Street Scenes in Baghdad: A Reporter's Notebook
U.S. News reporter Alex Kingsbury recently spent time in the Iraqi capital and areas south of Baghdad for a series of reports on the progress of the war. His reporting focused on infrastructure reconstruction and 2-3 Stryker battalion. You can find videos and stories from his trip at www.usnews.com/stryker.
BAGHDADThe Green Zone is not officially called the Green Zone. Its proper moniker is the International Zone, a change instituted when the Iraqi government took power in June 2004. Green and Red, as it turns out, are Army-speak for the readiness of a gun: green = unloaded; red = loaded.
These days, soldiers carry loaded guns in the International Zone and have to render their weapons "green" before entering buildings. So at the entrance to each building are steel oil drums, filled with sand and mounted at a 45-degree angle from the ground. There is a hole through which soldiers point their guns and pull the trigger to demonstrate that there are no rounds in the chamber.
Everything outside the 4-square-mile IZ is called the Red Zone, and few Green Zoners travel there unescorted. When they do leave, it's usually with a convoy of at least four armored vehicles and a team of soldiers or private security guards for protection. On the back of many of these convoy vehicles is a now famous sign written in both English and Arabic and which has since been emblazoned on T-shirts and coffee mugs on sale at the stores in the IZ:
STAY BACK 100 METERS, read the signs. DEADLY FORCE IS AUTHORIZED.
'Heavily Fortified': Lots of Concrete
"Heavily fortified" is the description most commonly attached to the IZ. But what does that actually entail? For starters, concrete. Lots of concrete. In fact, much of the IZ is a maze of T-barriers, reinforced concrete slabs that are about 12 feet tall and designed to keep the blast from an explosion within a limited area.
Allan, an infantry sergeant from Kentucky, shared with me his misfortune as we waited for an airplane flight in Baghdad. "How ironic," he said, "that the Army activated my unit, and I had to close my business. We cleared several hundred thousand dollars every year in Kentucky," he recalled. "We sold concrete slabs and air-conditioning ducts."
If his company had also installed speed bumps, it'd have made a small fortune in Iraq. Speed bumps are everywhere, every few yards it sometimes seems. The speeds with which vehicles navigate these bumps vary from 5 to 30 miles per hour, depending on the vehicle and the driver's love for suspension systems.
Then there's concertina wirefar sharper than its barbed predecessors. It's also called razor wire and is bound in rolls and carried on humvees or stretched along the tops of the T-barriers. And it has a remarkable ability to snag bits of plastic garbage. The soldiers have jokingly christened the plastic bag stuck in concertina wire "Iraq's national bird."
A Tower of Babel in Babylonia
One of the most spoken languages in the International Zone is Spanish. Peruvian Spanish, in particular. In fact, it's security contractors from Peru who fill many of the security jobs around the IZ. A few words of Spanish will serve the visitor well when trying to negotiate passage through one of the countless checkpoints and guard shacks.