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Friday, February 20

Behind the Green Zone  

Interesting article in Salon today from a reporter living in Baghdad. The reporter doesn't live in the US Green Zone but paints a decidedly bleak picture of the US presence in Baghdad. At the moment I'm trying to work out all the angles of the drop-dead handover date of July 1, and the surety of the US military that our troops will remain in Iraq for a long time after that. For now, here are some clips from the story:
Staff turnover within the CPA is ongoing and enormous, a virtual tsunami of outgoing and incoming personnel. Most CPA employees sign up for the minimum three-month stint and don't renew their contract. ~clip~ But the clock is ticking for this mission. American proconsul Paul Bremer has declared that, come hell or high water, the transfer of power will take place on July 1. There's a sense of both resignation and a mad scramble at the CPA. There's no way that everything can get done on time, but Bush is up for reelection four months after that, and they have to get it done. One CPA staffer told me that Bremer had sent around a memo saying something along the lines of, "I know I told you that the sprint would eventually become a marathon. But we're back to sprinting again." A different anonymous staffer told me, "It's like a ticking bomb. If the ministries don't get their shit together, things could go really bad." ~clip~ In the early days of the Green Zone, before suicide bombers and roadside explosives became the daily diet of risk in Baghdad, Karen used to leave the Zone and get out on the streets of the city. But for a long time now, soldiers, Coalition Provisional Authority employees and contractors have had to adhere to strict orders with regard to their movements. Soldiers leave on planned, heavily armed patrols. CPA employees and contractors occasionally make daylight visits to ministries or power plants. When they go, they travel in small convoys of humvees and military escorts. They are forbidden to go shopping on the streets of Baghdad or eat in a restaurant or visit the homes of their Iraqi co-workers. Some occasionally break the rules and sneak out. My roommates and I have occasionally sent cars to pick up furtive Green Zone escapees and bring them to our house for dinner. I'm sure others find ways to get out as well. But most don't risk it for fear of getting hijacked or bombed or just getting caught. Recently, a contractor I met who lives and works in the Green Zone described standing on the inside of that last line of razor wire and looking out at the city beyond. It was an incredibly sad feeling, he told me. Here he was living in the middle of a city that may as well have been on the other side of the world. The isolated nature of the U.S. occupation has always been an issue. Back in May I met a man working at what was then ORHA. He raved about the stupidity of holing up in the palaces, of not being out on the streets, available to the Iraqi people. Now, with the increasing attacks, it's too late to do anything about it. The Iraqi hearts and minds that the Bush administration talked about winning are focused resolutely on American decampment. Despite the well-intentioned work being done behind closed doors, Americans are, first and foremost, inaccessible occupiers. ~clip~ The July 1 transfer of sovereignty will change that. But it's not going to be easy. No one really knows at this point how it will even work. If the United States leaves outright, the subsequent struggles for power could lead to civil war. If the United States stays in an overbearing regent sort of role, it's bound to perpetuate the violence against those seen as U.S. collaborators. These days, Iraqis seem to feel that the American presence is responsible for pretty much all the ills of the country: the violence, lack of power, lack of jobs. With the U.S. election approaching, the Bush administration has a strong impetus to stick to the deadline and just get away from this debacle.


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