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Cablegate: Prt Basra's Eid Al-Fitr Celebration a Symbolic Milestone

VZCZCXRO2787
RR RUEHDA RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHBC #0055/01 2790725
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 060725Z OCT 09
FM REO BASRAH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0927
INFO RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0505
RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
RUEHBC/REO BASRAH 0965

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BASRAH 000055

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KPAO SOCI ASEC EINV IZ
SUBJECT: PRT BASRA'S EID AL-FITR CELEBRATION A SYMBOLIC MILESTONE

BASRAH 00000055 001.2 OF 002


1. This is a Basra PRT reporting cable.

2. (SBU) Summary: Basra PRT hosted an Eid al-Fitr (end of
Ramadan) event on September 23 for an estimated 130 guests from
a broad swath of Basrawi society. The event took place at a new
downtown Basra luxury hotel, significant itself, as it further
demonstrated the growing "normalcy" of the city. It was the
first USG-hosted event in Basra outside of a fortified USG
structure since the 1967 closing of the Basra consulate. In his
welcoming remarks, Basra Team Leader noted that the U.S.
military presence and large scale reconstruction assistance will
continue to wind down, while a civilian diplomatic and
development assistance presence would persist. Perhaps the most
significant theme of the night was the number of high-profile
Basrawis openly mingling with USG officials in a gleaming new
downtown hotel. This Eid celebration was a significant signpost
and an event that would have been unthinkable even one year ago.
End Summary.

Honoring Eid al-Fitr
====================

3. (SBU) To honor the end of the Ramadan season, PRT Basra
invited contacts from provincial politics, media, business,
religion (including minority Christians and Sunnis), feminists,
NGOs, military, and police to a traditional dinner at a newly
completed hotel in downtown Basra. The celebration's featured
guest was Member of Parliament Sayyid Ayyad Jamal al-Deen
(former INL, currently with the Independent Shi'a group). Three
dozen USG officials from the PRT, 34th Infantry Division (ID),
and 17th Fires Brigade also attended. To the best of the PRT's
knowledge, this is the first USG-hosted event outside of any USG
structure since the 1967 closing of the U.S. consulate in Basra
in the wake of the Six Day War and Iraq's breaking of diplomatic
relations.

Auspicious venue
================

4. (SBU) The venue was the brand new, $15 million "Mnawi Basha,"
a 120-room, "five star" (by Iraqi standards) hotel. The PRT
hosting this event at this central downtown location, away from
the apparent safety of our campus (eight miles west of Basra),
was notable. For many locals, the hotel is a hopeful symbol of
a new and better Basra. Local contacts had been urging us for
the past two years to host any such high-profile events inside
the city. Several guests praised PRTOffs for hosting the event
at the hotel noting that it further demonstrated the "normalcy"
of their city. Coordinated security was provided by the 34th ID
and Iraqi Security Forces. The hotel owners told the PRT that
they have already seen a marked increase in occupancy rates,
including from European, British, and some U.S. businesspeople.

High turnout, VIP faces in the crowd
====================================

5. (SBU) A high percentage - about 130 of 170 - of invited
guests attended the Eid dinner, including Governor Shiltagh
(Da'wa Islamiya), several Provincial Council members, Directors
General (DG) and deputy DGs of several key agencies, and Muslim
and Christian leaders. The high attendance rate also reflects
well on PRT relations with the governor, given that many of them
require the governor's permission to make even the most minor
decision, including attendance events such as this. More
importantly, guests expressed no apparent reluctance to be seen
with members of the PRT. While the high turnout was partly
attributable to the usual group of contacts attending, including
those eager for PRT money for pet projects, a lot of other
guests showed up as well.

Team Leader remarks
===================

6. (SBU) In his welcoming remarks, Basra Team Leader honored
Basrawis on the end of the Ramadan season. He also took the
opportunity to stress again that the large U.S. military
presence - and large scale reconstruction assistance - will -
continue winding down. At the same time, he noted that an
enduring civilian diplomatic and development assistance presence
would continue, representing a more stable and "normal"
bilateral relationship.

Iraqis also getting better acquainted with themselves
============================================= ========

7. The event was an opportunity to bring disparate groups of
Basrawis together. While many of this diverse crowd appeared to
interact well - Christians talking to Muslims, Shi'as with
Sunnis, media with security forces, all in the heartland of
Iraqi Shi'sm - several guests found themselves spending time
with people with whom they would not normally. One group of

BASRAH 00000055 002.4 OF 002


guests who found themselves at the same table included a
visually impaired director of an NGO assisting visually impaired
citizens, two prominent journalists, and the Basra Province
commanding general. The journalists and general later
separately thanked the PRT for having invited and recognized the
NGO director, that it had been an honor to be with him, and it
was a reminder for Iraqis to focus on and appreciate more its
own disabled citizens.

Comment: An encouraging signpost
================================

8. (SBU) Occasionally, in the long, two-step-forward,
one-step-back challenge that is the USG presence in Iraq, we
experience a truly encouraging signpost along the way. This
event was one of them. While the occasion will be followed by
many challenges, it is important to take note of the fact that
an open, public, USG-sponsored affair in the heart of Basra
would have been unthinkable even one year ago. The event also
appeared to discredit the thought that Basrawis do not want to
be seen with the PRT, or in some instances, with each other.
The PRT's guests appreciated this gesture to reach out and honor
them on one of their most sacred and festive holidays. While
PRT Basra members engage their contacts off of the FOB
consistently, the more Basrawis see us and get to know the PRT
specifically and Americans generally, the less fear and
misunderstanding there is.NALAND

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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