Mimi, Don't Dial 911

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, June 7, 2006

V ice President Cheney 's been taking a few wholly unfair hits in recent days on the first anniversary of his observation that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes."

But, to be fair, "last throes" is a most elastic phrase. While it often means a relatively short period, let's not forget the young Mimi's tragic death throes in Act IV of Giacomo Puccini 's "La Boheme," which took her a good 20 minutes, including a long duet with her boyfriend, Rodolfo.

And we won't be shocked if the throes go on for quite a while longer, based on a May 6 cable we got the other day from Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad .

"Crime in Iraq is rated by the U.S. State Department as critical and will continue to get worse for the foreseeable future," the embassy in Baghdad reports in the cable, which was addressed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice .

"Crime, terrorism, and warfare are a significant threat in all parts of Iraq. Active military operations are ongoing. The Department of State continues to strongly warn U.S. citizens against travel to Iraq, which remains very dangerous. Remnants of the former regime, transnational terrorists, criminal elements and numerous insurgent groups remain active.

"Attacks against military and civilian targets continue throughout the country, including inside the international zone. These attacks have resulted in deaths and injuries of American citizens. Planned and random killings are common as are kidnappings for ransom and political reasons."

Now we all know that the Iraqi forces increasingly are standing up so that U.S. forces can stand down. But maybe they are taking long lunch breaks or naps. "Overall security in Iraq is worsening," the embassy reports, "with kidnapping by criminal gangs and insurgents a particular problem. These bold, well-equipped, and sophisticated groups/gangs are terrorizing . . . businessmen [and] contractors," in addition to "the easy-to-nab odd journalists."

"Over 437 foreign nationals have been kidnapped since the war started," the report said -- and that doesn't include the 56 kidnapped Monday.

The cable says those taken were from 60 nationalities, with the top six being "Turks, Jordanians, Americans, Lebanese, Egyptians, Nepalese."

"Foreigners of all walks of life have been kidnapped and murdered: diplomats, journalists, contractors, translators, soldiers, truck drivers, businessmen, telecom company employees, missionaries, laborers, [aid organization] workers, criminals, and even a tourist." (A tourist?) No one is immune, the report says. "Outspoken critics of the war who painted themselves as allies of the insurgency have been kidnapped, mistakenly believing that by aligning themselves with . . . the hostage takers, they could guarantee themselves an exemption from being targeted."

The report holds out hope for improvement in the security situation. "A stable government may be the first step in a reduction in political violence," the cable says. But, for now, "armed militia, loyal to various non-governmental entities, have limited to extensive control of parts of Baghdad and some cities in Iraq."

So be careful out there. "Shootings, kidnappings, suicide bombings (both pedestrian and vehicular) and mortar or rocket attacks are a constant threat in Baghdad," we're told. And don't bother calling 911. "The local police are poorly trained, poorly equipped and corrupt. . . . Americans have, in the past, called for and received assistance in emergencies from the U.S. military but the response time has been measured in hours, not minutes."

Could be a long Act IV.

Clearing the Air, Act I

Good news on the health front. The House is expected to pass an appropriations bill today that includes a ban on smoking in the Rayburn House Office Building cafeteria. The eatery, often used for business meetings, has smoking and nonsmoking sections, but they are not separated by a partition. The ban, sponsored by Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), does not affect Rayburn's courtyard area.

Clearing the Air, Act II

Armed Forces Radio and Television Service may soon be playing more hip-hop, less country, and no sports or political talk shows, according to a report in Stars and Stripes. A consulting group, after surveying listeners, concluded that ratings would rise if there were two music stations for broadcast worldwide. One would play hip-hop, rap, pop music and the like. The other would focus on classic rock, top 40 tunes and so on.

And talk radio, which includes National Public Radio programs, Rush Limbaugh 's show and others, would be broadcast on a third station only to a few areas. And no more live sports coverage. The consultants found that younger troops aren't drawn to sports and politics.

AFRTS officials are reviewing the suggestions this week.

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