Cablegate: Babil: Prt Hosts Sheikhs' Roundtable

DE RUEHIHL #0155 3190826
P R 150826Z NOV 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

B. B) HILLAH 150

1. (U) This is a PRT Babil cable.

2. (SBU) Summary: On November 13, PRT Babil hosted a gathering
of Sunni and Shi'a tribal sheikhs from throughout the province.
The sheikhs criticized the current political leadership of the
province while blaming the US for allowing foreign influences to
penetrate Iraq. In contrast to the current provincial
government, the tribal leaders presented themselves as an
untapped resource with broad connections who could be counted on
to restore security and economic stability in the province. The
sheikhs welcomed the opportunity to present their views to the
PRT and expressed the desire to maintain a dialogue with the
PRT. End Summary.

3. (SBU) On November 13, PRT Babil hosted a gathering of
twenty-one Babil tribal sheikhs representing both Sunni and
Shi'a sects. The sheikhs expressed gratitude to the PRT for
hosting the event. They also emphasized their willingness and
ability to work together with Coalition forces to improve
security and foster a climate of reconciliation in Babil.
Comment: Although participants came at the behest of former
Babil governor Iskander Witwit, the latter did not dominate the
free-flowing and animated discussion. Witwit, a former Governor
of Babil Province has made clear his own intention to run for
governor or other elected office in the future. Witwit was
removed from office by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)
in December 2003 due to popular discontent with his tenure and
overwhelming rumors of profiteering. End comment.

4. (SBU) The sheikhs' characterization of Babil's provincial
government as inept, corrupt, and driven by narrow sectarian
interests formed a recurring theme throughout the three-hour
gathering. They pinned the blame for this state of affairs on
political parties and the closed-list electoral system.
According to the sheikhs, the closed-list brought forth elected
officials unaccountable to the people they purport to represent.

5. (SBU) More ominously, the sheikhs alleged US policies opened
the door to "outsiders" -- particularly, Iranians but also
foreign Sunni fighters -- to meddle in the province. In this
vein, they cited the successful role of tribes against Al-Qaeda
in Anbar province and asserted that they, with the support of
Coalition forces, could reverse gains by outsiders in Babil.
Moreover, the sheikhs argued that they were not sectarian and,
consequently, could serve as a check against religious influence
in government.

6. (SBU) Concomitantly with their desire to play a leading role
in restoring security, the tribal leaders stressed the need for
a strong government role in support of economic growth.
Specifically, the sheikhs cited the need to tackle youth
unemployment, subsidize agriculture, clean canals, and establish
an effective telecommunications network. According to the
tribal leaders, Babil officials were non-responsive to their
requests for reconstruction projects. The sheikhs also noted
that no national or provincial officials consulted them on
provincial budgetary issues, including the USD 40 million
supplemental promised by Barham Saleh on September 30 (reftel),
and expressed grave concern over the fate of the capital budget
funds as a whole.

7. (SBU) In subsequent one-on-one conversation with a well
respected local sheikh, this long-time friend to the PRT said
many Shi'a tribal and clan elders through southern Babil,
Northern Najaf, eastern Karbala and western Diwaniya would
gladly assist in a trial security zone if supported by Coalition
forces. He said that a large number of tribal leaders are
increasingly concerned over what he called the growing
repression by Iranian influenced government figures and the
influx of money and arms to the Shi'a militias and government
figure hired goons. He said his fellow sheikhs are worried over
the sending of young men, perhaps as many as 1,500, to Lebanon
for training and their return to Iraq for "no good purpose"
(NFI). He also spoke of arms and explosives coming in from Iran
hidden in trucks of fruits and vegetables while Iraqi
authorities sympathetic to Iran just looked the other way. He
said the people need American help to stop the destruction of
the country and they, the tribes, would do the work if there
were assurances they would not be abandoned, as many Shi'a
believe happened in 1991.


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