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08BASRAH45 2008-05-27 03:37:00 SECRET REO Basrah
Cable title:  

SAYYID AL-SHUHADAH LEADER ON POST-CHARGE OF THE KNIGHTS

Tags:   PGOV ECON IR IZ 
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1. (S) SUMMARY: In a May 21 meeting with the REO, Sayyid
al-Shuhadah (SAS) leader and Council of Representatives (COR)
member Daghir al-Musawi stated that the security situation is
much improved after Operation Charge of the Knights (Cok), but
cautioned that the slow pace of reconstruction was beginning to
frustrate many people. Concerning the upcoming provincial
elections, Musawi indicated that the Provincial Elections Law
would probably be passed in mid-June, and expressed confidence
that the upcoming elections will proceed smoothly in Basrah,
especially given the improved security environment. Though
acknowledging the growing interest in independent parties and
candidates, Musawi expressed confidence that the
more-established political blocs would fare well in the upcoming
provincial elections. He said his party would run under the
banner of the coalition Shaheed al-Merhab, which will also
include ISCI, Badr, Hizbollah, and the Shaheed al-Merhab
Cultural Party. Although Musawi appeared reserved and detached
throughout the meeting, he continued to express considerable
interest in the fate of Rashid Majid Muhammed al-Sarraji, the
detained editor of the SAS-owned newspaper, al-Fatah. End
Summary.
BASRAH AFTER COK


--------------------------




2. (C) During a meeting held May 21 at the Basrah Regional
Embassy Ofiice, SAS leader Musawi shared his impressions of the
much-improved security situation in Basrah after the GOI's
operation Charge of the Knights (COK)(Ref A). Mentioning that
the previous evening he had seen people walking around Basrah
late at night, he said that this would not have been possible in
the past. Basrah was a much calmer and safer place, and the
people were enjoying their new freedom. Responding to the REO's
concern about reports of continued weapons smuggling along the
Iranian border, Musawi, without a hint of emotion, denounced
these activities, stating that the Iraqi people need
development, not weapons and violence. Condemning the attacks
and the harm that they have caused, he strongly disavowed all of
the weapons that have been given to outlaws and militias.
Musawi sidestepped REO Director's note that many weapons found
during COK that had recent Iranian origin markings, saying that
since COK weapons smuggling was not as big of an issue as it had
been.


3. (C) Musawi was somewhat critical of the efforts of acting
Minister of Justice Safa al-Safi, who was directed by the PM to
oversee the distribution of $100 million in emergency
reconstruction funds (Ref B). Hinting that the acting Minister
of Justice was not the most qualified person for this task,
Musawi argued that the Minister of Municipalities was better
suited to oversee the distribution of emergency funds (Note: The
Minister of Municipalities is Riyad Ghurayyib of the Badr Party,
one of SAS's partners in the ISCI coalition). Musawi indicated
that people are frustrated with the slow pace of reconstruction
activities in Basrah and expected more from the government.
(Note: al-Safi has yet to produce a list of projects that he and
his Committee of Deputy Ministers will execute in Basrah. End
Note.)
PROVINCIAL ELECTIONS


--------------------------




4. (C) When asked about the progress of the Provincial Election
Law in the COR, Musawi, a COR member, appeared disinterested,
stating that the law remains under discussion and that "many
committees have been formed" to review it. He added that he
believes the law was almost ready, and that it would probably be
passed in mid-June. Then, it will be up to the Independent High
Election Committee (IHEC) to implement it. Sharing his opinion
of Hazim al-Juda, the Elections Coordinator for Basrah, Musawi
stated that he is independent and neutral, and that if the
security situation remains calm, he will not encounter any
problems. (Note: While many contacts share a positive opinion of
al-Juda, most assert a connection to Badr and some question how
independent he will be if pressured by Iran/Badr/SAS. End Note.)


5. (C) Musawi reiterated that if the security situation remains
stable, the elections will proceed smoothly; he did express
concern about the increasing number of criminals arrested during
the COK operation who have been released, warning that they
could disrupt the elections. At the same time, he did not seem
worried that those who fled to Iran after COK would return to
Basrah, stating that they "are not a problem as long as the
border remains secure," and that the GOI can work with its
neighbors to ensure border security during the elections.


6. (C) Musawi expressed confidence that the established
political parties will fare well in the upcoming elections,
though he believes that Fadhilah and the Sadrists will falter

BASRAH 00000045 002.2 OF 002


given their poor performance and reputation. Acknowledging that
independent parties and candidates have a chance in the
election, he said that their lack of qualified, experienced
candidates will ultimately hurt their cause. Musawi also
revealed that SAS will run under the banner of Shaheed
al-Mehrab, a coalition that will also include ISCI, Badr,
Hizbollah, and the Shaheed al-Mehrab Cultural Party. Though he
expects some interference from Iraq's neighbors, he did not
appear overly concerned.
SARRAJI'S CONTINUED DETENTION


--------------------------




7. (S) Musawi expressed considerable interest in the fate of
Rashid Majid Muhammed al-Sarraji, the detained editor of the SAS
newspaper, al-Fatah. Musawi asserted that, despite al-Sarraji's
acknowledged anti-Coalition rhetoric, he thought Iraq's
constitution guaranteed a free press and that journalists were
free to report the news. Musawi questioned the validity of REO
Director's claims that Sarraji is alleged to have ties with the
IRGC-QF. When the REO director asserted that the main evidence
was a set of checks showing al-Sarraji as payee from entities
connected to IRGC, Musawi retorted that there was no bank in
Basrah that would cash such checks. Musawi pledged that if
al-Sarraji were released, Musawi would guarantee that al-Sarraji
would never again publish anti-Coalition material. He emphasized
that to date SAS has not called for the withdrawal of Coalition
Forces, despite troubling incidents such as Abu Ghraib,
Blackwater, and the recent shooting of the Quran.


8. (S) COMMENT: Daghir al-Musawi continues to affect an
articulate and reasonably cordial manner with the REO. At the
end of our last meeting (Ref C), Musawi told our interpreter
that he would not meet with us again as we had no information on
al-Sarraji's fate. On this occasion he seemed to appreciate a
forum to express SAS views on al-Saffaji's detention. REO
recommends continuing to meet with Musawi for the time being.
His words on the election were useful, and ties in with other
contacts' observations that ISCI/Badr/SAS will paint
independents as politically inexperienced unless they have been
brought into their fold.
HOWARD