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Cablegate: Iraq Media Summary November 19-26, Cairo

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 BAGHDAD 004782

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.0. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OPRC PGOV IZ
SUBJECT: IRAQ MEDIA SUMMARY NOVEMBER 19-26, CAIRO
STIMULATES NATIONAL DIALOG, GOVERNMENT READY FOR
DIALOG WITH RESISTANCE; TALABANI FIRST IRAQI
PRESIDENT IN TEHRAN IN THREE DECADES

1. (SBU) Summary and Comment. This week the Iraqi
press zeroed in on the Cairo Conference and spinoff
topics. The Cairo Conference in fact prompted
Iraq's first real public debate about resistance and
terrorism, the coalition presence, and de-
Ba'athification. Cairo seems also to have
stimulated a more productive dialog among the
government and opposition, as the Sunni hardline
Association of Muslim Scholars said it would accept
UN peacekeepers and Iraq's President proposed dialog
with the armed resistance.

2. The role of Iraq's neighbors in securing its
borders was a theme that media played out along
ethnic/sectarian lines. Sunni sympathists
downplayed criticisms of Syria that ran in the Shia
(and Kurdistan Democratic Party) press. Sunni press
also gave more comprehensive coverage to the first
visit to Tehran by an Iraqi President in 30 years, a
visit largely glossed over by a Shia/Kurdish
government that likely wants to downplay ties to
Iran. No pro-government press carried Iranian
accusations that Washington was creating instability
in Iraq.

3. Reflecting the Cairo communique and perhaps
debate in the U.S., Iraqi media devoted great
attention to the coalition presence. Pro-government
channels reassured viewers of continued coalition
support and praised a more capable Iraqi force.
Sunni/opposition outlets took a more negative view
and also kept a spotlight on detainee abuse.
Finally, editors, websites, and cartoonists
lampooned Iraq's leadership, reflecting popular
discontent with the government. End Summary and
Comment.

Iraqis Build Up, Coalition Draws Down
-------------------------------------

3. (U) This week Iraq-based media speculated
widely about possible coalition force drawdowns and
growing Iraqi force capabilities. Al-Zaman on
November 23 noted, "Khalilzad hinted at the
possibility of a partial withdrawal of U.S. forces
next year but ruled out early full withdrawal before
Iraqi security forces can assume full
responsibility." Al-Sharqiya the same day quoted a
Fox News report: "U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice said that conditions for reducing
the number of US troops deployed in Iraq could be in
place fairly soon."

4. (U) Media outlets played up increased capacity
of Iraqi forces as a way to Iraqi Defense Forces
taking control of bases: "U.S. forces handed over a
presidential complex in Tikrit to Iraqi forces in a
ceremony attended by U.S. ambassador and the U.S.
Commander in Iraq." Publicly-financed television al-
Iraqiya focused on the possibilities of troop
withdrawals, but stressed continued coalition
support: "Italy intends to pull out of Iraq by
January 2006, but the gradual withdrawal does not
mean abandonment." Several outlets, including Ahmad
Chalabi's al-Mutamar, touted equipment upgrades for
the Army: "Iraqi Army Receives 77 Tanks, 34 Armored
Vehicles from NATO."

5. (U) Factual, graphic coverage of daily attacks
continued, with the larger incidents leading the
news most nights. On November 19, al-Sharqiya
reported "two bombers have blown themselves up among
worshippers at two Shia mosques in Khanaqin
martyring 75 people and wounding more than 85." On
November 23, al-Sharqiya reported that a car bomb
killed at least 12 people and wounded 28 in an
attack in Kirkuk. TV, print, and radio (both
political and independent outlets) reported at least
a dozen other attacks, with casualties among Iraqi
forces, civilians, and the coalition.

