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IRAQ: Excuse us for eavesdropping, Prime Minister Maliki

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Sometimes, Baghdad’s Green Zone, the walled-off axis of American and Iraqi power, is akin to a spy novel. Concertina wire, endless soot-stained gray concrete walls, the speeding convoys of armored vehicles give the enclave a conspiratorial atmosphere. According to legend, key words like Al Qaeda or the Mahdi Army in a phone conversation ensure that your call will be monitored by some intelligence agency somewhere. On one occasion, a western official cautioned that a U.S. advisor to an Iraqi minister wasn’t advising his client, but spying on him.

The latest episode in Baghdad’s annals of cloak-and-dagger escapades came Friday with a Washington Post report that the U.S. government had been spying on Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. The information comes from a new book, ‘The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008,’ by famed journalist and Washington insider Bob Woodward. “We know everything he [Maliki] says,” one source bragged to Woodward, according to the Post.

The allegations were mentioned in January 2007 by Newsweek magazine. Then the magazine quoted unnamed White House officials as saying that Maliki’s conversations had been monitored because the United States wanted to make sure the prime minister was not saying one thing to them and another thing in private.

The magazine reported that the spying had reassured U.S. officials about Maliki.

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However, the Iraqi government found nothing comforting in Woodward’s latest opus. ‘If it is true, if it is a fact, it reflects that there is no trust and it reflects also that the institutions in the United States are used to spy on their friends and their enemies in the same way,’ said Ali Dabbagh, the Iraqi government’s spokesman, in an e-mailed statement.

He warned that the news could imperil future relations with the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies. “We will raise this with the American side and we will ask for an explanation,’ he said.

Others took a more blasé approach, as if they expected the Americans would be listening in on Iraqi officials. Sheik Jalaluddin Saghir, a senior Shiite politician, thought it might “make things turbid” between the two countries. Other than that, he said, “It’s not a surprise.”

— Ned Parker in Baghdad


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