Cablegate: Media Play: Iraq
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS COLOMBO 000508
DEPT FOR INR/R/MR, I/RW, I/REC; PA
SA/INS (FOR JWALLER); SA/PD (LJIRWIN, LSCENSNY,
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO OPRC KMDR OIIP CE
SUBJECT: MEDIA PLAY: IRAQ
REF: (a) COLOMBO 502, (B) COLOMBO 480
1. As reported in reftel (b), Colombo's weekenders (3/22-
23) widely criticized what is usually described as an
"American war" in Iraq. At mid-week, however, interest is
2. True, the war dominates Wednesday's (3/26) front-page,
above the fold headlines. "Six Iraqi war tanks destroyed"
says a Sinhala daily; two English headlines read "Baghdad
battle looms" and "Coalition forces close in on Baghdad."
The vernacular newspapers stress the danger of chemical
weapons: "Coalition forces near Baghdad ... ready for a
chemical war" says a Sinhala daily; "Saddam warns that
chemical weapons will be used" and "Warning of chemical
weapons if coalition forces reach Baghdad" appear in the
3. Front-page headlines notwithstanding, however, on 3/26
only one of Sri Lanka's dozen dailies published an
editorial regarding the war in Iraq. For excerpts, see
para. 5 below.
4. Comment. As alluded to in reftel (A), in recent
conversation with our PAO, the editor of a major English
daily said that, in Sri Lanka, editorial and op-ed
treatment of the war is little more than chattering classes
talking to each other. Ordinary Sri Lankans are focused on
peace at home, not war in Iraq. The Sinhalese majority, he
said, are more leery of the Tamil minority than of Saddam.
... or Bush. And the Tamil minority's apprehensions, in
turn, are focused more on the Sinhalese majority and the
Island's Muslim sub-minority than on events beyond these
shores. Pocketbook issues may arouse Sri Lankan interest
in the war, however. As we have reported on other
occasions, Sri Lankans -- and not just the chattering
classes -- wonder openly if the war will threaten
remittances from Sri Lankan workers or increase the price
of oil or depress the market for Sri Lankan tea. As/when
the war begins to "pinch the Sri Lankan purse," the editor
said, Sri Lankan opinion may grow ugly. End comment.
5. Excerpts from an editorial, "Save the civilians," which
appeared in the ISLAND (opposition English daily,
islandwide circulation) on 3/26:
"... despite the atrocities committed by President Saddam
Hussein on his people, Arab nationalism and the bonds of
the Islamic brotherhood are keeping not only the Iraqis
together but have resulted in emphatic expressions of
solidarity in other Islamic countries as well.
"People ... don't like armies of occupation. If it comes
to a choice between their own tyrant and a foreign army,
they would prefer their own abomination. A long time
military occupation of Iraq is bound to create severe
problems for the Americans and the British.
"The Iraqis, however, will suffer most. The many horrors
of war have already visited the areas of occupation. There
are ringing calls made around the world for provision of
assistance to the Iraqi civilians and UN Secretary General
Koffi Annan yesterday reminded the that the `belligerents'
are obliged to provide relief measures under international
"The people of Iraq have suffered much under their own
dictator and they should not be made to undergo further
agony and torture in war."