War News for Saturday, July 16, 2005
Bring 'em on: Truck driver killed in attack on US convoy in Dhuluiyah
Bring 'em on: At least fifty five dead and eighty two wounded in suicide bomb attack in Musayyib
Bring 'em on: Former General in Saddam Hussein's army and his son executed by police commandos in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Three British troops killed in bomb attack in Al Amarah
Bring 'em on: Gunmen kill two Iraqi policemen and wound three in Hilla
Bring 'em on: Eight dead and twelve injured in twin suicide bomb attack on mosque in Hilla
Bring 'em on: Curfew imposed on a city that has been liberated many times, ie Samarrah
Bring 'em on: Iraqi legislator assassinated in Nasiriyah
Bring 'em on: Iraq's interior minister survives assassination attempt in the Green Zone
Optimistic Report from the Green Zone
I’ve always been something of an optimist, but everyone has a breaking point. Mine came on Saturday as I toured the infamous “Green Zone” in central Baghdad. This fortress is quite literally the heart of the new Iraq, not to mention the only safe place in the country. Then again, maybe not. Roadblocks, blast walls and barbed wire are the most common sights in this walled-in mini-city, called the international zone, which is fitting because these days it’s guarded by soldiers from Georgia—and I don’t mean the U.S. state.
The Green Zone has changed a lot since I was last here, around 18 months ago, and so has Iraq. But from what little I’ve seen in the last 24 hours, I wonder whether it’s for the worse. The security situation has deteriorated so badly that journalists rarely venture out unless they’re embedded with U.S. soldiers. That wasn’t the case early last year, when foreigners could walk the streets outside the Green Zone, shop in local markets, and, most important to journalists, talk to the Iraqi people. Those days are long gone.
The situation inside the Green Zone is scarcely better. Heavily armed troops guard government buildings and hospitals, menacingly pointing their weapons at any one who approaches. Soldiers manning checkpoints can use deadly force against motorists who fail to heed their instructions, so the warning signs say, and I have no doubt they’d exercise that right in a heartbeat if they felt threatened. All this fear and tension, and inside a six square mile area that’s supposed to be safe.
Amid this insecurity, confusion and oppressive summertime heat, my mind keeps returning to one thing: Dick Cheney. I don’t understand how the U.S. vice president concluded recently that the insurgency terrorizing Iraq was it its “last throes.” We’re obviously not reading the same newspapers. The mere fact that there is a Green Zone should tell you something.
The optimist in me says the U.S. will eventually train up the Iraqi army and police to the point where they can fight the insurgents alone, keep the country stable enough for the government to govern, to hold elections, pass laws, recover from economic sanctions and war, and move toward democracy. These are long-term goals, but it’s difficult to imagine they’re reachable when a prominent business inside the Green Zone is a carwash that specializes in detail work on tanks.
Is it really that bad in Iraq? It’s hard to say because the international media cannot adequately cover the war and Iraq’s reconstruction because it’s simply too dangerous. I would love to write about new schools being built and local village leaders learning about democracy, but I can’t go out to see such things. Maybe that’s why American friends who’ve never even been to Iraq—or read a book about the country for that matter—tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about when I say things are so bad.
Say what you will about whether the United States was justified to invade this country. We’re well into the game, and it’s too late to argue over who got the ball first. But prior to April 2003, there were no suicide bombers in Baghdad, there was 24-hour electricity and people went out at night. Now, if you drive into town from the airport, there is a legitimate possibility you will get killed. How long can the insurgents keep it up? Who knows, but they haven’t let the dust and heat of summertime Iraq stop them. Let’s just say that the insurgency doesn’t take the day off because of weather conditions.
Danger aside, it’s always interesting being here. Not to mention amusing and tragic. I met an American journalist Saturday in the Green Zone who’s bravely dealing with a U.S. military investigation into the death of her Iraqi colleague last month, who was apparently killed by an American sniper. Minutes later, I had a U.S. soldier telling me about a Mickey Mouse Persian rug he mailed home for his daughter’s bedroom. He then offered to help me buy my own rug, though I’m partial to Tweety Bird. For better or for worse, historic changes are afoot here, and will be for some time. The final outcome in Iraq could have a bearing on the fight against terrorism, Middle East politics and even the future of democracy. That alone is worth being here to watch—if it’s not too dangerous to take a look.