6. (U) Al-Iraqiya TV carried more upbeat news,
including a November 22 press conference by MOD BG
Abdulaziz Mohammed Jasim, who reported "Operation
Steel Curtain ended and all Iraqi cities in the west
are now safe. . . Joint forces from both MNF-I and
the Iraqi military lost 10 soldiers while 57 were
wounded. 136 terrorists were killed, one wounded,
256 detained, 47 weapons caches seized and 123 IEDs
destroyed." Increasingly, the media is showing
Iraqi officials taking the lead to "manage" their
own stories.

Iran, Syria Focus Varies
-------------------------

7. (SBU) Leaders zeroed in on the role Syria and
Iran play in Iraq's security. Iraq's President
Talabani distanced himself from criticism being
leveled at Syria by his colleagues, National
Security Advisor Rubai'e and Foreign Minister
Zebari. (To wit: "National Security Advisor
Mowafaq Al Rubai'e demands Syria stop terrorist flow
to Iraq," Radio Republic of Iraq; "Foreign Minister
Zebari: Syria is the main channel for suicide
bombers," al-Jazeera; Talabani: "Iraqi officials
made a mistake by attacking Syria," al-Sharqiya).

8. (SBU) Meanwhile, Talabani gained the spotlight
this week as the first Iraqi president to visit in
over 30 years. Kurdish news outlets played down the
visit (which may not be popular among Iran's Kurdish
population); thus the low-key coverage, "Talabani
met grand Ayatollah Ali Khamen'i and reviewed the
political process and the security situation in
Iraq," in the PUK paper al-Ittihad. Sunni and Shia
outlets on the other hand highlighted economic
cooperation and Iran's pledges to play a positive
role on security ("Talabani expressed confidence
will assist in combating terrorism.
The Iranian president denied accusations that his
regime is using Iraq to launch indirect war against
and London," was the line taken by
Sunni-leaning al-Mashriq. All Iraqi outlets shied
away from reporting Khamenei's statements -- carried
by Iran's al-Alam and al-Jazeera -- that the U.S.
was the most destabilizing force in Iraq.
("Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamen'i
urged Iraqis to ask for a US withdrawal timetable,
stressing that the US is responsible for Iraq's
suffering," al-Jazeera.)

Cairo Conference
----------------

8. (U) All media covered the Cairo conference in
detail. Analysis on November 22 varied, but most
outlets reported discussants had agreed to establish
a timetable for coalition withdrawal and agreed on a
definition of resistance: Al-Sharq al-Awsat:
"Cairo Conference Participants Agree To Draft A
Withdrawal Schedule And To Refuse Terrorism. The
Iraqi Accord Conference final statement includes . .
. a definition of terrorism and a drew distinction
between terrorism and 'resistance.' It agreed that
resistance is a right for all people." Most papers
highlighted U.S. embassy comments on the statement:
"U.S. Embassy Objects to Resistance Item in
Communiqu," (al-Zaman) and quoted unnamed sources
saying "any statement legitimizing killing any
coalition member is unacceptable."

9. (U) Al-Mashriq reported that the Cairo
communique demanded a timetable for the withdrawal
of foreign forces and confirmed that "resistance" is
a legal right of the people, but also noted that
participants agreed terrorism does not constitute
'legal resistance.'" Radio Free Iraq reported that
"delegates also agreed on the need to release "all
prisoners not convicted by a court" and to
investigate all "allegations of torture and bring
those responsible to justice." The KDP party paper
noted Kurdish "reservations about some clauses: "at
first there was no mention of the existence of a
federal democratic system; another reservation
concerned a special clause on resistance," most
other reporting was neutral or positive.

10. (SBU) The Iraqi media tested its limits with
speculations about disagreements and walkouts in
Cairo, but remained diplomatic in tone. On November
21, Al-Arabiya TV remarked on Prime Minister
Ja'feri's decision to leave early: "I will keep my
aide to represent my bloc; the government only
intended to attend the opening session." Al-Iraqiya
TV noted reports of Ja'afari's departure in protest
were false. There was colorful commentary in anti-
coalition al-Furat that demonstrated the sectarian
nature of political faultines: "Shia and Kurdish
delegates stormed out of the conference. The
SUBJECT: IRAQ MEDIA SUMMARt@67H|EADY FOR
DIALOG WITH RESISTANCE; TALABANI FIRST IRAQI
PRESIDENT IN TEHRAN IN THREE DECADES

group returned . . . after Christian Ibrahim Menas
al-Youssefi apologized for comments. . . which a
Sunni delegate said were struck from the record.
Youssefi had accused delegates of being US stooges
saying the entire Iraqi political process was
illegitimate. Storming out of the meeting, Shia
legislator Jawad al-Maliki said such comments
insulted all Iraqis who voted for the
constitution."

