October 13, 2005

From the Archive (Oct '05): Exit The Green Zone

Okay, so this post was 4 1/2 years too early, the Americans only exiting the Green Zone today.


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)

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Michael Shaw
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