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Cablegate: Regional Travel Difficulties Lead to Najaf Tourism

VZCZCXRO1163
PP RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDE RUEHKUK
DE RUEHIHL #0037 0931313
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 021313Z APR 08
FM REO HILLAH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1057
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
RUEHMK/AMEMBASSY MANAMA PRIORITY 0002
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO PRIORITY 0005
RUEHAD/AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI PRIORITY 0001
RUEHDE/AMCONSUL DUBAI PRIORITY 0002
RUEHAM/AMEMBASSY AMMAN PRIORITY 0005
RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT PRIORITY 0005
RUEHIHL/REO HILLAH 1121

UNCLAS HILLAH 000037

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS
BAGHDAD FOR FCS-FRANK CARRICO, ECON-RICHARDS, POL-HOLT,
PAO-NANTONGO AMMAN FOR FCS - PLEASE PASS TO AMCHAM BEIRUT FOR
FCS - PLEASE PASS TO AMCHAM CAIRO FOR FCS - PLEASE PASS TO
AMCHAM DUBAI FOR FCS - PLEASE PASS TO AMCHAM MANAMA FOR FCS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL ECIN ECON KPAO SOCI SCUL IZ
SUBJECT: REGIONAL TRAVEL DIFFICULTIES LEAD TO NAJAF TOURISM
CONFERENCE POSTPONEMENT

REF: HILLAH 000019

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The Najaf Provincial Council Tourism
Committee, chaired by Sheikh Fayed al-Shimerti, reluctantly
decided to postpone the April 5-6 Najaf Tourism Conference
(reftel) for exactly one month in the wake of country-wide
disruptions from the recent Basrah offensive. The conference is
now scheduled for May 5-6 and will incorporate all of the
elements planned for the originally slated dates. The Tourism
Committee postponed the conference to ensure full participation
from Iraqi and regional participants, and not because of any
Najaf province security concerns. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Sheikh Fayed also chairs the Provincial Council's
Security Committee and held multiple meetings with Najaf's Iraqi
Police and Army commanders over the past week. Najaf remained
calm with little violence throughout the fall-out from the
Basrah offensive and its corresponding violence and unrest in
Baghdad and elsewhere in South-Central Iraq. Najaf Sadr Trend
sympathizers took to the streets in peaceful protest but engaged
specifically in Muqtada al-Sadr's call for civil disobedience,
brandishing Korans and olive branches. Sheikh Fayed based his
decision, after close consultations with PRT Team Leader, not on
Najaf security concerns but concern about the impact of Gulf and
other international participants of limited access to Basrah and
Baghdad airports, plus difficult travel conditions for Iraqi
government, provincial, and private sector invitees.

3. (SBU) Sheikh Fayed specifically told PRT Team Leader that
invited tourism professors from Baghdad's Mustansiryah
University and scheduled Iraqi fashion performers were not able
to arrive from Baghdad, and that most of the invited regional
attendees could not fly through Basrah airport as initially
planned. Without these crucial components, Sheikh Fayed
considered a postponement necessary. Sheikh Fayed and the
Provincial Council announced the reason for the conference's
postponement was to increase international and business
participation, not because of Najaf security concerns.

4. (SBU) COMMENT. Throughout the recent unrest in Iraq, the
PRT and the Tourism Committee remained in constant contact about
the conference and provincial security conditions. Sheikh
Fayed, a senior and well-respected PC member, has been
completely open in discussing security concerns and the tourism
conference. Sheikh Fayed's Committee prepared a successful
conference concept and multi-faceted means to showcase Najaf and
encourage investment in the province's tourism potential. Both
he and the PRT considered Najaf safe and secure enough to hold
the conference on April 5-6 but also agreed the need for fuller
international and Iraqi participation. Despite the month long
delay, we expect the Najaf Tourism Conference to be an important
activity stressing opportunity and hope for Najaf's future. END
COMMENT.

SIMMONS

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