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Danger: Green Zone | The Nation

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Danger: Green Zone

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Grateful Iraqis gave outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair a small token of their affection the other day on the occasion of the First Poodle's seventh and final visit to their country. They dropped three mortar shells in the Green Zone not far from the British embassy where the PM stayed. One shot actually landed in the compound.

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Nicholas von Hoffman
Nicholas von Hoffman, a veteran newspaper, radio and TV reporter and columnist, is the author, most recently, of...

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The Green Zone is the palace and vast, walled grounds once belonging to Saddam Hussein and now housing in supposed safety the American headquarters, what purports to be the Iraqi government and whoever else must be kept from danger.

The TV pictures of Vice President Dick Cheney recently visiting the Green Zone showed him wearing body armor. Are you getting a creeping feeling that, surge or no surge, there are no safe places for Americans in Iraq?

If the purpose of being a terrorist is to terrify, some Iraqis are doing well at their chosen vocation. The McClatchy newspaper chain, which continues to provide the best war coverage, reports that American Embassy staff are scared out of their wits living as they must within the Green Zone's insecure confines.

McClatchy Baghdad bureau chief Leila Fadel writes, "U.S. Embassy employees in Iraq are growing increasingly angry over what they say are inadequate security precautions in the heavily fortified Green Zone, where recent mortar and rocket attacks have claimed the lives of six people, including two US citizens.

"In spite of the attacks, embassy employees complain, most staff members still sleep in trailers that one described as 'tin cans' that offer virtually no protection from rocket and mortar fire. The government has refused to harden the roofs because of the cost, one employee said.

"A second official called it 'criminally negligent' not to reduce the size of the embassy staff, which a year ago was estimated at 1,000, in the face of the increasing attacks and blamed the administration's failure to respond on concerns that doing so might undermine support for President Bush's Iraq policy.

"'What responsible person and responsible government would ask you to put yourself at risk like that? We don't belong here,' the employee said, adding, 'They're not going to send us home because it's going to be another admission of failure.'"

The staff needs only hold out in the Green Zone until September, when the new American Embassy, presently under construction in the middle of Baghdad, will be ready and open for business behind high "blast-resistant walls." The gigantic twenty-one-building compound designed for a staff of 1,000 at a cost of almost $600 million may have to be declared useless on the day it is up and ready for business.

According to the Associated Press, "The complex quickly could become a white elephant if the U.S. scales back its presence and ambitions in Iraq. Although the U.S. probably will have forces in Iraq for years to come, it is not clear how much of the traditional work of diplomacy can proceed amid the violence and what the future holds for Iraq's government.

"'What you have is a situation in which they are building an embassy without really thinking about what its functions are,' said Edward Peck, a former top US diplomat in Iraq.

"'What kind of embassy is it when everybody lives inside and it's blast-proof, and people are running around with helmets and crouching behind sandbags?'"

Who is going to defend those diplomats crouching behind the sandbags? Soldiers. Some thousands of them. And where are they going to live and for how long if we pull out of Iraq? Will they get picked off one by one or perhaps massacred along with the State Department personnel when the Iraqis rush the place?

Although the US government does its best to cheer people up by withholding and downplaying news of unfavorable incidents, an impression of growing chaos nevertheless is making its way back to America. The Iraqi IEDs seem to be blowing the wheels off of Uncle Sam's dune buggy.

The standard line in Washington during the past few years of mounting mayhem has been that the heavier, more frequent and more successful the Iraqi attacks against us have been, the more it shows how "desperate" the enemy is. Such logic is not invincibly persuasive.

For the coming months we shall go on as we have even as the roof above us gradually falls in on our heads. The President is set on keeping on, which is idiotic; the Democrats want to withdraw only some of our troops, which is also idiotic because it is doubly dangerous for our people. So here we go, down farther into the vortex. And what's at the bottom, nobody knows.

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