BAGHDAD — They call it the “Green Zone” but I prefer to think of it as the Kremlin.
The nine-square-mile “International Zone” — mostly Saddam’s former playground — is supposed to be our “secure” portion of Baghdad. In a way it is. You can obtain boxes of dry cereal, take a hot shower and go to sleep without worrying that the bad guys will do anything more than drop a few mortars in now and then. “Those guys can’t aim,” says one sergeant dismissively.
But that’s about it. Otherwise, paranoia rules. Doing anything more ambitious than walking down the hall to the men’s room requires elaborate security measures. I’m in the Combined Press Information Center (CPIC) — one of Saddam’s former villas — and nobody ventures far without an armed escort.p>Richard Houghton III and Patrick McDonald, two former military men, have published an informal “Visitor’s Guide to Baghdad’s International Zone” (the “Green Zone” is only a nickname), which has become a popular download. It offers advice like this: br> /p>
Many of the places mentioned in this booklet are off-limits to the casual traveler….As with many facilities in Iraq, entering any compound or guarded building must be done with extreme caution. Guards, whether military or civilian, can shoot first then ask questions….While traveling you should at all times observe the force protection posture of the facility or base you are entering and be aware of ingress and egress routes, shelters, and safe areas wherever you go. The biggest threat in the IZ is indirect fire and missile and mortar attacks. You should plan accordingly before venturing out.br> And remember, this is the safe part of Baghdad. The rest of the city — the “Red Zone” — is completely off-limits to anyone except armored vehicles and military patrols. “You’d be out of your mind to go out there,” says one press employee.
Of course, all this is subject to exceptions and eccentricities. I got here at 2 a.m. Saturday morning, for example, and woke up at 7 a.m. to find a gaggle of reporters heading for the international conference at the Iraq Foreign Ministry, just outside the IZ. Iran and the U.S. were sitting down for the first time in four years, so I decided to tag along.
We crossed the street to pick up a few other reporters at the Ramadi Hotel when somebody said, “Hey, you don’t have your press badge. They won’t let you in without one.” Where do I get a press badge? “Back at CPIC but they don’t open until 9. Do you have your passport?” Whoops, I left that in my other shirt pocket as well. “They may not even let you back into CPIC without it.”
We march back across the street and are met by the Peruvian guards who — bizarrely — only speak Spanish. They look at my homemade Spectator ID and wave me off — sorry, no admittance. “Passport?” — the only English they seem to know. “That’s back in my room,” I gesture. Of course it’s no use.
Fortunately, one of the reporters knows Spanish and starts to negotiate. Do I have any other form of picture ID? Well, I have my New York State driver’s license. He compares the pictures, shakes his head again. Sorry, no good.
The other reporters are getting restless. If they don’t get to the foreign ministry by 7:30, they won’t get in. I imagine myself standing outside the press building all day waiting for someone to let me in. The reporter tries again. Do I have any other form of picture ID?
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