Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Snapshots from the office.

Nice surprise in The Independent to read the leaked email from Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador in Baghdad to Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State. George Bush and Tony Blair claim just how well things are going in Iraq since their illegal invasion in 2003. This leaked email from the US Ambassador in Baghdad paints a very different picture, the same one that we read from quality newspapers which are not afraid of public opinion and publish the truth. Obviously the US government will feel a little ashamed that this email has leaked out into the public domain but George Bush cannot now claim that he did not know just how grim life is for the people working on his behalf in Baghdad.

People in the UK quite often moan about our quality of life. I just wish these people would get real and realise just how lucky they are here in the UK. We do not have to hide our employment, be careful who we talk to or be unable to wear certain clothes. We can enjoy our freedoms and can quite often take them for granted. We have not given Iraq the freedoms of democracy and life that our leaders claim they have gained. Life for people in Iraq under Saddam was not marvelous but at least they had law and order from respected officials not militias. There was not this increasing sectarian divide and constant settling of old scores. I think that the civilians working for the coalition forces are very, very brave indeed. Health and safety at work - don't ask, it would fail my risk assessment but these people have large numbers of unemployed and are doing their level best to gain an income in a very challenging workplace. His subject title of this email was Snapshots from the offic, lets hope there is not a follow up email called Gunshots within the office.

The leaked email reads...

FROM: US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Baghdad
TO: Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State
Published: 20 June 2006

1. Iraqi staff in the Public Affairs sector have complained that Islamist and Militia groups have been negatively affecting daily routine. Harassment over proper dress and habits is increasingly persuasive. They also report power cuts and fuel prices have diminished their quality of life.

Women's Rights

2. Two of our three female employees report stepped up harassment beginning in mid-May. One, a Shia who favors Western clothing, was advised by an unknown woman in her Baghdad neighbourhood to wear a veil and not to drive her own car. She said some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative.

3. Another, a Sunni, said people in her neighbourhood are harassing women and telling them to cover up and stop using cell phones. She said the taxi driver who brings her every day to the green zone has told her he cannot let her ride unless she wears a headcover. A female in the PAS cultural section is now wearing a full abaya after receiving direct threats.

4. The women say they cannot identify the groups pressuring them. The cautions come from other women, sometimes from men who could be Sunni or Shia, but appear conservative. Some ministries, notably the Sadrist controlled Ministry of Transportation, have been forcing females to wear the hijab at work.

Dress Code For All?

5. Staff members have reported it is now dangerous for men to wear shorts in public; they no longer allow their children to play outside in shorts. People who wear jeans in public have come under attack.


6. One colleague beseeched us to help a neighbor who was uprooted in May from her home of 30 years, on the pretense of application of some long-disused law. The woman, who is a Fayli Kurd, says she has nowhere to go, but the courts give them no recourse to this new assertion of power. Such uprootings may be response by new Shia government authorities to similar actions against Arabs by Kurds in other parts of Iraq. (NOTE: An Arab newspaper editor told us he is preparing an extensive survey of ethnic cleansing, which he said is taking place in almost every Iraqi province, as political parties and their militias are seemingly engaged in tit-for-tat reprisals all over Iraq.)

Power Cuts and Fuel Shortages a Drain on Society

7. Temperatures in Baghdad have already reached 115 degrees. Employees all confirm that, by the last week of May, they were getting one hour of power for every six hours without. By early June, the situation had improved slightly. In Hal al-Shaab, power has recently improved from one in six to one in three hours. Other staff report similar variances. Central Baghdad neighborhood Bab al-Nu'atham has had no city power for over a month. Areas near hospitals, political party headquarters and the green zone have the best supply. One staff member reported a friend lives in a building that houses the new minister; within 24 hours of his appointment, her building had city power 24 hours a day.

8. All employees supplement city power with service contracted with neighborhood generator hookups that they pay for monthly. One employee pays 7500 Iraqi dinars (ID) per ampere to get 10 amperes per month (75,000 ID = $50/month). For this, her family gets eight hours of power per day, with service ending at 2am.

