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Cablegate: (C) Sayed Bahr Al-Oloum Tells Ambassador Iraqis

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KUWAIT 005129

SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/FO, NEA/ARP, NEA/NGA, INR/NESA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/05/2013
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER PINR IZ IR SA SY KU
SUBJECT: (C) SAYED BAHR AL-OLOUM TELLS AMBASSADOR IRAQIS
MUST BE OUT FRONT, COALITION "BEHIND THE CURTAINS"

Classified By: AMB. RICHARD H. JONES; REASON 1.5 (B,D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: IGC member Sayed Mohammed Bahr al-Oloum
told the Ambassador November 5 that our success in Iraq is
very important to him, but that it requires changing policy
so as to give the impression that Iraqis are ruling
themselves, with the Coalition providing strong but discreet
support from "behind the curtains." He praised CPA
Administrator Bremer as a friend whom he respects, but said
the Coalition must show greater understanding of the Iraqi
mentality. He also urged that pressure on Iran, Syria and
Saudi Arabia be relaxed until Iraq is stabilized. He argued
that it is unrealistic to draft a constitution by mid-2004
given the prevailing insecurity. He favored full nationwide
election of delegates to the constitutional convention, but
acknowledged that others disagree, and he affirmed the need
to ensure adequate representation of all religious and ethnic
groups. END SUMMARY.

2. (C) At the latter's request, the Ambassador met on
November 5 with Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) member Sayed
Mohammed Bahr al-Oloum (MBO), who was visiting Kuwait to take
part in a series of Ramadan festivities. Mohammed Hussein
Bahr al-Oloum served as interpreter. Pol Chief sat in as
Notetaker. MBO began by saying that Kuwaiti Prime Minister
Shaykh Sabah al-Ahmed had repeatedly urged him to speak
openly with the Ambassador, both because of his knowledge and
perspective and because he would soon be going to Iraq. He
stressed "it is very important to us that America succeed in
Iraq" and praised CPA Administrator Bremer as a good friend
whom he respects. He said personal security in Iraq has
improved "75 percent": five months ago, all shops were
closed and the streets deserted by 6 p.m.; now, shops are
open and the streets busy until after midnight. Political
security is the big problem, he went on, and "it targets us
and you together." He summarized the situation as follows:
various groups are behind these attacks -- Saddam loyalists,
Al-Qaeda, and neighboring states that feel threatened by the
US presence in Iraq, namely Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
Moqtada Sadr "is nothing" and cannot be considered a
religious authority, but he is being used by people who want
to undermine the Coalition. The population will not accept
the return of Saddam. The great danger is Al-Qaeda, which
"threatens us all." The South, "as we promised," is being
kept under control by religious authorities, who will not
accept civil war or sectarian conflict. Sunni extremists are
trying to provoke conflict, as in the assassination of
Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, an act that "is not in the
Iraqi nature" and required capabilities that point to
external involvement.

3. (C) MBO stressed that he did not want the US to hasten
its departure from Iraq -- that would "leave us in the middle
of the sea without a boat. He said he had long believed that
only the US could rid Iraq of Saddam, and had told the
Iranians this. He vowed "we must teach our children" that
America liberated Iraq. However, the urgent need now is to
restore security, and for that "you must change your policy."
He said it had been a big mistake to dissolve the army and
security forces. A new army cannot be built in one year. He
urged a "reduction of US pressure" on Iran, Syria and Saudi
Arabia, which he implied were interfering in Iraq to keep US
forces busy there, until Iraq is stabilized. Above all,
"give the impression that Iraqis are ruling themselves"; keep
the US presence "behind the curtains." Pay Iraqi security
forces more (now, he said, an Iraqi policeman makes
$150/month whereas an American makes $3 - 4,000). Give the
IGC responsibility for security, and the capacity to carry it
out. Treat Iraqis with respect and be sensitive to their
feelings -- for instance, keep the newsmedia away from
retirees waiting in line to receive their pensions; try not
to kick the door in when searching a house. Recognize that
Iraqis are experiencing freedom for the first time in 35
years; it is only natural that they protest because they can.

4. (C) MBO complained that the IGC still has no budget: he
found it demeaning to have to go hat in hand to the CPA for
everything -- and often not get it. He recalled that the CPA
had promised to provide IGC members with armored vehicles,
but this promise had not been implemented.

5. (C) Constitutional Timetable: MBO noted that UNSCR 1511
called for the IGC to submit a timetable for the
constitutional process. He argued that it was unrealistic to
draft a new constitution by mid-2004: political leaders need
to consult their constituents, and this is difficult to
impossible given the prevailing insecurity. "We want a
permanent constitution, with democracy, federalism and
freedom," not another temporary constitution as has been the
case since 1958. The constitution "must respect our Arab,
Muslim and distinctly Iraqi identity," he said. Iraqi
democracy cannot be a slavish copy of a Western model; it
must be tailored to Iraq's unique history and culture. "We
need Arab and Muslim support, but of all our neighbors, only
Kuwait is with us. Iran and Turkey never will be." MBO said
that he, like the Shia majority, favored choosing the
delegates to the constitutional convention by a full
nationwide election; that said, he affirmed the need to
ensure adequate representation of all religious and ethnic
groups, and acknowledged that others disagreed on how to
ensure this: the Kurds wanted regional elections, and Iyad
Allawi wanted the delegates to be appointed. MBO wished the
IGC had comprised 50 members instead of 25, in order to be
more broadly representative: at present, Samawa and Nasiriya
are not represented on the IGC, for instance. He wished
there had been 10 women named to the Council instead of 3.
6. (C) Summing up, MBO said:

-- the CPA must understand the Iraqi mentality;

-- Iraqis must be seen to be ruling themselves, with the
Coalition discreetly (but strongly) behind them;

-- pressure on Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia should be relaxed
until Iraq is stabilized.

7. (C) The Ambassador told MBO that he expected to be
joining Amb. Bremer in Baghdad before the end of Ramadhan.
He pledged to try to listen to as many Iraqis as he could,
and to reassure everyone that we respect the Iraqi people,
want to be friends and do the right thing, and have no
long-term desire to stay in Iraq. (MBO interjected "don't
talk about this point.") He said America can contribute much
knowledge gained from its experience at finding fair
compromises; MBO agreed.

8. (C) Bio Note: MBO spoke almost entirely in Arabic,
except for a few courtesy phrases. He came across as a
kindly grandfatherly figure, but also as a dignified and
gracious eminence accustomed to being venerated, and to being
heeded.

9. (U) Baghdad minimize considered.
JONES

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