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Cablegate: Iraqi Officials Meet in Istanbul to Create

VZCZCXRO7334
PP RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHIT #0394/01 2071247
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 251247Z JUL 08 ZDK DUE TO NUMEROUS SVCS
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8337
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 000394

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL IZ KDEM PGOV TU
SUBJECT: IRAQI OFFICIALS MEET IN ISTANBUL TO CREATE
DEVELOPMENT PLAN FOR SAMARRA

REF: A. BAGHDAD 224
B. BAGHDAD 1974
C. BAGHDAD 409

ISTANBUL 00000394 001.2 OF 002


1. Summary. On July 17-19, 26 Iraqi men and women gathered in
Istanbul to create a development plan for the City of
Samarra, where in 2006 the bombing of the Golden Mosque
initiated two years of country-wide sectarian violence.
Attendees included the provincial governor, members of the
provincial and city councils, police and army commanders, and
representatives of NGOs and the religious community. At the
end of the conference, the attendees had agreed upon all
major elements of the development plan. The cooperation
displayed by the participants contrasts vividly with the
mistrust and accusations that have characterized the past two
years (REF B). End summary.

----------------
Background
----------------

2. The province of Salah ad Din (SAD), located immediately
north of Baghdad, has a population of just under one million
persons. The provincial capital is Tikrit, home town of
Saddam Hussein. Samarra is the province's largest city,
housing a quarter of a million people. Samarra's
predominantly Sunni Arab population sees itself as among the
biggest losers of the change of regime, with many highly
educated and experienced former officials now unemployed and
pensionless.

3. Samarra is a strategic city, a Sunni town famous for its
Shia shrine, the Al-Askari or Golden Mosque, previously a
source of much revenue from Shia tourism. On February 22,
2006, the golden dome of the mosque was destroyed by a
terrorist bombing, setting off riots and reprisal attacks
across the country that almost plunged Iraq into civil war.
On June 13, 2007, suspected al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the
mosque again and destroyed the two minarets flanking the
dome's ruins.

4. Security, while not yet satisfactory, has improved
tremendously in Samarra this year (REF A). General Rasheed,
Commander of the Samarra Operations Center, told us that as a
result of the Prime Minister's recent campaign, militia
infiltration of the security forces has been reduced by a
factor of 10. Accordingly, the GOI and international
community are trying to seize the opportunity, not only to
reconstruct the shrine (UNESCO and UNOPS are engaged (REF C),
in close cooperation with the SAD PRT satellite housed at
Patrol Base Olsen), but also, crucially, to improve the
quality of life for the people of Samarra, who feel they have
been neglected and who desire a return to normalcy, with all
the pilgrimage trade that normalcy entails.

----------------
The Istanbul Conference
----------------

5. The Istanbul Conference, organized by the SAD PRT and
sponsored by UNDP with funds provided by the EU, was
structured to bring together Samarra/Governate/GOI officials
and citizens to engage in free and frank discussion of the
issues facing the city, and to develop a common vision for
the future of the city. The Provincial Council has enacted a
nominal development plan for the Province, but it is project-
and spoils-based, with concomitant lack of focus and results.
The Samarra Development Plan, by contrast, will be
integrated, long-term (3-5 years), and based upon the shared
vision of the Conference participants.

6. The agenda for the three-day event included a discussion
of the current state of the city; breakout sessions on
governance, public services, social services and economic
development; and the drafting of an agreement on a common
vision of the future direction of the city and surrounding
area. Urban planning experts from UNDP facilitated the
conference and provided technical assistance.

7. One key to the success of the Conference was the inclusion
of high level representatives of all stakeholders -- Central,
provincial and local government, military and police, as well
as the religious and NGO communities. Equally important,
participants arrived at the conference prepared to work
together to find common ground, rather than to defend their
parochial interests. As Gen. Rasheed proclaimed, the renewal
of Samarra was "for the benefit of all Iraq." This
cooperative attitude is the result of three months of
preparatory work put into the Conference by the SAD PRT and
its Samarra Team Lead, and demonstrates the wisdom of having
the Samarra Team Lead based in the city and close to the
people he advises.

ISTANBUL 00000394 002.2 OF 002

8. Over the years, Amman conference facilities have become
increasingly booked, and Iraqi conference organizers are
turning to Istanbul as a convenient "offsite" location in
which to hold meetings. Although the GOT was not involved in
this conference, we are beginning to investigate the
advisability of involving the GOT in such events, where
appropriate.

9. This cable has been cleared by the SAD PRT.
OUDKIRK

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