9. Fuel queues. One employee told us that he had spent 12 hours on his day off waiting to get gas. Another staff member confirmed that shortages were so dire, prices on the black market in much of Baghdad were now above 1,000 ID per liter (the official, subsidized price is 250 ID)

Kidnappings, and Threats of Worse

10. One employee informed us that his brother-in-law had been kidnapped. The man was eventually released but this caused enormous emotional distress to his family. One employee, a Sunni Kurd, received an indirect threat on her life in April. She took extended leave, and by May, relocated abroad with her family.

Security Forces Mistrusted

11. In April, employees began reporting a change in demeanor of guards at the green zone checkpoints. They seemed to be militia-like in some cases seemingly taunting. One employee asked us to get her some press credentials because the guards held her embassy badge up and proclaimed loudly to passers-by "Embassy" as she entered. Such information is a death sentence if heard by the wrong people.

Supervising Staff At High Risk

12. Employees all share a common tale: of nine employees in March, only four had family members who knew they worked at the embassy. Iraqi colleagues who are called after hours often speak in Arabic as an indication they cannot speak openly in English.

13. We cannot call employees in on weekends or holidays without blowing their "cover". A Sunni Arab female employee tells us family pressures and the inability to share details of her employment is very tough; she told her family she was in Jordon when we sent her on training to the US. Mounting criticism of the US at home among family members also makes her life difficult. She told us in mid-June that most of her family believes the US - which is widely perceived as fully controlling the country and tolerating the malaise - is punishing the population as Saddam did (but with Sunnis and very poor Shia now at the bottom of the list). Otherwise, she says, the allocation of power and security would not be so arbitrary.

14. Some of our staff do not take home their American cell phones, as it makes them a target. They use code names for friends and colleagues and contacts entered into Iraq cell phones. For at least six months, we have not been able to use any local staff for translation at on-camera press events.

15. We have begun shredding documents that show local staff surnames. In March, a few members approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate.

Sectarian Tensions Within Families

16. Ethnic and sectarian faultlines are becoming part of the daily media fare in the country. One Shia employee told us in late May that she can no longer watch TV news with her mother, who is Sunni, because her mother blamed all the government failings on the fact that Shia are in charge. Many of the employee's family left Iraq years ago. This month, another sister is departing for Egypt, as she imagines the future here is too bleak.

Frayed Nerves and Mistrust

17. Against this backdrop of frayed social networks, tension and moodiness have risen. A Sunni Arab female apparently insulted a Shia female by criticizing her overly liberal dress. One colleague told us he feels " defeated" by circumstances, citing the example of being unable to help his two-year-old son who has asthma and cannot sleep in the stifling heat.

18. Another employee tells us life outside the Green Zone has become " emotionally draining". He claims to attend a funeral "every evening ". He, like other local employees, is financially responsible for his immediate and extended families. He revealed that "the burden of responsibility; new stress coming from social circles who increasingly disapprove of the coalition presence, and everyday threats weigh very heavily ".

Staying Straight with Neighborhood Governments and the 'Alama'

19. Staff say they daily assess how to move safely in public. Often, if they must travel outside their neighborhoods, they adopt the clothing, language, and traits of the area. Moving inconspicuously in Sadr City requires Shia dress and a particular lingo.

20 Since Samarra, Baghdadis have honed survival skills. Vocabulary has shifted. Our staff - and our contacts - have become adept in modifying behaviour to avoid "Alasas", informants who keep an eye out for " outsiders" in neighborhoods. The Alasa mentality is becoming entrenched as Iraqi security forces fail to gain public confidence.

21. Staff report security and services are being rerouted through " local providers" whose affiliations are vague. Those who are admonishing citizens on their dress are not well known either. Personal safety depends on good relations with "neighborhood" governments, who barricade streets and ward off outsiders. People no longer trust most neighbours.

