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Cablegate: "The Ax Is Already in the Head": Rural Baghdad

VZCZCXRO3483
PP RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #4018/01 3581308
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 231308Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0995
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 004018

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: IZ PGOV PREL
SUBJECT: "THE AX IS ALREADY IN THE HEAD": RURAL BAGHDAD
OPTIMISTIC ABOUT ELECTIONS, FEARS IRAN

REF: A. A) BAGHDAD 3791
B. B) BAGHDAD 3928

1. (U) This is an ePRT Baghdad-5 reporting cable. It is
Sensitive but Unclassified; handle accordingly. Not for
distribution on the Internet.
2. (SBU) SUMMARY: In meetings over the past month with
political, tribal and governmental leaders throughout three
of Baghdad's rural qadas (districts) -- Abu Ghraib, Taji and
Tarmiyah -- trends have emerged that mirror, for the most
part, those observed recently in the capital and elsewhere in
Iraq (Refs A and B). First, there has been a movement away
from sectarian ideology toward a more secular nationalism
among political leaders; Baghdad Provincial Council (PC)
candidates have reflected that shift in both public and
private statements, as well as in their campaign strategy.
Second, residents from shopkeepers to sheikhs have
demonstrated strong support for Prime Minister Nouri
al-Maliki, if not for the Government of Iraq (GOI). Third,
there is a palpable fear of Iranian influence in all aspects
of Iraqi politics and life, leading to broad endorsement of
the recently-signed Security Agreement (SA) between the USG
and GOI. Finally, interlocutors expressed skepticism over
the ability of the Independent High Electoral Commission of
Iraq (IHEC) to conduct objective and impartial provincial
elections in January 2009. END SUMMARY.
3. (U) This cable presents views culled from more than 20
meetings with leaders from three of Baghdad's rural qadas --
Abu Ghraib, Taji and Tarmiyah -- conducted by ePRT Baghdad-5
during November and December.
DEMISE OF SECTARIAN POLITICS?
4. (SBU) Unlike the 2005 elections, which were dominated by
religious parties pushing sectarian agendas, the 2009 PC
elections will focus attention on the issues affecting all
Iraqis: national reconciliation, jobs, education, essential
services and security, to name but a few. This is a common
refrain, heard among Sunni and Shi,a alike. The people want
&stability8 and &unity,8 and are looking for &educated,
genuine8 leaders who can deliver on the subjects that matter
the most. For their part, candidates have displayed an
understanding of the frustration felt by most Iraqis toward
their government, and plan to make that dissatisfaction a key
component of their election campaigns. Indeed, even the
incumbents with whom we spoke plan to not only highlight
their accomplishments while in office but also emphasize
their differences, real and imagined, wQ the ruling
parties. Local residents are, for the most part,
dissatisfied with current PC members, noting time and again
that they have not adequately represented the people's
interests. &Change8 was a common buzz-word among our
interlocutors (many had closely followed the US presidential
elections). Despite all they have been through over the past
few years, Iraqis within Abu Ghraib, Taji and Tarmiyah
repeatedly expressed optimism for the future of their
country, beginning with the provincial elections, which many
view as a referendum on the GOI,s performance. Repeatedly,
local leaders and those aspiring to seats on the PC
emphasized the need for both a national view and a focus on
the issues of importance to local citizens.
PRAISE FOR MALIKI
5. (SBU) Whether Shi,a or Sunni, sheikh or shopkeeper,
residents of the three rural districts praised Prime Minister
Maliki,s efforts to unite the country and bring an end to
the sectarian violence that plagued Iraq during 2006 and
2007. While there was some frustration evidenced at the pace
of rebuilding and lack of basic services in many parts of the
Qof rebuilding and lack of basic services in many parts of the
region the majority of our interlocutors referred to the
prime minister as &a good person8 who worked to benefit the
country and not just for his party's interests. Maliki
received particularly good marks for his negotiations on the
SA, where even those most closely allied with the US and
coalition forces (CF) respected the hard bargain he drove
with the USG. Despite strong support for the prime minister,
the GOI on the whole was viewed as alternately corrupt,
incompetent and not reflective of the average Iraqi's views.
Particular contempt was held out for the major religious
parties in power -- the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq
(ISCI), the Islamic Da,wa Party (Da,wa) and the Iraqi
Islamic Party (IIP). Predictions for these parties in Abu
Ghraib, Taji and Tarmiyah were bleak: most residents felt
that the Islamic parties had caused serious harm to the
country, and were confident that they would not fare well in
the January elections.
FEAR OF IRAN
6. (SBU) One current that ran through all of our discussions
was a strong fear of Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs. For
the most part, this was not an abstract belief that Iran is
pulling the strings of certain Iraqi leaders, but an innate,
deep-seated certainty that Iran will do all in its power to
destabilize Iraq, whether politically, economically or
militarily. As explained in great detail to poloff by a

BAGHDAD 00004018 002 OF 002


local sheikh, Iraqis, fear of Iran goes back far beyond the
Sunni/Shi,a split to the Babylonian period. According to
our interlocutors, the primary (and some feel, the only)
deterrent to Iran is the presence of CF in large numbers.
Thus, there was virtual unanimity on approval of the SA.
Stating that &the ax is already in the head,8 a local
campaign manager for Jamal Karbuli,s Reform and Dialogue
Movement expressed his view that a quick withdrawal of CF
would cause irreparable damage to the country and provide an
opportunity for Iran to send agents and possibly soldiers
across the border. Many pointed to the 2005 elections and
reports that Iran had shipped fraudulent ballots into Iraq.
There is concern that Iran will act similarly in the upcoming
PC elections.
SKEPTICISM OVER IHEC,s IMPARTIALITY
7. (SBU) Many people questioned the ability of the
Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq (IHEC) to act
as an impartial and objective administrator, noting that its
employees and election monitors are selected by, and have
strong allegiances to, the political parties in power. Yet
despite generally negative perceptions of IHEC and doubt that
the PC elections will be free and fair, there is a sense that
they will be more open and transparent than in the past.
Additionally, although the list of polling places has yet to
be published, many Sunni leaders were skeptical that there
would be sufficient locations in non-Shi,a areas, especially
since turnout is expected to be high.
COMMENT
8. (SBU) The trends we have noticed in Abu Ghraib, Taji and
Tarmiyah reflect those evident throughout the country. One
name that repeatedly surfaced during conversations with both
Sunni and Shi,a leaders (though more often with Sunni) is
that of Saleh al-Mutlaq and his National Dialogue Front;
Mutlaq has a reputation here as an honest broker and one who
acts in the interests of the Iraqi people. Lists sponsored
by Ahmed Abu Reesha, Adnan al-Dulaymi and Jamal Kabuli were
also popular with Sunni interlocutors, while those supported
by PM Maliki and former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari
were often mentioned by Shi,a. Contempt and disdain were
showered on the main Islamic parties (ISCI, Da,wa and the
IIP) and on incumbents, who many feel have not acted in their
country's interests. Overall, residents in the area are
hopeful that the PC elections in January, followed by those
for nahia and qada councils in the summer and the Council of
Representatives in the fall, will usher in a new era of peace
and prosperity for Iraq and its people.
CROCKER

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