LIFE OUTSIDE THE GREEN ZONE….President Bush says things are improving in Iraq. His ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, seems not to agree. Two weeks ago Khalilzad sent a long cable to the State Department that laid out how things are really going according to Iraqi staff members at the embassy:

  • Women are being increasingly harrassed: made to wear a veil, told not to use cell phones or drive a car, and being forced to wear the hijab at work. Men who wear shorts or jeans have come under attack from “what staff members describe as Wahabis and Sadrists.”

  • Different neighborhoods are controlled by different militias, and staff members have to be careful to dress and speak differently in each one. “People no longer trust most neighbors.” Even the upscale Mansur district is now an “unrecognizable ghost town.” A newspaper editor reports that ethnic cleansing is taking place in virtually every Iraqi province.

  • Electricity is available for only a few hours a day and fuel lines can require waits as long as 12 hours.

  • Being known as an embassy employee “is a death sentence if overheard by the wrong people.”

  • “Objectivity, civility, and logic” from staff members are becoming harder to come by as pressure outside the Green Zone increases. The embassy can’t get good information if people become too scared to speak honestly.

I tried to find some good news in the cable to balance out the bad, but the best I could come up with is the observation that if you live in the same building as an important government minister, you’ll be able to get electricity 24 hours a day. No word on whether staff members’ children are attending freshly painted schools.