22. A resident of Shia/Christian Karrada district told us "outsiders" have moved in and control the mukhtars.


23. Although our staff retain a professional demeanor, strains are apparent. We see their personal fears are reinforcing divisive sectarian or ethnic channels. Employees are apprehensive enough that we fear they may exaggerate developments or steer us towards news that comports with their own world view. Objectivity, civility, and logic that make for a functional workplace may falter if social pressures outside the Green Zone don't abate.

(This is an edited version of the memo)

Shame this email was edited but I cannot find an unedited copy of this email on the internet. The Washington Post version, who broke the story first, is the same as the copy that was printed in The Independent. Maybe the additional text, if printed would be too large a security risk, contained personal information or was not newsworthy. We shall never know but this leaked email was an excellent news item and rightly deserved it's front page position.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Three suicides at Guantanamo Bay .

It had to come, I thought it would eventually happen after all the previous incidents of self harm, hunger strikes, forced feeding and failed suicide attempts. Three prisoners at Gunatanamo Bay in Cuba - two Saudis and a Yemeni - killed themselves over the weekend - the first successful suicides at the US prison camp since it opened in 2002 and the latest incident to highlight the fierce controversy over its continued existence.

I feel that these three men were suffering from acute depression, held without trial with seemingly no way out of their little hell hole. On can only imagine the torment they have gone through. The months had rolled into years, it would have been a constant nightmare for them, one that never goes away. They must have believed that they would be held there until the day they died of natural causes with nothing to live for, ever. A whole life sentence, what for? They had not been charged nor was there a trial. I do not believe that they were a threat to society but their human rights were totally ignored. No charges against them, no trial and no future. America is being evil holding these people without charge and I believe they are acting against international law. Having captured these people the Americans have become negligent in their duty of care to their prisoners. America now has these avoidable deaths on their conscience and should be rightly shamed by the rest of the world over this tragedy.

Time will tell but America will probally pay dearly in the future for the deaths of these men who were held without charge or trial.

Shame on America, it was time long ago to close Gunatanamo Bay and now the world must unite to demand the closure of this camp in Cuba.
Downgrading on the level of intelligence gained.

Here we go in my newspaper the other day that our Prime Minister, Tony Blair has said...

"I support the police 101 per cent - and the security services. I think if they have a reasonable piece of intelligence they believe they have got to investigate - take action on - they should. You can only imagine if they fail to take action and something terrible happened what outcry would be then, so they are in an impossible situation."

Well, well, Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman said they got "specific intelligence" about a reported chemical device, now Tony Blair calls it "a reasonable piece of intelligence". Who will be the next guy to downgrade this intelligence into a a rumour and then another guy to turn the intelligence into a whisper or chatter on the internet?

If there had been a chemical device that had exploded, then the government could easily have covered up any knowledge that they may have held beforehand and the public would have been none the wiser. Once in a while there is an atrocity whereby some nutter kills innocent civilians with a gun or a knife. There would be no intelligence before to suggest that this nutter would strike, it is the great unknown. A lot of people have in their homes matches and kitchen knives. This does not make the average citizen an arsonist or stabbing murderer. The Canadian alledged terrorists were trying to purchase 3 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which when used with a mobile telephone and some fuel oil could explode against the Canadian parliament. In my day job I have a mobile telephone and when I start my day I am sitting infront of 400 litres of fuel oil, does this make me a terrorist? No, it does not - I am the same risk to society as any other member of our country. I do not want the Police breaking into my home at 4 o'clock in the morning, shooting me in the shoulder and holding me without trial for over a week. On what, a flimsy rumour that I am a terrorist in preparation of an attack? What about all the match and knife holding residents of the UK, are they all potential arsonists and murderers? Of course not, we are not stupid - these terrorists just look a little different to us! It is clear to me who has lost the plot here and the tabloid press will lap it up.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The London terrorist raid on Friday.

