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Oct 13, 2005

Exit The Green Zone


Let's go back to mid-August.  The U.S. had imposed a deadline of August 15th for Iraqi legislators/power brokers to come up with a constitution. At the same time, Condi Rice had just brought in Zalmay Khalilzad from his job as shadow president of Afghanistan to become the new U.S. Iraqi ambassador.  The situation (one couldn't even begin to call it a "process") is a complete disaster, with different Iraqi factions leveraging the negotiations to horse trade for their own interests.  Desperate to write the latest fictional episode of "Iraq Turns Democratic" (or, "Of Course We Didn't Completely Mess Up This Place"), Khalizad writes the document (a few weeks late, if I remember correctly) and we declare "Mission Accomplished"  again.

On August 14th, The NYT Week In Review begs to differ.  With the war now three summers old (28 months), the lead story chronicles the disconnect between the empty constitution exercise, and the fact this country (particularly the political process) is in complete chaos. As vivid as the story is, however, the montage is better. 

Very simply, Christoph Bangert -- the photographer on assignment for The Times -- decides to exit the Green Zone, get in a car, and just drive around the immediate area.  (Notice each shot reveals the inside of the car.)  Well, this place has no oxygen. 

Fast forward to yesterday. The Administration (through the trumpets of the MSM) proclaims a great victory, stating that all parties to the constitution have agreed to say they supported some revisions (also penned by Khalilzad, by the way) that will likely never see the light of day.

It's funny.  I spent a good chunk of time (along with my co-analyst, Umm Abdullah, in Kuwait) putting together an analysis of Iraq's constitution referendum posters.  The campaign couldn't have been more blasphemous in suggesting that this constitution represents national unification.  When I heard the news of this so-called deal, however, I actually paused to think that the politics had shifted and the posters had been "vindicated."  After I regained my senses (at about the same time most Sunni's involved in this "deal" reacquired their skepticism), I realized something did actually happen on Tuesday. 

We declared "Mission Accomplished" again.


I invite your reaction to two of Mr. Bangert's images.  Although I'm usually pretty tough on captions, I reproduce them here because I think they're pretty good. 

The first shot is so desolate, it seems the palm tree keeps the soldier company.  In the second picture, the slide also seems anthropomorphic.  What makes it so painful to me is how it's simultaneously a symbol of failure and a marvel of symmetry.

(click image for larger version)

caption: In a furtive tour outside Baghdad's Green Zone on Thursday, the passing scene was not one to inspire confidence. Barricades were everywhere, and the only people outside were guards attached to various militias.


caption: American soldiers made this park beside the Tigris River possible. It was part of a $1.5 million vision by a general to win the war by putting Iraqis to work. Now it is abandoned, decrepit and dangerous.

(images: Christoph Bangert/Polaris for The New York Times. August 14, 2005.  Baghdad. NYT Week In Review. p.1)


I was going to comment (and I probably will later), but I just read some statements by Robert Fisk, and he says it much better, and with more credibility, than I could, so I hope no one minds if I copy them here:

Iraq has descended into anarchy, says Fisk

He said that the portrayal of Iraq by Western leaders ­ of efforts to introduce democracy, including Saturday's national vote on the country's proposed constitution ­ was "unreal" to most of its citizens. In Baghdad, children and women were kept at home to prevent them from being kidnapped for money or sold into slavery. They faced a desperate struggle to find the money to keep generators running to provide themselves with electricity. "They aren't sitting in their front rooms discussing the referendum on the constitution..."

[And this part made me think of the post with Alan Chin's photos:]

He attacked television reporters for flinching from depicting the everyday bloodshed on the streets of Iraq. "You can go and see Saving Private Ryan or Kingdom of Heaven ­ people have their heads cut off. When it comes to real heads being cut off, you can't. I think television connives with governments at war." He added: "Newspapers can tell you as closely as they can what these horrors are like..."

Should be renamed The Brown Zone, as there's barely any green left. Or The Dead Zone.

I hope the NYTimes and Christoph Bangert will do an update of the Aug 14 photos as an antidote to the WH spin-machine. These pictures are chilling. No oxygen is a good way to put it.

The slide is heartbreaking. The bright blue of good intentions abandoned to dust.

The new "break-though" on the Iraqi constitution seemed too good to be true, but I was actually hopeful for a day, that some good might come of it.

But no.

I'd like to play Devil's Advocate for a moment, as to the pictures from just outside the so-called Green Zone.

What do you expect to see there? It's the edge of a secured area. In those pictures, you are looking at the outside of the perimeter. People aren't going to be standing around there. They aren't going to be playing handball against the walls. I'll even presume that it's a patrolled area and people aren't allowed within some distance of the perimeter.

And the children of Baghdad (beyond the perimeter -- if you could even say there is one) would rather not slide?

Purple - It doesn't say the picture is from "just" outside the Green Zone, although that is the first guess that jumps to mind. The article suggests that most of Baghdad looks like this.

I would certainly like to see more of Bangert's pictures!

What desolate places of isolation and paranoia. The two men shown are probably terrified that a sniper could pick them off any second. And is it any wonder no parent is willing to let their kids use the green slide? The slide looks incredibly unsafe. It's built on hard, uneven soil with a concrete sidewalk running alongside it. If a child lost balance on the spindly steps and fell, they'd be seriously injured. The slide itself looks like it's constructed of flimsy, cheap metal with a lot of sharp edges. It would be illegal to put up a slide like that in the US. It's just like everything else about America's misguided war in Iraq—cut rate, poorly thought out and physically dangerous.

As Shelley put it and I paraphrase it:

"My name is George Bush, hard workin' prezident:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"

The desolation in the pictures is heartbreakingly strong. We came into Iraq thinking we'd fix it. Instead, our inept policy has left it hollow. We really fucked it all up, and we're not going to win by making up all the good news. I don't know what we could do in Iraq to reverse the damage done; sometimes I fear it is too late and our sad legacy will be even more violence in the area, more useless deaths.

These photos make me wonder where the Iraqis are going to grow all those flowers Bush promised would be thrown to our Liberators.

The troops in Italy were often called Liberators too. The Partisans got to Mussolini, dressed as a woman to escape capture and hung him from a light pole, my father saw. The word makes me a little nervous. There were reports that 19 out of 20 rockets misfired at the Panzers (tanks) in northern Italy, and fortunately those 81 mm mortar troops, which my father was perhaps one of, could hit the tanks with mortar fire. I can't see the parallel in Iraq myself, but I guess the son of a US Army "Black Panther" soldier (their arm patch) might see things differently. I just hope we can come up with better slides too, that one, in a sandy park looks no good, maybe made from some sort of palace? (Mussolini had one, where well, nasty things went on its reported)

The slide is amazing. It looks like a temporal metaphor for the War in Iraq, or anywhere: wind-up quickly, then slowly wind-down...

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