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WikiLeaks: 2008-12-16: 08BAGHDAD3929: Basra Religious and Ethnic Minorities Share Common Concerns and Optimism

by WikiLeaks. 08BAGHDAD3929: December 16, 2008.

Posted: Monday, December 30, 2013 at 02:12 PM UT


Viewing cable 08BAGHDAD3929, BASRA RELIGIOUS AND ETHNIC MINORITIES SHARE COMMON

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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
08BAGHDAD3929 2008-12-16 12:19 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
VZCZCXRO7412
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #3929/01 3511219
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 161219Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0878
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 003929 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/16/2018 
TAGS: KIRF PGOV KDEM PHUM IZ
SUBJECT: BASRA RELIGIOUS AND ETHNIC MINORITIES SHARE COMMON 
CONCERNS AND OPTIMISM 
 
REF: BAGHDAD 2242 
 
Classified By: Senior Advisor Gordon Gray for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
------- 
Summary 
------- 
 
1.  (C) Senior Advisor Gordon Gray and REO Director met with 
leaders of Basra's minority Christian, Sunni, and ethnic African communities during three separate meetings November 30 to December 2.  Leaders of all three communities called for job creation, expressed caution toward regionalism, and shared a concern over Iranian influence in upcoming provincial elections.  Improvements in security and the political process have raised optimism among their ranks.  End summary. 
 
 
2.  (C) During a recent trip to Basra, Gray engaged local 
minority leaders in discussions on social challenges and 
political concerns.  On November 30, he met with Basra Iraqi 
Islamic Party (IIP) Deputy and Sunni Endowment member 
Jasim Ahmad Jasim.  Jasim's two organizations represent the 
majority of Sunni interests in Basra.  On December 1, Gray 
traveled to Saint Efram Christian Kindergarten, where he 
greeted the school's 200 children and met with Chaldean 
Bishop Father Emad Aziz al-Banna (reftel).  The following 
day, Gray met Talal Jalal Diyaab Thajeer and Haleem Faraj 
al-Obadi of the Iraqi Freedom Movement (IFM), a party 
established to defend the rights of Iraqis of African 
descent, whose numbers they estimate at two million. 
 
---- 
Jobs 
---- 
 
3.  (C) In the discussions, all three leaders identified 
unemployment as their primary concern and called for 
government action.  Father Emad pointed out that many 
Christians, like Sunnis, had been forced out of Basra to 
search for work in recent years.  While these displaced were 
now ready to return, jobs and, increasingly, housing, 
are hard to find. Father Emad further explained that the 
number of Christian families in Basra had been cut nearly in 
half since 2003, leaving just 600 today.  (Note:  Sunni 
emigration from Basra has been estimated at 50 to 70 percent 
since 2003.  End note.)  Although conceding that security had 
previously been the main concern, he clarified that jobs were 
now paramount.  Obadi echoed the call for jobs, claiming that 
Iraqi officials had not been responsive to his party,s 
demands.  When pressed on the issue, however, Obadi -- a 
Sunni -- acknowledged that his people were generally treated 
well by the Shi'a and that there was no discrimination in the 
provision of general services. 
 
----------- 
Regionalism 
----------- 
 
4.  (C)  Jasim, Father Emad, and Obadi agreed that it was not 
time for Basra to entertain regional aspirations.  All 
conceded, however, that they could be convinced to support 
such a move given different provincial leadership or 
circumstances.  Jasim feared that regional rule would deprive 
minority groups of their rights, obviously preferring that 
Basra not cut ties with Sunni areas of the country.  All 
three leaders rejected the idea of a nine-province region, 
declaring it to be religiously motivated by Shi'a who want to 
transfer power and leadership from Basra to Najaf. 
 
5.  (C)  Jasim clarified that, even though his party could be 
convinced to support a region, regional power would need to 
be limited in order to avoid likely abuse.  Father Emad 
stated that regionalism was a good idea, but the time was not 
right.  In Obadi's view, IFM would support a region if 
necessary, but they prefer a unified Iraq. 
 
--------- 
Elections 
--------- 
 
6.  (C)  The three minority leaders were all cautiously 
optimistic regarding upcoming elections, and shared concern 
over possible Iranian influence and corruption.  Jasim 
Qover possible Iranian influence and corruption.  Jasim 
credited improved security for allowing Sunnis to participate 
in the elections this time, as opposed to 2005.  He expects 
voter turnout to be fairly high and speculates his party 
could gain as many as three seats.  Father Emad applauded the 
adoption of Article 50 of the Provincial Elections Law, which 
reserves a Christian seat on the Basrawi Provincial Council. 
Obadi lamented his party's lack of funds and described its 
 
BAGHDAD 00003929  002 OF 002 
 
 
alliance with the Sunni National Dialogue Front (NDF) as 
financially motivated.  IFM will post eight candidates on the 
NDF ballot, with the leading IFM candidate listed third on 
the NDF list.  Obadi hopes the move will draw attention to 
his cause.  Ultimately, IFM hopes to gain a seat in 
government by means of a quota system. 
 
7.  (C)  Jasim predicted relative success for ISCI, SAS, and 
Sadrist parties.  He explained that the public is 
turning away from parties with Iranian links, leading parties 
such as ISCI and SAS to make efforts to mask their 
associations.  He feared these efforts would likely prove 
successful, given the confusingly large number of parties 
and candidate lists.  Jasim fears corruption and malfeasance, 
and praised Basra's Law Support Council Committee for 
eliciting commitments from all parties to free and fair 
elections.  Obadi strongly criticized foreign political 
intervention, especially from Iran, and accused some IHEC 
members of accepting bribes. 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
8.  (SBU)  Although quite diverse, these minority groups show 
remarkably similar concerns -- jobs, fear of a 
"super-region" under Shi'a control from Najaf, election 
fraud, and Iranian influence.  It is significant that job 
creation, not discrimination, was the leaders' primary 
concern.  In fact, the leaders presented very few 
contemporary accounts of discrimination and related mostly 
historical anecdotes.  In Basra, there are real signs of 
tolerance and religious/ethnic mixing: the vast majority of 
students in Father Emad's Christian school are Muslim; one of 
the IFM representatives was Sunni, the other Shi'a; and most 
Basrawis of African descent live in mixed-race neighborhoods. 
 In a province with a jobless rate of approximately 60 per 
cent, unemployment is not unique to minority groups. 
 
9.  (C)  Regional identity appears to supersede sectarian and 
ethnic tensions in Basra.  All three leaders admitted they 
might support a region in the future, although further 
discussion revealed a lack of basic knowledge on the issue. 
The one certainty is that they do not want a nine-province 
region because they  fear Shi'a control.  Finally, all three 
leaders notably downplayed security concerns, which may 
confirm much-improved security since Charge-of-the-Knights, 
and a new confidence in the Iraqi Security Forces.  End 
comment. 
CROCKER

 



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