Questions are being asked all over the media about last Friday's terrorist raid in London. What made the Police feel right in breaking into a family's home at 4 o'clock in the morning and then to shoot a resident in the shoulder? Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman said they got "specific intelligence" about a reported chemical device, but nothing has yet been found in the search. What is the nature of this intelligence? We have not been told but rumours suggest that someone claims to have overheard a conversation.

I have three ideas I would like to share on this tragic tale.

People can have conflicts within a community and someone can create difficulties by reporting residents to the Police. Maybe Mohammed Abdul Kahar or his brother Abul Koyair had upset someone and this was their revenge. Because the Police will do profiling it would be easy for them to believe that their informant's claims were correct. The Police could then put the family under surveiliance and convince themselves that this family were at it and they must strike before they can commit their crime.

Some fringe right wing political movements like to stir up trouble. People are becoming anxious about the risk of terrorism in the run up to the World Cup football championship. These political activists could find some likely looking individuals and then make up some tales of overheard conversations to feed to the Police.

People can have a joke among friends, a humour that only the group can understand. I do it with friends and if strangers overhear our conversation they may think we are a bit odd. Maybe the alleged terrorists were just joking among friends when Mr Helpful Citizen overheard their remarks and reported them to the Police.

I do not think that we will ever be told the full intelligence the Police claim to have - for security and operational reasons. I expect there will be another cover up like there was with the Police Stockwell murder.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Charity, Freedom and Diversity Party (NVD) .

The Charity, Freedom and Diversity Party in Holland has caused quite a stir this week in the media ...

The group, which is due to be registered this week, said it wants the consent age dropped from 16 to 12, before having it scrapped completely. It also proposes to make child pornography and sex with animals legal.

The move to set up the NVD Party (which says it stands for love of one's fellow man, freedom and diversity) has provoked condemnation from politicians, demands for a government ban and protests from the public on websites.

On its website, the party says children should legally be able to have sex from the age of 12 as long as they provide consent. The NVD says it also wants to introduce a quality mark for child pornography. An independent committee should judge if the children had been coerced.

The party also wants to abolish the Dutch Senate, introduce a chosen prime minister, legalise soft and hard drugs, as well as indecent exposure, and have two-time murderers automatically jailed for life.

... So what can I say about this new political party?

Well, the Dutch have always been viewed as liberal and pushing the boundaries within society. There are a lot of new political parties pushing popularist ideas today, playing on ignorance, hatred and the fear of terrorism. This is something different, not obsessed with fear of strangers but with the joy of life. It asks why our society should be constrained in ways that restrict our freedoms with no benefit to anyone. The website is no use to you unless you can read Dutch, so we can only debate what has been written in the English language newspapers.

The age of consent for sex is arbitrary. When is a person old enough to consent to sex? The age of consent varies around the world, what is illegal in one country is OK in another. If a country was to raise it's age of consent then some people could become criminals overnight. It would not make those people paedophiles or evil, just criminals because of a change in the details of the law. What right has Dutch society to stop their 15 year old citizens from consenting to sex? Would it be against their human rights?

Pornography is widely available on the internet. Providing the images were not made under coercion what harm does it do? Why should a computer user become a criminal just for viewing images in the privacy of his own home?

I know nothing about the Dutch political system to question the role of the Dutch Senate but I believe that legalising soft and hard drugs would be a way forward. People are going to use drugs, the drugs war has been lost. Criminal gangs should not be allowed to profit by fulfilling a market demand for drugs. The street price of drugs would then fall resulting in a drop of users committing crimes to fund their habit. Legalising drugs would free up Police resources to tackle real crime that affects people.

What is so indecent about the human body? It is no big deal to witness someone naked. It has never offended me to see someone naked and to treat men different to women is unjust. I have never complained whenever I have seen a naked women in any circumstance.

To have two-time murderers automatically jailed for life is right in my opinion.

This party has certainly woken up the Dutch to other issues and I wish them well.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]