Robin Wright, the WaPo Mideast writer has been to Baghdad three times now since the capture of the city by US Forces. In these trips she has been in the entourage of the US Secretary of State, first Powell, and now Rice.
Wright finds that the circle of security is shrinking in the International (Green) Zone. When first she went there it was possible to stay at the Rashid Hotel, wander the city and walk about the International Zone.
On her second trip the delegation was flown into the country for a day, kept under a close watch and then flown out before the sun set.
On her latest trip she found the following:
"On this latest trip to Baghdad, the bubble shrank even more. No roaming the Green Zone. Not even a stop at the convention center. The press corps, including veteran war correspondents, was sequestered in Hussein’s old palace for most of the seven-hour stay. We were discouraged from wandering the palace and were provided escorts to go to the bathroom."
In the ’80s I used to stay at the Rashid for extended periods, go out and run through the neighborhoods with a colleague, and drift around in the Baghdad "suq" looking for trinkets. On the morning runs, the guards in front of public buildings would look up from their tea and sleepily call out "Good for you, mister! Good for you." The "Leader" had decreed that exercise was good for you. Politically, that period may have been a low point for US-Iraqi relations, but it stands in marked contrast to a situation in which a visiting journalist of Ms. Wright’s experience in the Middle East is required to have an escort to go to the bathroom INSIDE A GOVERNMENT FACILITY.
It also stands in stark contrast to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) anytime between Tet, 1968 and the Fall of the town to the communists in 1975. In that period we drove our cars anywhere. We dined out as time allowed and were principally concerned (in the city) with pickpockets, traffic and beggars. I spent a lot of time in that period in the field where the war was and the contrast with the quiet in the city was striking.
Question: Why is the perimeter of security shrinking in the capital city if the government’s influence over the people is growing? The situation should be the exact opposite.
could it be that the ‘insurgents’ (locals) are getting fed up with being taken to the cleaners ($192 bill plus iraqi oil stolen) by multinational oil types, not mention the carnage, and nobody is ‘safe’ in their ‘civil war’ that d.c. closes its peepers on and refuses to acknowledge?
one other thing, in a ‘civil war’, nobody is ‘influential’. for our d.c. to claim ‘influence’ by the ‘government’ is looking through rose-colored glasses. in a ‘civil war’, it’s who ever winds up as ‘top-dog’ rules the roost. correct? one would have thought that d.c. would be talking to the real power-brokers of iraqi society — tribal leaders.
Another easily observed facts:
The number of visiting dignitaries have dramtically fallen. (how many time now Rumsfeld/Cheney/Congress/senator have flown in and talking/seeing/photo-op in Iraq?) Did you notice now all photo op of visiting diplomat are close up, never showing large view of background, and they usually are surrounded tightly by security guard. Compare this to Pre-Bremer pictures.
Also, the blog. There are less and less real gound reporting posts compared to 1-2 years ago. It is almost impossible to gouge what sort of interactions are still possible between occupying force/unembedded reporter/visitors vs. average Iraqis.
Seems to be damned few. we have a few correspondents to our conversation who may tell us.
Best map of Green zone on the web. If anybody feeling creative with photoshop and want to estimate troop mobility/bubble size.
Casualty pattern still holds. (see 60 days average)
Iraq oil pipeline watch. (number of attack report roughly double each year)
This is just me a schmo’ on the net doing a quick 10 second googling for big stats. I don’t know why the mainstream media hasn’t started asking real questions.
An interesting contrast between Ms Wright’s statement:
“The road between the airport and the Green Zone was officially considered safer, but we still flew in armed Black Hawks moving in diversionary patterns through the sky.”
and the Secretary of State’s statement:
“I suspect that the American forces are not going to be needed in the numbers that they are there for all that much longer because Iraqis are continuing to make progress in function, not just in numbers but in their capabilities to do certain functions like, for instance, holding a highway between the airport and the center of the city, something that our forces were doing just a short time ago, they’re now doing.”
I sure don’t remember hearing about anybody getting routinely shot at on the run from Tan Son Nhut airport to central Saigon, other than during Tet ’68, much less needing to take an armed chopper, unless the military moms that raised my friends and I had a lot more sangfroid than can be imagined.
This is worse than “Street Without Joy”, only it’s happening to us.
