In Iraq, US is digging in for the long haul
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

May 8, 2008, 00:10

It doesn�t look as though Americans in Iraq are going anywhere anytime soon. Officially Iraq�s sovereignty was handed back to its rightful owners years ago, which means the occupiers remain in the country at the invitation of the Iraqi government. Okay try not to laugh!

Fact is the occupying power is digging in for the long haul and there is little the Iraqi leadership can do about it even if it wanted to. When challenged about their supersized, super fortified embassy sprouting on prime land -- which one must assume was sequestered rather than gifted by Iraq -- and their mushrooming permanent military bases, the Americans cite the postwar German/Japan models.

In other words, they are saying the victor has a perfect right to hang around the necks of the vanquished in perpetuity.

In this case, I don�t blame Arab governments for refusing to send their diplomatic personnel into the jaws of danger merely to hobnob with Iraqi officials for the purposes of affording them legitimacy when, as we know, the real decision-making takes place in Washington.

It could be that the Pentagon�s new plan to transform the so-called Green Zone into a walled-off oasis of 21st century Western luxury is, in part, an attempt to lure reluctant ambassadors into lending credibility to the game with their mere presence and encourage their own diplomats to put their lives on the line.

According to the Associated Press, the US has a $5 billion, �five-year development �dream list� to create a zone of influence around the new $700 million embassy to serve as a kind of high-end buffer for the compound." In fact, it is now likely to cost more than $1.3 billion as we know from an emergency supplemental funding request delivered by President Bush to Congress in 2006.

The article quotes US Navy Capt. Thomas Karnowski, whose team conceived the plan, as explaining, �When you have $1 billion hanging out there and 1,000 employees lying around, you kind of want to know who your neighbors are. You want to influence what happens in your neighborhood over time.�

Unfortunately, we still don�t know the purpose of such a gigantic embassy, dubbed �Fortress America,� that will house 1,000 permanent staff, a 3,000-strong security contingent and a substantial Marine detachment over 104 acres. To give this context, it is six times bigger than the UN headquarters in New York.

But we do know that it will contain its own power station, water and sewage treatment facilities, school, office buildings, apartment blocks, clubhouse, swimming pools and a cinema.

So how did the US take possession of 104 acres back of prime real estate smack in the center of the capital? Surely, the Iraqi government lodged its objections. Certainly the British would be up in arms if, say, the French decided Hyde Park would be a suitable site for its diplomatic mission and it�s doubtful the Egyptians would acquiesce to any extension of the US Embassy that would demolish their historical upmarket Garden City district.

Yet, according to reports, an interim Iraqi government actually transferred these 104 acres to the US in 2004 lock, stock and barrel. This is scandalous. No government would willingly sign away their people�s assets, let alone to an enemy responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of its innocent citizens. This is just another indication that the Iraqi leadership is not in charge.

Returning to the Green Zone, Capt. Karnowski envisages shopping malls, luxury condos, state-of-the-art hospitals, an amusement park and five-star hotels featuring in the blueprint.

The Marriott is already signed up, he says, although Marriott International is reluctant to confirm or deny this claim.

Are we, therefore, to construe that the Green Zone is slated to become a sort of embassy extension where Americans, elite Iraqis and visiting dignitaries can pretend they�re in Manhattan, at least when they are not actively ducking rockets and mortars?

It�s surely bad enough that the Americans effectively destroyed Iraqi culture during the 2003 invasion when they stood back as museums were looted and libraries ransacked. Are they now going to be allowed to superimpose their own �culture� onto Iraq�s very heart?

Moreover, there is something horribly elitist about this plan. What about the rest of Baghdad that is still suffering from power outrages and still resembles a war zone in parts?

Rather than construct multistoried malls for the benefit of diplomats and generals, the US should be working to restore the power/water treatment plants and reequip the hospitals it destroyed.

Take a good look at the ugly face of 21st century imperialism, folks, for this is surely it. Whether they�ve got 5,000 troops in country or 150,000, the Americans have moved into Iraq and they�ll stay there as long as they can.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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