The Green Zone is a little America embedded in the heart of Baghdad. It is the former preserve of Saddam Hussein and his favored associates—an uncrowded district of villas, palaces, and monuments set in a parklike expanse that spreads for four square miles inside a meander of the Tigris River at the center of the ruined city. During the thirty-five years of Baath Party dictatorship it was neither gated nor strictly delineated, and it did not need to be, since the public's survival instincts were well honed, and people just naturally understood that special unwritten rules applied there. The Green Zone was the seat of Saddam's power. You could cross it along the three or four grand boulevards that were open to traffic, and you could reflect on the glory of the regime, but you could not safely linger or gawk. If you had a car and happened to blow a tire, you kept driving on the rims, and made a good show of it too. I know of one young man, the son of a high official in the former regime, who made a U-turn there, and was arrested for the indiscretion; he was held and questioned until his father intervened, and explained that he was innocent and just a bit feckless. Ah, youth.
Since then much has changed. In April of 2003, as the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division fought its way into the Green Zone with heavy loss of Iraqi life, the once privileged residents fled in haste, emptying compounds and palaces—and indeed an entire district—that therefore seemed ready-made for American use. Later it became obvious that the decision to install the occupation government in the center of the city and to base it in the very same buildings that had been used by the recent dictatorship was a serious blunder—one of several such blunders rooted in the arrogance of Yankee know-how, and in the strange failure to anticipate the end of the honeymoon, and the hostility that even enlightened invaders would soon elicit. At the time, however, basing in the Green Zone seemed like an act of engagement with the Iraqi people, and though the boulevards were now blocked, snarling traffic on the outside and forcing Iraqis who wished to enter to wait in exposed lines at the gates for body searches and identity checks, this was seen as a temporary expediency that surely the natives would understand: Baghdad was not quite yet secure, but soon it would be, as democracy and capitalism took hold. Moreover, life inside the zone was thought to be nearly as hard as life on the outside. It was dusty and uncomfortable, with inadequate electricity and air-conditioning, and little alcohol available at first beyond the stocks that Saddam's son Uday had collected. The grounds were scattered with shell casings and occasional live rounds. Some of the buildings had been bombed or pierced by Tomahawk cruise missiles, and all were littered with detritus and rubble. A cleanup was under way, but much remained to be done. The Republican Palace, which served as the center of operations, was crammed with American and allied officials sleeping on cots, working furiously, and making do as best they could without an adequate computer network. Fifty-four of the Iraqi dead were buried under a dirt parking lot across the way, but that, too, was a temporary thing. The fleets of shiny new SUVs parked on top of them were much in use, sailing forth daily to offices and reconstruction projects throughout the city and the nation that lay beyond it. Coalition soldiers were somehow not quite able to bring the fighting to an end, but it was an optimistic time nonetheless.
What happened next seems to have been inevitable, and not a function of who was on top in distant America—the variations of Republicans or Democrats—so much as an organic effect of forcing two radically different peoples to live so close together, cheek by jowl in Baghdad. On the outside were the Arab Iraqis, who after decades of totalitarian rule were overwhelmingly insecure, distrustful, and opportunistic. On the inside were the Americans, who if anything were too secure—spoiled by wealth and national power, self-convinced, and softened by the promise and possibility of safe lives. These were not soldiers primarily, but they answered to the Pentagon, and had no choice politically but to borrow its concept of "force protection" and to make it their highest ideal. Consequently, with every pinprick of Iraqi resistance—with every killing of a collaborator, and every wildly aimed rocket or mortar round that arched in from the city and exploded harmlessly in the Green Zone's interior—controls at the gates grew stricter, and the boundary hardened into a heavily guarded perimeter of high concrete blast walls, about eight miles around. The reaction was noticed by the Iraqi insurgents, who had plenty of experienced mujahideen to explain the dynamics to them and to encourage further attacks, even with no grand plan in mind. Little popular support was necessary for such attacks, though popular support was growing. Slowly the American engagement diminished, and with it the effectiveness of American initiatives. The Americans knew it, too. Even within the Green Zone they derided their home as "The Bubble." But they could not stop themselves from their retreat to its insides. Much has been made of the lack of planning that preceded the invasion, but it was this isolation afterward that turned out to be as great a problem. It is a famous paradox that walls that protect you also hem you in.
