Viewing cable 05MUSCAT196

05MUSCAT1962005-02-02 13:11:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Muscat
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MUSCAT 000196 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/02/2015 
     ¶B. SECSTATE 12757 
Classified By: Ambassador Richard L. Baltimore III. 
Reason: 1.4 (b, d). 
¶1. (C) Omani Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs, 
currently on travel in Asia, has rebuffed admonitions for the 
Omani government to make a public statement welcoming the 
January 30 elections in Iraq.  Despite headline-grabbing news 
of arrests in the Sultanate (ref A), press attention to the 
Iraqi elections was generally favorable in the Omani print 
press.  Every daily newspaper save one printed the 
Ambassador's op-ed piece extolling the courage of the Iraqi 
people in casting ballots.  Reactions from private Omanis 
have generally been mixed, with some focusing on the positive 
aspects of the elections, and other questioning their 
legitimacy or worrying about it unleashing further sectarian 
division in Iraq.  End summary. 
Foreign Minister Digs in His Heels 
¶2. (C) The Omani government has remained officially silent on 
the dramatic January 30 elections in Iraq.  Iraqi Ambassador 
to Oman Abdul Rasoul al-Wash expressed his frustration with 
Oman's silence in a February 1 call on the Ambassador, noting 
that he was seeking a meeting with Foreign Ministry Under 
Secretary Sayyid Badr al-Busaidi to urge the Sultanate to 
join the countless other states in the region and beyond who 
had publicly hailed the historic event.  Al-Wash said he was 
asking his American and British counterparts to put similar 
pressure on the MFA to make a statement, notwithstanding US 
and UK pre-election demarches to the Omani government urging 
public statements of support. 
¶3. (C) The Ambassador spoke to MFA U/S Sayyid Badr on 
February 2 to encourage a public statement.  Sayyid Badr 
acknowledged the point that a statement was merited, 
admitting that he had drafted one and submitted it for the 
Minister's approval.  Unfortunately, he reported that 
Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs Yusuf bin Alawi had 
ruled against issuing a statement. 
¶4. (C) On the margins of a UK-hosted February 2 meeting of 
G-8 chiefs of mission, the Ambassador conferred with UK 
Ambassador Stuart Laing on the Minister's unfortunate 
decision.  Amb. Laing succeeded in contacting the Minister by 
phone and argued the need for a public Omani statement.  Bin 
Alawi, however, insisted that the Iraqi elections were a 
"normal" matter and "internal affair" of Iraq, and therefore 
saw no need to say anything.  He said the Sultanate would 
send a congratulatory message when the new Iraqi government 
gets sworn in. 
Positive Press, Ambassador's Piece Published 
¶5. (U) Reporting on the elections in the Omani press, in both 
English and Arabic, has been generally favorable.  The 
headlines on January 31, however, were overshadowed by a 
government announcement about the arrest of numerous 
extremists (ref A).  Though the elections received 
considerable attention, most Iraq-related headlines appeared 
below the fold.  While some of the headlines featured 
statistics on election day attacks and casualties, most of 
the texts focused on the high turnout and the lengths to 
which many Iraqis went in order to cast their ballots.  The 
Ambassador's op-ed piece, based on ref B material, was 
prominently placed in every Omani daily newspaper (both 
Arabic and English) save one.  It was printed in the Arabic 
language "Oman," "Al Watan," and "Al Shabiba," and in the 
English language "Times of Oman" and "Oman Tribune." 
Man On The Street Views 
¶6. (SBU) Embassy employees canvassed views from a range of 
ordinary citizens on the elections.  Once again, most 
dinner-table conversations were focused on the string of 
security arrests in the Sultanate and less so on events in 
Iraq.  In general, opinions were mixed and reflected some 
uncertainty as to what may unfold in Iraq once the results 
are announced.  A couple of interlocutors saw the balloting 
in a positive light, either as a historic opportunity for the 
entire region, as a worthwhile experiment, or at least as a 
means to end the U.S. military presence in Iraq.  Others 
questioned the legitimacy of the elections since it came 
"under the oppression of occupation" and did not meet 
"international norms."  Some concern was expressed over the 
possibility of the elections unleashing sectarian and ethnic 
Rooting for Secularists, More Trade 
¶7. (C) Higher level contacts were more measured in their 
assessments.  Prominent Omani businesswoman Asilah al-Harthy 
expressed some concern that every image of Iraqi women 
candidates she saw showed them dressed religiously 
conservatively, raising worries in her mind that the new 
female deputies will not be secular-minded.  Shia businessman 
and parliamentarian Murtadha Hassan Ali dined with EmbOffs on 
January 30 and was constantly interrupted to receive updates 
on the elections.  He said he had contributed 20,000 UK 
pounds in London to Prime Minister Allawi's campaign, and was 
optimistic that Allawi's party would do well.  Even the 
Sistani-backed list, he noted, had a large number of 
secularists.  As an avowed secularist himself with ongoing 
commercial interests in Iraq, Murtadha was hopeful that even 
the Iraqi Communists would receive a fair number of votes, 
further solidifying a secular bulwark against the Islamists. 
¶8. (SBU) The President of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and 
Industry (OCCI) and the Under Secretary of National Economy 
told a visiting State Department official on February 1 that 
they hoped the elections would further the process of 
stabilization in Iraq, opening the door for more vibrant 
future trade relations between Muscat and Baghdad.  OCCI 
President Salim al-Ghattami recalled that an Omani trade 
delegation that traveled to Syria in 2004 to meet with Iraqi 
businessmen had overwhelming interest on both sides, and 
produced the most trade deals of any such delegation he had 
¶9. (C) We ascribe no deep political significance to Yusuf bin 
Alawi's decision not to make a public statement, viewing it 
rather as just another example of his sometimes fickle, often 
stubborn personality.  It is likewise difficult to draw much 
inference from public reactions to the elections.  Many 
Omanis are waiting to hear the official outcome before 
assessing their impact.  Moreover, the Omani public remains 
fixated on the news of arrests of domestic Islamists and 
therefore have little attention at the moment for matters 
beyond their own borders.