Hullabaloo: Iraqi Nervous Breakdown
Hours 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, marked "sensitive" and obtained by The Washington Post, outlines in spare prose 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.
In a very straighforward descriptive style, Khalilzad writes that Iraqis must hide the fact that they work for the US or face ostracism or worse. Women are being treated only slightly better than if they were living under the Taliban in 1999 --- and they are being asked to wear clothing that Khalilzad admits was not even required by the most repressive Iranian Ayatollahs. They are losing their driving privileges and are considered suspicious if they use a cell phone -- they might be calling a lover, you see. (This is your fundamentalist religion working to "free" women from the burden of being full citizens.)
People are being gouged for electricity, to which they barely have access anyway (in 115 degree heat!) They face kidnappings and violence every day of their lives. Sectarian divisions are showing up in all their social interactions, even among families. They must adopt separate customs, dress and manner of speaking to travel freely through various neighborhoods in Baghdad or risk violence. They cannot trust the security forces, who seem to be getting more hostile to the population, especially those who work for the US. Their anxiety is palpable as they feel their lives are hurling out of control.
Did I mention that the people he is talking about in this cable are all employees of the US embassy in Baghdad? That's right. These are the highly privileged, educated elite who work inside the Green Zone. Imagine what it's like out in the hinterlands.
He does touch upon this with one very disturbing observation:
One colleague beseeched us to weigh in to help a woman who was uprooted in may from her home after 30 years on the pretext of some application of a long-disused lawy that allows owners to evict tenents after 14 years. The woman, who is gayli Kurd, says she has nowhere to go, no other home, but the courts give them no recourse to this new assertion of power. Such uprooting may be a response by new Shiite government authorities to similar actions against Arabs by Kurds in other parts of Iraq. (Note: 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 tit-for-tat reprisals all over Iraq. One editor told us that the KDP is planning to set up tent cities in Irbil, to house Kurds being evicted from Bagdad.)
The country has obviously already spiraled into a state of civil war. It's not surprising that it's taken on this character of secret informants, ethnic cleansing, paranoia and neighborhood militias because the whole society was shaped by an authoritarian police state. But civil war it is, and from the sound of this cable, it's happening on a far more fundamental level than we knew. The whole society is breaking down from inside out.
Although out staff maintain 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 toward news that comports with their own worldview. Objectivity, civility and logic that make for a functional workplace may falter if social pressures outside the Green Zone don't abate.
He pretty much says that he doesn't know if he can trust his own employees much longer because they are being driven a little bit crazy by fear and paranoia. Heckuva job, there, Uncle Sammy.
This seems like a pretty interesting document. I have to wonder why it was merely linked by pdf in a throwaway paragraph in Al Kamen's Sunday column...