Khalilzad's Take on Baghdad

Life for ordinary Iraqis in Baghdad seems to me almost untenable. Violence, militias, kidnappings, unexplained murders... all seem to be becoming just part of the daily backdrop of their lives, like traffic.

The Washington Post obtained this cable (PDF) sent to Washington by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq. It addresses the stress and fear that the U.S. embassy's local staff is facing in Baghdad. Just a few excerpts:

First on the status of women in Baghdad, from the perceptions of the embassy's female Iraqi employees:

"Another, a Sunni, said that people in her middle-class neighborhood are harassing women and telling them to cover up and stop using cell phones (suspected channel to licentious relationships with men). She said that the taxi driver who brings her every day to the green zone checkpoint has told her he cannot let her ride unless she wears a headcover. A female in the PAS cultural section is now wearing a full abaya after receiving direct threats in May. She says her neighborhood, Adhamiya, is no longer permissive if she is not clad so modestly."

And:

"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."

Then there's power:

"Temperatures in Baghdad have already reached 115 degrees. Employees all confirm that by the last week of May they were getting one hour of power for every six hours without...By early June the situation had improved only slightly."

Unless of course you are politically connected:

"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."

And because of threats:

"For at least six months, we have not been able to use any local staff members for translation at on-camera press events."

And finally, and I could certainly quote the whole thing, but I'll stop here:

"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."

I have certainly heard the same type of stories from NPR's staff in Baghdad. And worse. There is something ineffably sad happening there. Every time I go, it seems to be worse than the last. Journalists are often accused of not writing about the good news in Iraq, but I just can't see any positive spin on this one.

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