11. (U) Editorials were mixed: in opposition
newspaper Al-Furat, Daoud Al-Farhan wrote: " . .
.there is a general consensus that the final
statement represents harmony among participants. I
think that this is a success, however, Iraqis do not
care . . . [they] want immediate solutions to stop
bloodshed, insecurity, assassinations, arrests,
executions, night raids and the lack of services.
The final statement . . . should have strongly
recognized the Iraqi resistance." In contrast, pro-
government, PUK paper al-Ittihad ran a column by
Abdul Hadi Mahdi: "The meeting at such a difficult
time in Iraq represents a positive step. It is very
important to put an end to violence. . . The Cairo
Conference conveys a message that it is impossible
to move backwards."

Sunni Rejectionists Consider UN Peacekeeping
Force, Government Reaches out to Resistance
---------------------------------------------

12. (U) Pan-Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat continues
to take the lead among dailies covering Iraq for the
intellectual elite. Politicians increasingly use it
and al-Arabiya to debut their views regionally.
Thus, on November 22, the paper ran an interview
with hardline Sunni oppositionist Shaykh Harith al-
Dari, chairman of the Association of Muslim Scholars
(AMS), in which the normally bombastic Shaykh showed
an openness to UN peacekeepers: "If there is a UN
schedule for the departure of occupation forces,
then there would be no harm if some UN peacekeeping
forces entered Iraq."

13. (SBU) While Sunni hardliners changed their
tune slightly, the government pried public debate
wide by opening the door to dialog with the
resistance. Al-Bayyna Al-Jadeeda ran a Reuters
report November 21 noting with President Talabani's
remarks in Cairo: "If those who call themselves
Iraqi resistance wish to contact me, I'd welcome
them. I will not refuse to meet any Iraqi, even if
I don't agree with their statements." Al-Dustoor
also reported this week "Iraq's VP "Abdul Mahdi
Announces Government Readiness to Facilitate the
Process for Anyone Who Wants to Put Down Their
Weapons." The AMS on November 20 welcomed
Talabani's gesture, according to reports carried on
al-Iraqiya, al-Arabiya, and al-Jazeera.

Detainees
---------

14. (U) Media continued to highlight apparent
abuse by Ministry of Interior officials at the
Jadriya detention center. Al-Adalah (associated
with ruling Shia coalition) criticized
"exaggerations of abuse." But other media,
including government-funded al-Iraqiya, (usually pro-
government) showed some public skepticism remains:
"Iraqis in Baghdad protested the mistreatment of
detainees. They demanded . . . the removal of
ministers of defense and interior." Meanwhile, al-
Sabah noted that the Deputy Minister of Interior
promised "Investigation into Jadriya Bunker to
Conclude in Two Weeks." Al-Ittijah al-Akhar, an
opposition paper, devoted a full page to reported
human rights violations by "the Interior Ministry
and Badr militants."

Good Government
---------------

15. (SBU) Editorialists, websites and cartoonists
focused on corruption and weak leadership, often
targeting the Ja'aferi government. German-based
independent website "kitabat.com" on November 21
observed "much criticism has been directed at the
current government's performance just as political
entities have launched campaigns. . . . Some
politicians might believe that harshly criticizing
the government or the political system will help
them, but they are wrong. Iraqis want transparency
and national programs that contribute to the
prosperity of the new Iraq, provide employment based
on patriotism, competence, and loyalty, and favor
public over personal interests."

KHALILZAD

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