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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
US memo reveals Iraqis' grim life
Entrance to US embassy in Baghdad
The US embassy is one of Baghdad's best-guarded buildings
A leaked memo from the US embassy in Baghdad paints a grim picture of the daily lives of Iraqi employees, saying the strains could affect their work.

The cable says staff live in fear other Iraqis will find out who they work for, and are affected by sectarian tensions.

Although employees remain professional "strains are apparent", it notes.

The memo was printed by the Washington Post newspaper, which says it contrasts with the administration's upbeat assessment of the situation in Iraq.

The document was signed by US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and sent to the State Department in Washington on 6 June.

"Employees all share a common tale: of nine employees in March, only four had family members who knew they worked at the embassy," it says.

Secrets and lies

The memo adds: "We cannot call employees in on weekends or holidays without blowing their 'cover'.

We have begun shredding documents pointed out that show local staff surnames
US embassy memo
"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 Jordan when we sent her on training to the US."

The cable also notes a change in the behaviour of guards at checkpoints around Baghdad's Green Zone, the fortified area where embassies and many government buildings are located.

In recent months the guards seem to have become "militia-like", the memo says, and in some cases "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."

Emotional drain

The embassy has been shredding documents that show the surnames of local staff, the memo reveals.

It also says ethnic and sectarian tensions affecting Iraqi employees and their families.

A Sunni female is said to have insulted a Shia colleague over her "overly liberal" dress", it says.

"Another employee tells us that life outside the Green Zone has become 'emotionally draining'."

The memo speaks of rigid dress codes being enforced by neighbourhood vigilantes, as well as power cuts, fuel shortages, and fear of attacks and abductions.

It concludes: "Although our staff retain a professional demeanour, strains are apparent...

"Employees are apprehensive enough that we fear they may exaggerate developments or steer us towards news that comports with their own world view."

President George W Bush gave a positive assessment of developments during a surprise visit to Baghdad last week.

"I was inspired to be able to visit the capital of a free and democratic Iraq," he said.

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