Leaving the Green Zone

Leaving the Green Zone

By Sam Brannen

In the middle of Baghdad sits one of the United States' greatest strategic liabilities in the Iraq war: a four square-mile swath of territory called the Green Zone (the "International Zone" when in polite company). Still crowded with the gaudy war memorials and palaces of Saddam's regime that are too big to tear down, it is for many Iraqis the icon of U.S. occupation and a telling window into a post-surge security environment that looks more likely to loop back than move forward. The onetime seat of Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority, the Green Zone is now shared by the sprawling Embassy Baghdad, the core of Iraq's central government, and thousands of international contractors, including the infamous Blackwater security details. Green Zone denizens live in trailers, sometimes stacked one on top of the other, accustomed to the blare of the incoming round siren and ducking for cover in evenly spaced cement bunkers that are a bizarre juxtaposition to swimming pools, palm trees, and marble buildings.

Outside the Green Zone, American troops are fighting pitched battles in the high-density urban slums of Sadr City. Their objective is to reduce the mortar and rocket fire that has lately rained down on the Green Zone. By installing a massive cement wall to cut Sadr City in half, U.S. forces are attempting to corral militiamen and mortar teams out of range. As soldiers build the Sadr City wall, they fight for every inch in a slow grind that recalls trench warfare, taking casualties and under constant fire.

It is worth asking whether the Green Zone would be attacked absent such a pronounced U.S. presence tucked behind elaborate security checkpoints and layered defenses. Rather than destroy entire Baghdad neighborhoods in the search for small groups of insurgent indirect fire teams, it seems the simpler, more humane, and ultimately more strategic answer is to simply leave the Green Zone for either the more remote airport complex or elsewhere outside the city. In the U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM 3-24) it is written, "Ultimate success in COIN [counterinsurgency] is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents." The same could be said for the diplomatic forces walled up in the Green Zone and faced with the constant threat of death or injury at the hands of an unseen foe. The psychological toll of life as a sitting duck is clear: at least 40 percent of State Department Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) who have served in danger zones return to the United States with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One would imagine numbers are even higher for FSOs returning form Iraq. Why not reduce some of that stress by moving to a safer spot?

Leaving the Green Zone, however, does not appear to be on the minds of decision makers. Word was out this week of long-term plans including $1 billion in neighboring development—in military speak, a "zone of influence"— to surround the brand new 27-building, 104-acre U.S. embassy in the Green Zone (the largest U.S. embassy in the world). Developers are honestly mulling over the risk of building a Marriott Hotel, a shopping district, and other niceties. (For the record, Marriott has already built a five-star hotel next to the U.S. Embassy Kabul's version of a green zone—but it is a far safer area.)

Last summer, the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, chaired by General James L. Jones (USMC, ret.), wrote in its report to Congress that by early 2008, Coalition forces could shift to a "strategic overwatch" position in Iraq. The Commission wrote, "Such a strategy would include placing increasing responsibilities for the internal security of the nation on the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces], especially in the urban areas." The Commission further noted that the massive Coalition military footprint in and around the Baghdad region gave Iraqis the impression of "permanence, an occupying force...." The Commission recommended quickly moving out of population centers and immediately turning over to the Iraqi government the palaces of the Ba'athist regime that it has occupied since 2003.

America should send the right message to the Iraqi people. This can begin by abandoning the Green Zone and donating the monstrous embassy just completed. U.S. taxpayers may not like turning over a $1 billion structure or other costs of relocating, but considering the immeasurable loss of an American soldier, and the cost of a single day of occupation of Iraq at $720 million, why not try something different? Leave the Green Zone.

Sam Brannen is a fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies International Security Program, where he works on projects related to defense strategy and policy, Middle East security (especially U.S.-Turkey and U.S.-Turkey-Iraq issues), and U.S. national security reform. He is a frequent media commentator and has appeared on CNN, Fox News, Al Jazeera, and NPR. During the summer of 2007, he served as a staff member for the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, chaired by General (Ret.) James L. Jones.

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Tom Paine,

I am a strong advocate of win at all costs, but if we are going to pursue the current strategy of COIN we need to get out of the Emerald City, and I suggest we start doing it a piece at a time adjacent Iraqi neighborhoods that don't like us. See above post.

Wanting to get out of the besieged fortress mode is hardly defeatist.

I think you may be reading too much into his writing style, no offense.

I do not sense that the author of this article is trying to analyze a specific problem (the green zone) with a view to finding a better solution.

Because there are quite a few rhetorical tricks in this piece (slanted adjectives, invalid associations, misstated principles) - and thats always a bad sign.

Instead, I sense that he is actually "grinding an ax" re: Current Iraq Policy. And I suspect that he would prefer some form of "lose and leave" policy to the current "win and leave" policy. Im frankly unable to understand such a posture.

