Friday, March 28, 2008

Plan B: Just how defensible IS the American Green Zone in Iraq?

(Photos are from the Green Zone -- me embedded at CPIC, the embassy dining facility pie selection, the combat support hospital's courtyard where the wounded come in, Saddam Hussein's gold-plated bidet and the Iraqi parliament in session in the convention center next to the press room.)

Someone just sent me an article from a Canadian news service. What a jolt! "Baghdad's Green Zone -- often referred to as a relatively safe and fortified refuge for Americans, other Westerners, and politicians in Iraq -- appeared to be nothing short of a war zone Thursday. Warning sirens for bombs blared all day as diplomats and U.S. workers donned flak jackets and ducked for cover from mortars and rockets that poured down throughout Baghdad. Those U.S. government workers brave enough to ignore a lockdown order by their government and venture into nearly empty city streets saw a city under siege." Canadian TV News actually reported all this. I swear to God. I am not making this stuff up.

Apparently several different Shi'a groups in Iraq are now at each others' throats and that's what the fighting is about. Nope, the Sunni aren't fighting with the Shi'a any more. Now it's Shi'a against Shi'a, the violence is widespread throughout Baghdad and, apparently, American troops are being caught in the middle.

According to CTV News, "Al-Sadr's supporters appear to be upset by what they see as a clampdown on their members by competing Shiite groups within the Iraq military and Iraqi government. They're accusing opposing forces of using a ceasefire negotiated in February to rig provincial elections set for later this year." And as a result, not only are Shi'as bombing other Shi'as but they are bombing the Green Zone too for good measure.

I myself have a particular fondness for the Green Zone. It's funky, sure, but the place kind of grows on you. Friendly atmosphere, good food. But, frankly, the place is almost indefensible. The Green Zone needs a Plan B.

"Jane, you have it all wrong -- as usual," said a friend of mine in the military. "The Green Zone is very well fortified. Its defenses are impenetrable" Yeah, well. Tell that to Canadian TV News.

The Green Zone itself is located right in the heart of Baghdad and although the Tigris River protects it on one side, all the other sides abut right up against one of the most war-torn cities in the world. And in that prime-time location, almost anything can happen, especially with all this new internecine warfare now going on within the different Shi'a militias.

The Green Zone does have one very effective defense mechanism -- American forces completely control the airspace above it. This is a very important factor. But will it be important enough if ground fighting intensifies? And can it offset all the other negative factors facing an effective Green Zone defense strategy? And/or can the Green Zone fortify itself against these negative factors in time to protect itself from siege or from being overrun? And will this new fortification cost too much to be rationally feasible? I mean, after all. "Bush's War" is already costing us up to three trillion dollars. Can we honestly afford to spend billions of dollars more? Did anyone ever see that movie, "The Money Pit"? Does that principle apply here too? Yeah.

What exactly are these negative factors facing the Green Zone that would make it so indefensible? First of all, there's its vulnerability to rocket and mortar attacks. Next comes the possibility of the out-and-out siege of its walls. There are all kinds of check-points inside the Green Zone to keep bad guys from moving from one point to another INSIDE the Zone. But what if all the bad guys put on their party duds and hit the wall running in wave after wave? If this happens, is there a strong possibility that the GZ will be turned into a mosh pit? Yeah.

The third factor to consider is that the Green Zone's supply line is stretched far to thin. As things stand now, almost everything needs to get trucked in or flown in from the Baghdad International Airport, approximately 15 miles away. And most of the American military's firepower and manpower are clustered out by the airport. That's like having a fire station too far away from the fire to do any good if your house is burning down. If the American military wants to stay in the Green Zone, it will have to cut an escape-route corridor through to the camps and bases out near the airport in order to break any siege on its supply lines. But real estate ain't cheap in downtown Baghdad. And neither are blast walls.

"But what about using helicopters to bring in supplies?" you might ask. There would have to be helicopters going in and out of the Green Zone 24/7 in order to keep it supplied. And remember that mortar fire may be going on 24/7 too.

Which brings us around to the most important tactical issue -- evacuation. Does General Petraeus have a game plan for evacuating the entire Green Zone by helicopter? Will choppers be landing on the streets of the Green Zone as well as at LZ Washington if the spit hits the fan? Or can they land C-130s on any of those broad Green Zone avenues and take troops out that way? It would take a hecka lot of C-130s to get everyone out safely in case of a siege.

Anyway, those are just some ideas I have on how to help keep the Green Zone safe. But maybe things in Baghdad will settle down again soon and none of this will be necessary. However, in the meantime, there could be an up side to all this action inside the Zone -- now I can be embedded!

Baghdad's Combined Press Information Center (CPIC) has been telling me lately that they can't embed me as a journalist because they can't find any units outside the wire willing to accept me. But now that the action has all moved to the Green Zone, CPIC will no longer have that excuse. I could leave for the Green Zone tomorrow, spend my entire time inside the perimeter and still get a story!

PS: I just got an e-mail from a friend of mine in the Green Zone. He wrote, "Well, the sailor here who bought your book forgot to bring it in today so I will have to slog over to her hootch this weekend and grab it from her. From what I've seen as I thumbed through it, it's pretty witty....but is it good enough to dodge mortars for? I'll keep you updated. Wouldn't that be a great headline for your blog? 'Green Zone personnel injured (or killed) in quest for Stillwater tome!'"

I wrote him back, "It's a pretty good book -- but it's not THAT good." It would probably be safer for him to just buy his own copy.