Rory Carroll / The (London) Guardian – 2005-05-03 23:32:32
BAGHDAD (April 25, 2005) — The green zone must die. On that point everyone agrees: the Americans who created it, the foreigners who shelter in it, the parliamentarians who sit in it and, not least, the insurgents who bomb it.
This fortress by the Tigris, home to the US and British embassies and Iraqi government offices, is an unloved, unlovely complex created two years ago as the nerve centre of the occupation. Purely on aesthetic grounds you have to sympathise with those who rain rockets and mortars on to its sandbagged reinforced-concrete roofs.
US diplomats say they look forward to Baghdad becoming secure enough to no longer warrant a special zone. “This place most evidently sucks and one day we will get rid of it,” said one. He sighed. “But for now we have to keep it. There is no alternative.”
What bothered him was the symbolism of US forces still occupying Saddam Hussein’s Republican Palace when Iraq was supposed to be a sovereign state. Coalition commanders now bristle at the term “occupation”. The green zone, so named because of the trees and grass on this side of the river, is in reality a maze of 12ft concrete slabs, razor wire and bunkers.
The foreign contractors, troops and diplomats who call it home savour the relative safety and a couple of discreet pubs, but complain about cabin fever. Hungry for dispatches from the real world, they quiz visitors about “out there” and fantasise about entering it. The 10,000 Iraqis who also live in the zone need passes to enter and must negotiate several checkpoints, as if they are in quarantine.
In the red zone, known to inhabitants as the rest of Iraq, fortress-like creations have enfolded the hotels, offices and homes of westerners and government officials. They are as ugly as the green zone but do not arouse the same loathing.
Most foreign journalists live outside but we are compelled, grumpily, to visit to interview politicians and diplomats. Entering and leaving, we and our drivers and interpreters are potential targets for assassins and kidnappers.
On the way in there are five security checks, apparently more than for the White House. Some frisks are more thorough than others. “Mmmm, that’s the only sexual thrill I’ve had in quite a while. Thank you, thank you kindly,” one colleague told an Iraqi guard.
The convention centre which hosts the national assembly is worn and gloomy but the reason we hate it so is the lack of any cafe, vending machine or drinking water. People bring in Pringles and Coke, but as stashes dwindle they scoff behind pillars to avoid sharing.
Fed up with security hassles and occupation symbolism, the assembly voted earlier this month to move into a building occupied by the defence ministry in the red zone. There is talk of moving the Americans to the airport, itself a fortress, and reopening bridges and roads to ease the capital’s traffic jams.
Last week an assembly member named Fattah al-Sheikh said he was roughed up and humiliated by US troops on his way in. One allegedly grabbed him by the throat, another handcuffed him, and a third kicked his car.
“I was dragged to the ground,” he told parliament, weeping. “What happened to me represents an insult to the whole national assembly that was elected by the Iraqi people. This shows that the democracy we are enjoying is fake.”
Denouncing Americans comes naturally to an ally of the militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, but Sheikh’s story outraged the entire assembly and it adjourned in protest. Brigadier General Karl Horst of the 3rd infantry division expressed regret and promised “a thorough investigation”.
Some checkpoint GIs are models of courtesy and cheer, who dip into Arabic phrase books. Others stare blankly and bark orders. Once I overheard a sergeant instructing a private about a queue of shuffling Iraqis. “If one of them goes nuts, shoot him.” His comrade’s eyes brightened. “Yesssss!”
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