Maybe the Sh’ia and Kurd faction leaders will reckon that the US Army and Marines aren’t going to suppress the Sunni and figure they’d better take the Cairo option and make a deal. Otherwise, I guess it won’t be very long before the White House political operation starts quietly leaking against the Army and the Marines, blaming them for the mess.
I will second the general observations about security in “red-zone” Baghdad, but in my opinion based on recent experience, it was probably not security which caused such tight control on Ms. Wright’s comings-and-goings: it was message control, or just trying to herd the press around.
They didn’t want her wandering around and talking to anyone she met in the halls of the palace, or at the PX across the street, or elsewhere. It certainly was not security which required an escort to the bathroom in the palace: it is one of the most secure places on Earth. I suspect Ms. Wright knows this, and her story is a tweak at the stated reason for such control: “For your safety, we have an escort to the bathroom for you . . . ”
One reporter I knew in Baghdad told me that they were considering giving IZ passes to the press so that they could come in and enjoy the restaurants and maybe the recreational facilities, but that it would be conditioned on not using the opportunity to gather any news. As far as I know, no passes have been issued.
The International Zone as a whole has its ups-and-downs with regard to security. There are periodic warnings and “lockdowns” in response to reported threats. The normal situation allows a fair amount of freedom and opportunity to walk around, go to the few restaurants and bars, the convention center, the Rasheed shops and restaurants if you have a pass to get in there. These restaurants and bars have varying levels of security, so your own tolerance of risk is in play.
It is possible to go have chicken and fries with Iraqis living in the zone.
I heard there are some 20,000 Iraqis living in the International Zone, mostly in the Qadisiyah housing projects. Some expats in the IZ go there for fresh fruit and bread. There are a couple of other small shops in the Zone.
One change from the early days of 03-04 to now is that there are lots of Iraqis with guns in the IZ, as police, army, security guards, etc. To me, this was a hopeful sign, that Americans would trust to have Iraqis with guns around them. So far, it seems to have worked out.
Still can’t go outside the wire for recreational purposes, like you could in 03 and early 04 though.
Just checking in here to say hello. It does seem that less and less information/news is coming out of the GZ. I can only wonder when the media here will start to realize and question why there is so little real news coming out of Iraq and even the GZ. The difference between the news during Vietnam and what we are seeing/hearing or not seeing and hearing is startling. Pretty much a blackout of any real news, honest reporting.
A thought about those shrinking perimeters:
The fabled “oil spots” do take longer than water droplets to evaporate, but they do evaporate.
And a question:
Has anyone seen reliable, real-time “news” footage of what the “Green Zone” really looks like? I’ve read reports over the past year painting a pretty bleak picture of decaying sandbagged bunkers (Newsweek’s Cristopher Dickey), “Mad Max style fortifications” (Newsweek’s Rod Nordlund), and people slinking around in helmets and flak-jackets (various other reporters). What do we suppose the American people would think if they got a real, uncensored look at what all their blood and money has bought them in Baghdad’s “most secure” area?
As SecWar Bumsfeld always says: “The words don’t do it.”
The Green Zone is a wilderness of “T (for Texas vs. ‘Jersey barriers’)-Walls” (15 ft high concrete barriers)surrounding many individual compounds of embassies, militaries, contractors, Iraqi government, interspersed among actual residential neighborhoods and a big housing project.
Many government and military live in prefab “trailers” surrounded by sandbags. They had to redo the sandbags this year because they were originally done in biodegradable bags in 2004.
In response to Dewitt:
Yes, I agree that herding Wright was about message control more than actual security.
While it is more dangerous to get information in the “red zone” it is much easier than finding out anything in the green zone.
I, too, don’t know if IZ passes were ever made available to reporters (there are a few that stay at the Ratshit and may have got them) but i can confirm that they were contingent on doing no reporting whatsoever, of any kind, on penalty of something or other.
Finally, it is possible to report in baghdad, fairly freely, if you’re not a TV person lugging around a conspicuous team and equipment. For the lone western reporter, i think it’s a little safer (relative term of course) now than it was 6-8 months ago. Also the roads around baghdad are much better for civilian traffic. I recently drove in a taxi from baqouba (US base there) to baghdad and wouldn’t have dreamed of doing that six months ago. How long the better road situation holds will depend on large numbers of iraqi forces manning checkpoints continuing to stand post and not being diverted to war-fighting. But if US forces are in fact reduced, well, etc…