I would go even further...from May 2007, but still valid..and I do realize the situation has changed dramatically, but I still think we need to start giving up real estate.


Open the FOB's

If the US won't expand the FOB's (spread the excess security ink) then open parts of them. 10% of the money put into the FOB's put into the streets would buy us at least a 20% reduction in trouble. Safe corridors, with the same security arrangements we have now could be opened to areas of our Camps and FOBs. We open four building's immediately:

1. Hospital

2. Natal Clinic

3. School

4. American University

If you want to show them America works for everyone, then start letting them in.

Of course the current success of the surge changes some of the above, but we need to be in COP's or roving the ratlines, not hunkered down in little USA.

This could also start to provide some housing for displaced or returning Iraqi's. We don't need all that real estate, especially in Baghdad. Except to create the illusion of
Ft. Hood in the middle of Baghdad.

It seems to me the precursor to a functioning city-state is that it has reserved violence to itself.

The Government of Iraq has yet to effectively reserve violence to itself.

Protection of diplomatic personnel is the responsibility of the host government.

At this point in time..the Iraqi Government is not capable of meeting that responsibility as it has yet to reserve violence to itself.

At such point in time that the GOI has reserved violence to itself then of course US military personnel should move from the green zone.

Every embassy row in every capital of the world has a 5 star hotel. It's a very profitable business providing hotels to visiting diplomatic personnel. Of course Marriot is going to want to build a hotel on Embassy Row.

In the U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM 3-24) it is written, "Ultimate success in COIN [counterinsurgency] is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force."

Good point, but the green zone is also the home of the Iraqi government. While most people agree that the green zone is a ridiculous caricature of everything that is wrong with the military, what with its swimming pools, garrison atmosphere, and general disconnect from the war, the personnel there are not simply protecting themselves. They are securing and working with the GoI. However, I think the author raises some good points regarding what a ridiculous circus the green zone is. Perhaps a good happy medium would simply be to stop building more stuff there and stop any personnel increases there. And get rid of non-essential personnel. If people have time to play water polo, hold "talk like a pirate" contests, make rafts out of empty water bottles and race them across the pool, and have salsa night, then maybe we have too many non-essential personnel and/or too many people not working hard enough.

The psychological toll of life as a sitting duck is clear: at least 40 percent of State Department Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) who have served in danger zones return to the United States with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Most people regard PTSD as shell shock or guys waking up screaming. And that is, of course, why the author saw fit to include this statistic. To the general public, 40 percent of FSOs with PTSD = 40 percent of FSOs with mentally debilitating conditions. But that is not the case. The medical condition is so broadly defined that it can apply to nearly a majority of individuals who deploy, while at the same time those individuals have no debilitating effects from their experiences. In other words, its meaningless.

As soldiers build the Sadr City wall, they fight for every inch in a slow grind that recalls trench warfare, taking casualties and under constant fire.

That comparison is beyond absurd. See pictures of the wall being built in Sadr City here and here.

If the authors point is credible then he should be able to support it without the foolishness of making a blatantly absurd comparison to trench warfare and citing goofy data. I wonder why he did that.

I would not recommend pulling out of the Green Zone all at once. For the Coalition Forces to leave the Green Zone and stop guarding it would be handing AQI an IO victory on a platter.

I was part of the TF that secured the Green Zone from 2004-2005. From my time in Iraq I recognize that the Green Zone is not simply the US DOS HQ. It is also the seat of the Iraqi Government, multiple foreign embassies, home to many workers and a relatively secure refuge for NGO's. That said, there is no where else that these organizations can relocate to that provides the level of developed infrastructure, security from IED's or safety from small arms fire.

If Coalition Forces deem that the Green Zone is not safe for them any longer, I recommend a phased withdrawl based on conditions.

1. New facilities constructed elsewhere first (Victory?)
2. Capable Iraqi Security Forces able to assume responsibility for the security of the Green Zone.
3. Phased so as not to occur all at one time.
4. Public. The move must occur in the public eye and the Iraqi people need to understand that THE reason behind the move is because the Iraqi's are able to assume complete control and the Coalition is moving out of the seat of government in order to allow the Iraqis to fully govern themselves.

Mr. Brannen's belief that leaving the Green Zone will stop the mortar and rocket attacks is incorrect. If anything, this will provide a victory for AQI, JAM or any other group that wants to claim responsibility for forcing the Coalition out.

Jon Beddall
MAJ, CGSC Student
Fort Leavenworth, KS

I'd suggest moving out even further than BIAP.

Of course, I also contend that our occupation of any of Saddam's various palace and facilities was a really bad idea in the first place. In the minds of many, we simply replaced the previous occupant -- with all the baggage that entails.