Cablegate: Special Representative Farah Pandith's Visit to Iraq,


DE RUEHGB #2919/01 3051528
R 011528Z NOV 09



E.O. 12958: N/A
OCTOBER 28-30, 2009

1. Summary: On her first visit to Iraq, the Secretary's Special
Representative to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith reached out to a
broad cross-section of Baghdad's civil society. She emphasized
President Obama's promise (as enunciated in his June 2009 Cairo
speech) of a renewed U.S. dialogue based on mutual respect and
mutual understanding as well as the Secretary's vision to engage on
a people to people level. Her meetings with Iraqi NGO activists,
officials, youth, women and entrepreneurs were constructive, as she
urged Iraqis to look beyond their daily political and security
challenges and to "begin building networks of like-minded people."
Her willingness to listen, her confident insistence on Iraqi
self-reliance, and her upbeat, progressive message resonated well
with our contacts. She was interviewed on three Arabic-language
channels. End Summary

2. Meetings with Civil Society: Ms. Pandith's first program day in
Baghdad (October 28) consisted of a series of back-to-back meetings
at the Al-Rasheed Hotel, chosen by post for its location within the
International Zone, secure environment and relative accessibility to
guests arriving from outside the zone. Teaming up with PRT Baghdad
and the political section, public diplomacy officers were able to
bring together a diverse, distinguished and vocal line-up of civil
society representatives and local leaders. Pandith's opening
90-minute session with a dozen women entrepreneurs and civil society
(facilitated by Arabic interpreters) and a second lengthy session
with Iraqi war widows provided a useful glimpse into the resilience
and determination of Iraqi women (including Christians and other
minorities) to rebuild their lives and overcome suffering. The last
session at the Al-Rasheed, moderated by the DRL-funded NGO Mercy
Corps and featuring several locally elected officials focused
squarely on peaceful conflict resolution, the problem of Iraqi
sectarianism, and the need to build tolerance and acceptance across
political and ethnic lines. Again, Pandith showed empathy and
understanding, and urged her interlocutors to network and
problem-solve together. The final meeting with these leaders was
particularly important for they all wanted to do more to help the
Office of the Special Representative to Muslim Communities (SRMC)
achieve greater dialogue and understanding.

3. Meeting with Youth: Although a planned talk at the Women's
College at Baghdad University had to be cancelled at the last minute
due to security concerns, Pandith was able to meet (for over two
hours) with a handful of students from Mustansariya University (who
were bused in to the Embassy) along with their professor and some
young alumni who recently traveled to the U.S. under the Middle East
Partnership Initiative (MEPI) program. The group was especially
excited to meet with Pandith having already interacted with her
during Ramadan via an Embassy digital video-conference (DVC).
Pandith challenged the Iraqi students and young professionals to
avoid pessimism, to think big but start small, recognizing that
recovery and progress come incrementally. She also urged them to
network beyond their own limited circles, to reach out via social
media and Internet to Americans and youth in the region and across
the globe, and to give serious thought to community service and
mentoring junior students.

4. Meeting with Information Technology Professionals: Post arranged
a lunch for Pandith with young IT professionals and entrepreneurs
that helped shed light on Iraq's technological capabilities and
Qthat helped shed light on Iraq's technological capabilities and
challenges vis-a-vis connectivity. Members of the Iraq Technology
Task Force (ITTF) and other invitees briefed Pandith on difficulties
experienced in working with the GOI on new technology, the state of
fiber optic backbone, the electricity grid, the promise of
satellite-based communications and the recent Baghdad visit by a
team from Google. Post and SRMC will follow up with the respective
attendees on the concepts discussed.

5. Other Meetings: On her first day, Pandith joined DCM Ford for
dinner at the home of the Minister of Human Rights where she was
able to join in on policy discussions relating to the rights of
women and minorities. The following day, Pandith had dinner at the
Embassy with 10 women activists, including a former Minister of
Displacement and Migration, the founder of a women's empowerment
NGO, a Fulbright alumnus involved in public health, and the
department head of an engineering college. Pandith also visited the
headquarters of the Iraq Educational Initiative (IEI) and met with a
member of the Prime Minister's Board of Advisers. The discussion
focused on the importance of youth and cultural exchange between the
U.S. and Iraq, and how best to complement and support the PM's
recently launched project that will send up to 10,000 Iraqi students
overseas each year in the next five years (primarily to the U.S. and
U.K.) for Bachelor's, Master's and PhD degrees.

6. Media Coverage: Pandith was interviewed on three Iraqi TV
channels: Al-Hurriya, Al-Hurra and Rasheed Television. Coverage of
her meeting with women entrepreneurs (with footage) was aired on the
October 29 newscast of Al-Hurriya. All three channels are expected
to air their exclusive interviews of Pandith later this week.

7. Comment: Despite the short amount of time available and the
difficult security situation which restricted her movements to

within a close radius of the Embassy, Pandith succeeded in achieving
her primary goal, of establishing contacts and working relationships
with youth and civil society members who can be progressive partners
for the U.S. and strong, secular advocates for change, progress and
mutual respect.

8. Farah Pandith cleared on this cable prior to her return to the


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