Cablegate: Basrah Journalists On Security, Reconstruction And

DE RUEHBC #0053/01 1541858
P R 021858Z JUN 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

BASRAH 00000053 001.2 OF 002

1. SUMMARY: REO Director and Public Affairs officer met with a
series of journalists from print and broadcast media in April
and May. Their views were not uniform but remarkably similar,
with many common questions about U.S. policy, positions, and
actions. There is concern that Basrah, because of its proximity
to Iran, could be affected if the U.S. takes military action
against Iran. Another issue is what reporters describe as the
"invisibility of reconstruction in the city." When these
journalists spoke of human rights, they focus on meeting basic
physical needs rather than personal freedoms. At the end of
each meeting, journalists role-played asking Ambassador Crocker
questions. Their questions ranged from how much influence the
U.S. exercises over the prime minister to why U.S. forces are in
southern Iraq.
Charge of the Knights: Wait and See
2. The collective view of the journalists was that the success
of the Charge of Knights (COK) military offensive by the Iraqi
Army has removed the noose around the neck of this city of
almost three million, but the potential for the hangman
returning remains. Today Basra is relatively secure. There are
weddings in public. Families are in the parks. There is less
oppression of women's dress standards. Students feel more
comfortable at the university. Before COK only religious music
was sold; now stores sell popular music. Weapons, however, are
still in the city. Borders areas are open. It was pointed out
that before COK many crimes were committed by police
intelligence. Unlike the Army, which was well received by the
people, the police continue to pose a threat to the security of
Basra. One reporter believes "You can kick them out the door but
they will come back through the window." A new police chief has
been named and the hope is that he will reform the force. Until
that happens, people are in a "wait and see" mood.
Iranian Influence in Basrah
3. The journalists said that Basrawis worry about undue Iranian
influence and potential U.S. conflict with Iran. The border
between Iran and Basrah is long, porous and generally unguarded.
There is a flow of goods from Iran into Basrah, with Iranian
produce dominating the markets. During the March/April COK,
weapons and supplies with Iranian markings were discovered
throughout the city. Widespread reports circulated about
militia leaders fleeing to Iran as Iraqi forces (with Coalition
help) locked the city down. Because of Basrah's heavy losses
during the Iran-Iraq war, women make up 66% of Basrah's
population; concern for women and other civilians, and
remembrance of that war's devastation led one journalist to ask
whether Iraq would be the battlespace for a U.S. war with Iran.
Invisible Reconstruction
4. According to State's recently released brochure "Aiding
Iraq," almost $2.4 billion has been spent on Basrah Province.
The footnote to this entry says this amount represents only
projects in the Iraq Reconstruction Management System. The REO
has distributed this brochure to all of its contacts. Glancing
it over, journalists wanted to know where the money had gone.
The people can't see the projects, they say. No building has
the sign "Built with U.S. funds." What people see in many areas
of the city is wastewater in the streets, tap water they cannot
drink, and mountains of garbage. The journalists were not averse
to U.S. branding of projects; REO officers noted to them in the
meetings that security considerations had made it difficult to
brand some projects, and for others it was important that
projects had an Iraqi face.
Human Rights Vary
5. The definition of human rights appeared to vary between many
Basrawis and Americans. America sees human rights carved in
stone, one reporter said, but Basrawis see it as meeting basic
needs. Men and women do not have equal human rights in Basrah;
women are denied freedoms. Last month a young woman's father and
brothers killed her because of her friendship with a British
soldier. The father was released without charges. Where is the
civil law, people ask? Unfortunately even with civil law, many
people will be governed by tribal social and cultural
traditions. Is a social revolution for women possible in Iraq?
One female reporter said maybe we could share power; after all,
women work in banks.
Champion Saddam and Elections
6. To counter the dominant political parties, reporters suggest
U.S. and British support liberal candidates. The consensus is
that religious parties will lose ground this election because
people have lost faith in their ability to deliver basic
services. Unless strong independent candidates emerge, people
will turn to the tribal system for leadership. There is a
feeling the central government has already turned to the tribes.
This "feeds the beast," one reporter said. It was pointed out
Arabic people admire champions. Even Saddam was one. Tribal
leaders want to be today's champions. With so many illiterate

BASRAH 00000053 002.2 OF 002

voters, the fear is people will be told by the tribes who to
vote for. It will take generations to educate people about the
concepts of elections and representative government, noted a
Ask Ambassador Crocker
7. What would you ask Ambassador Crocker? This question
generated many responses:
- What influence do you have on the GOI Prime Minister? Does he
say what you want him to say? Is he a puppet?
- When will the Ambassador disarm the citizens... because people
will never express their opinion while surrounded by guns.
- What are U.S. forces doing in Basrah? Why don't they publish
press releases? Is there censorship? We know U.S. forces are
embedded with the Iraqi Army.
- An American officer was killed in Basrah. What was his role?
- The British will leave soon; what is the U.S. vision for
8. COMMENT: Some of these questions require a strategic
communication plan stating USG policy in southern Iraq,
especially in regard to U.S. troops and reconstruction. A
comprehensive public communication plan is underway, for
example, with regard to development of the Umm Qasr port. We
found the Basrawi journalists take their work seriously; more
Iraq journalists have been murdered the last 16 years than in
any other country, and Basrah has had a significant share. With
the exception of reconstruction, the journalists' general
perception of the U.S. was positive. REO has a start on
understanding Basrah media perceptions and questions. We propose
to use this understanding to initiate regular press conferences
with the media, starting with June 3.

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


Werewolf: Gordon Campbell On North Korea, Neo-Nazism, And Milo

With a bit of luck the planet won’t be devastated by nuclear war in the next few days. US President Donald Trump will have begun to fixate on some other way to gratify his self-esteem – maybe by invading Venezuela or starting a war with Iran. More>>

Victory Declared: New Stabilisation Funding From NZ As Mosul Is Retaken

New Zealand has congratulated the Iraqi government on the successful liberation of Mosul from ISIS after a long and hard-fought campaign. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Current US Moves Against North Korea

If Martians visited early last week, they’d probably be scratching their heads as to why North Korea was being treated as a potential trigger for global conflict... More>>


Gordon Campbell: On The Lessons From Corbyn’s Campaign

Leaving partisan politics aside – and ignoring Jeremy Corbyn’s sensational election campaign for a moment – it has to be said that Britain is now really up shit creek... More>>


Another US Court: Fourth Circuit Rules Muslim Ban Discriminatory

ACLU: Step by step, point by point, the court laid out what has been clear from the start: The president promised to ban Muslims from the United States, and his executive orders are an attempt to do just that. More>>