. The US was led astray by bad intelligence and shady allies more than once in the Iraq war, because they had no real independent intelligence capability.

There are things that the US could do to "make it better." Swift justice for the perpetrators of Haditha would not hurt. Teaching more troops elementary Arabic would help. An investigation of why it is impossible, after all these months to have even 1 unit of Iraqi soldiers that is ready for independent combat should be top priority. Perhaps they aren't doing that because they are afraid of what they will find.

Making it clear to the Iraqi government that religious harrassment is unacceptable, and making available troops to make sure it doesn't happen would help quite a bit. Taking elementary precautions to save Iraqi lives as well as American lives would help.

US is not going to develop the human intelligence capabilities needed to win the war efficiently, so they will need to put in a much larger number of troops, and at least make an effort to develop a serious independent intelligence capability. I think they could probably find another 100,000 or 200,000 troops without the draft. US has 2.26 million troops. Of these, 1.47 million are active duty soldiers. There must be another 100,000 or so who could be sent to Iraq, even if some are already committed in Afghanistan. If they cannot find another 100,000 troops, then someone should be asking what the USA does with all those soldiers. They aren't really needed to guard Germany against Soviet attack any more.


Posted by Moderator @ 06/23/2006 10:33 PM CST

While the US may have 1.47 million active service enlisted personnel, the vast majority (80%) are support troops not trained to be deployed in battle. So the US has around 340,000 active service front line combat troops. It is my understanding that the US has already deployed National Guard units to Iraq because of the manpower shortage. Drawing in another 100,000 troops would require either a mass-mobilisation of the remaining National Guard infantry divisions, or deploying support personnel into combat roles to either serve in Iraq or to replace forces from other postings.
Even were this possible it is highly likely that the terms of engagement would be so constrained as to make the job of US forces almost impossible, and there would also be a signifiacent time lag between the decision and the to-be-deployed troops being trained for Iraq.
If there is one lesson from Vietnam it is that prior training is essential before deployment into the theatre of war. Unless you want, as my soldier son would say, "One Mahoosive F*** Up!" It is evident from the conduct of US forces in both Iraq conflicts that they are often poorly trained and thus poorly prepared to operate effectively in conjunction with their allies in the field. Do not forget the "Blue On Blue" fatalities where in one instance the US Airforce shot up some of their British allies because the US pilot did not recognise the British Union Flag.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 06/26/2006 09:10 PM CST

"the Americans...could not find a reliable strong man to do the coup and they could not be sure he would remain pro-American."

Hmm. Never stopped them in the past.

To me, your proposals look even more impractical. Rod has pointed out some of the logistical problems. The political problems look even more insurmountable - what US politician is going to risk doubling troop numbers in an already deeply unpopular engagement? And wasn't that approach tried in Vietnam?

Then there is the political situation inside Iraq. I suspect that even well-trained US troops with basic Arabic (a hard language to learn) would continue to inflame Iraqi sensibilities. Even the apparently less trigger-happy British troops who were allocated an easier area of operation are increasingly unpopular & coming under attack.

Religious harassment (do you mean sectarianism or general fundamentalism?) is now endemic throughout Iraq by all accounts; a million US troops would probably be unable to intervene in the internal processes of Iraqi society.

I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that attempts ARE being made to analyse why the new Iraqi army doesn't work (fear of retribution mainly I would think) and that the private discussions within the US government and franker than their public statements. I suspect the problems are less with tactics now than the original big ideas of (1) invading in the first place (2) doing so without a forward plan based on good intelligence (3) dissolving the old Iraqi army. Advising on strategy now is a little like advising how to deal with an attack by killer bees - best not to disturb the hive in the first place.

If a neo-Saddamist reign of terror is ruled out as a way of stopping the civil conflict, whether for reasons of politics or practicality, the only real option appears to be trying to contain it until it burns itself out a la Lebanon. Partitioning the country might or might not be part of that strategy, but would probably create more problems than it solved.

Posted by Chris @ 06/27/2006 03:36 PM CST

Note also that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating by the day. I don't think it's reached a comparable stage to the Russian occupation, but it appears to be well on the way.

Posted by Chris @ 06/27/2006 03:39 PM CST

Yes, the situation in Afghanistan is going from worse to worser. Some ominous conclusions may be drawn if indeed a million US troops could not stabilize the situation in Iraq. What you are saying is that a state can become "ill" in a way that cannot be fixed by any amount of force. I don't think it is so. I think it is true within the limits of what forces of a democratic country can do. World War II happened in part because of mistaken pacifistic sentiments of WW I, which left most of Europe defenseless. What if we are now mistaken in our adherence to the humanitarian conventions put into place after WW II in reaction to the excesses of Fascism?

If order cannot be enforced somehow, the chaos will eventually lead to the worst sort of despotism.

Posted by Moderator @ 07/05/2006 02:59 PM CST

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