Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Leaked Cable Paints Grim Picture of Iraq


A leaked cable from the US embassy in Baghdad signed by the ambassador paints a grim picture of Iraq as a country disintegrating in which the real rulers are the militias, and the central government counts for nothing.

The cable, signed by the US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and sent to the State Department in Washington on 6 June, is wholly at odds with the optimistic account of developments given by President George Bush and Tony Blair in their recent visits to Iraq.

Iraqis employed by the US embassy live in fear that other Iraqis will find out who they are working for. “We have begun shredding documents printed out that show local staff surnames,” the cable says. “In March a few staff approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate.”

The US and Britain have said they would withdraw their troops as the security situation improved, though the embassy memo suggests that it was, in fact, deteriorating. Britain said yesterday that it was to pull out 170 soldiers from Muthana province in southern Iraq when the Iraqi government took over security there next month.

There are chilling details about why, even in the heavily fortified Green Zone, Iraqis employed by the US embassy are frightened. “In April, employees began reporting change in demeanour of guards at the Green Zone checkpoints,” the memo says. “They seemed to be more militia-like. In some cases seemingly taunting.”

The vulnerability of the US position in Baghdad is so great that the Iraqi military units guarding the perimeter of the Green Zone, the heart of US power in Iraq, are now considered untrustworthy.

An Iraqi employee asked if she could have credentials saying she was a journalist. This was because the Iraqi soldiers would hold up “her embassy badge and proclaim loudly to nearby passers-by ‘Embassy’ as she entered. Such information is a death sentence if overheard by the wrong people.”

The memo, leaked to The Washington Post, gives a vivid and detailed account of the limited authority of the US and the Iraqi government in Baghdad. Entitled “Snapshots from the Office: Public Affairs Staff Show Strains of Social Discord” it is one of the most revealing documents ever made public, in this case involuntarily, by US authorities in Iraq. Based on the experiences of the nine-member Iraq staff of the public affairs press office in the US embassy, the cable portrays a society in a state of collapse. [Its contents should torpedo the claims by aides to Mr Bush and Mr Blair that the media is exaggerating the state of insecurity and fear in which Iraqis live.]

As Islamic militancy increases, women find it increasingly dangerous not to wear a veil in Sunni and Shia neighbourhoods. One was warned not to drive a car. Others were told to cover their faces and to stop using mobile phones. Threats against women who do not accept this second class status have escalated in the last two months. It has also become dangerous for men to wear shorts or jeans in public or for children to play outside wearing shorts.

As temperatures reach 46C (115F) “employees all confirm that by the last week of May, they were getting one hour of power for every six hours without.” One area called Bab al Mu’atham in central Baghdad has received no electric power for more than a month. But a building where a new minister lived started to receive power 24-hours a day as soon as he was appointed.

The cable admits that the unpopularity of the American presence in Iraq is the reason why Iraqis working for the US dare not reveal the identity of their employer even to family. One Sunni Arab woman who was sent for training in the US told her family she was in Jordan.

The embassy reports increased sectarian tensions between Iraqi members of its staff. A Shia woman said she could no longer watch the television news with her Sunni mother because her mother blamed the Shia government for everything that went wrong.

The government of Nouri al-Maliki, greeted with such acclaim by the US and Britain, has little impact on ordinary Iraqis because real power lies with militias and local power brokers. It is they who barricade the streets at night and ward off outsiders.






Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future