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Iraq: Green Zone Offers Uncertain Refuge From Baghdad Violence

By Layla Ahmad Pedestrians and military personnel walking over a bridge in Baghdad's Green Zone (file photo) (AFP) Violence is flaring in Baghdad, with two car bombs killing at least seven people today in a Shi'ite area of the capital. The explosions closely follow shootings and bombings on July 9 that killed some 60 people -- including more than 40 Sunni Muslims shot dead by reported Shi’ite gunmen. Amid the violence, many Iraqis say they look with envy at the Green Zone, the heavily guarded complex of Iraqi government and U.S. embassy facilities in the center of the capital.

BAGHDAD, July 10, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- “All the people in the Green Zone have their bodyguards," one Baghdad man told RFE/RL recently. "It all belongs to the U.S. Army and the [Iraqi] National Guard. We Iraqis remain here; it is just explosions and no security in the streets. They are provided with electricity and water, provided with everything. The Green Zone is protected from all sides. They protect themselves, but no one protects us, the Iraqis.”

Ordinary Iraqis are unable to enter the Green Zone except on official business, and they see it only from the outside. And what they see bears little resemblance to the rest of the capital.

Like Another World

The sprawling, 10 square kilometer zone along the Tigris is sealed off behind security defenses and can be entered only through heavily guarded checkpoints.

The only people with regular access are officials, diplomats, and the several thousand residents of an upscale neighborhood that was incorporated into the zone when it was originally demarcated.

Today, the most noticeable feature of the Green Zone is construction cranes – a rarity in the rest of the city. The cranes are building a new U.S. Embassy complex that will ultimately comprise 21 buildings on riverside parkland.

The Green Zone currently accommodates the embassies of the United States and Great Britain and buildings for the Iraqi cabinet, presidency, parliament, the Defense Ministry, and the Iraqi High Criminal Court.

One woman outside the Green Zone says she regards it as practically another country – a country where she wishes she could live.

“The Green Zone, with all security and comfort that it is provided with, is actually like an area outside Iraq," the woman says. "So I think all Iraqis wish that the whole of Iraq with all of us [living here] turn into such a Green Zone.”

“Streets are clean there," says another Baghdad man. "Electricity and water are available. Everything is available there; even prices are different there than here. All the streets there are clean, and you can feel as if you are not in Iraq. It is like outside Iraq.”

Security Concerns Remain

Although the Green Zone looks very different from the rest of Baghdad, even its defenses of razor wire, chain-link fences, earthen berms, and armed checkpoints do not fully protect it against attacks.

Insurgents periodically fire mortar rounds into the enclave and suicide bombers in cars laden with explosives frequently target people waiting to enter the gates.

In October 2004, suicide bombers hand carried explosives into the Green Zone and killed 10 people, including four Americans.

The sense that the Green Zone is a special target makes some Iraqis say they would be wary of living there.

“No, I would never [live] like that," says one local woman, who identified herself as Nadiyah. "We are now very scared about the Green Zone. We can hear from everybody who comes to see us that this or that has happened in the Green Zone.”

The Green Zone was created around the nucleus of a former presidential palace complex used by Saddam Hussein before he was toppled by U.S. troops in 2003. It was dubbed the Green Zone by the U.S. military to mark it as a high-security area.

Delayed Security Handover

Today, most of the area continues to be secured by U.S. soldiers although the Iraqi Army took over security for 20 buildings in February. That handover is part of a planned transfer of security control that ultimately is intended to include Iraqi troops guarding the zone’s entire perimeter.

However, the phased transfer has been delayed repeatedly due to concerns about the readiness of the Iraqi forces and fears they have been infiltrated by hostile groups.

(Radio Free Iraq translator Petr Kubalek contributed to this story.)

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