Inside those walls, in Baghdad, is a place that physically resembles nowhere in the United States. In one district along the Tigris private villas nestle in the shade of a luxuriant oasis. It is a perfectly Middle Eastern paradise, a fantasy of gardens and ponds, where footpaths cross ornamental bridges over artificial streams. A few villas have been reclaimed by their original Iraqi owners, exiles who have returned, but most of the properties have been expropriated by fast-moving American agencies and contractors—clear winners in the scramble for Green Zone quarters that followed Baghdad's fall. In every war there are people who manage to live well. Sitting in the villa district over drinks and cigars on a balmy evening, you might almost forget where you are. But of course you don't. The villa district is small, and the sounds of explosions intrude.
Elsewhere in the Green Zone live squatters of a different kind. They are the Baghdad poor who, long accustomed to survival on the streets, took advantage of the confusion of Saddam's defeat to scurry into a less leafy residential area that just hours before had been abandoned by the Baath Party elite. The first of them were true urban pioneers. In the midst of falling bombs and bursting shells, they staked their claims on empty houses, and very quickly called in family and friends. Since they were neither combatants nor allies of the old regime, the Americans could not decide how to get them out, and later gave up even trying. No one knows how many of these Iraqis live in the Green Zone now, though estimates range around 5,000. They live a dozen or two in houses made for five, and through poverty and crowding have turned their district into the Green Zone's slum. Some of the men do manual labor, or sell soft drinks and trinkets from streetside stands, and all have learned to pass through the Green Zone's gates by staying abreast of the ever changing requirements. They are the source of concern about enemies on the inside, but the children are appealing, and the adults are quiet and unobtrusive, and so a cautious coexistence prevails.
The truth is that inside the Green Zone there is so much open space that the two groups can live with very little interaction. Much of the Green Zone is quite simply empty, and many of its areas that are built up are merely monumental. The monuments tend to be dull, and military in nature. The best known of them is the double set of gargantuan crossed swords that enhance the martial splendor of a parade ground where Saddam would review his troops from an outdoor air-conditioned stand. The crossed swords have become a tourist attraction, a backdrop for endless snapshots. Other, more utilitarian structures stand widely scattered across the landscape of dirt, grass, and trees: they are grandly modernistic government buildings—the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers, the Baath Party headquarters, and perhaps a dozen others—that once constituted the boasts of the totalitarian regime. Though some remain usable, most are now hollow shells of bomb-busted concrete.
Loosely situated along the river, in the privacy of their grounds, stand more-personal boasts—the palaces of Saddam and his sons, a whole string of them, each much smaller than Versailles, but in the context of Iraq's suffering nearly equal in their conceit. If it is possible to judge the depravity of a regime by its taste, then killing this one was as necessary as killing the court of Louis XVI. (With the difference that the French, to their everlasting credit, did the job themselves.) Suffice it to say that Saddam's son Uday had one big palace mostly just for sex, and another one down the street, where he kept his collection of lions. The animals remained there, fed by American soldiers, until they were moved last summer to the zoo. Saddam's Green Zone residence was a little farther downriver, and is not to be confused with the massive 258-room Republican Palace, which was his workplace, and is currently the headquarters of the American occupation.
The number of Westerners living in the Green Zone varies from day to day, and has never been known precisely, but it, too, seems to be about 5,000. They are overwhelmingly American, of course. They live in large sandbagged compounds of prefabricated, factory-furnished housing modules, which are actually modified shipping containers, generally known as "trailers." They eat standard American food, almost all of it brought in from abroad and dished out in large and efficient feeding halls, scattered about. Partly in consequence of the food, they have an elaborate gym. They also have satellite TV, computers, DVDs, and telephones with U.S. area codes, which function as if they were in New York or Virginia, and thus require people to make long-distance overseas calls even to the city just next door.
The cost of all this is quite amazing: the numbers are uncertain, but on the basis of accounting agreements apparently being worked out among agencies of the federal government, overhead alone amounts to at least $300,000 per person per year. That figure, which appears to be a bare minimum, includes only room, board, and office facilities, and excludes salaries, leaves, and travel, and also the expense to the military of providing protection.
Be that as it may, at the core of the Green Zone's population are about 2,000 government officials, most now technically working for the Department of State, but with an understanding that the White House itself is directly involved. There is an international component, primarily from Britain and Australia, but also from several other countries allied in Iraq with the United States, including Japan, Poland, and the Netherlands, to name a few. These officials are surrounded by an even larger number of civilian contractors—camp followers who work for big companies like Bechtel and Kellogg Brown & Root. The contractors provide logistical services to the Green Zone (including the risky one, of supply), attempt to run construction projects in the field, and generally suck up the fortune in American funds that is being dispensed. Several hundred soldiers live there as well—most of them long-suffering reservists whose job is to defend the perimeter with their armor and guns, and whose biggest challenge, as so often in war, is to deal with the tedium of time. The other soldiers in Iraq—most of the ones out in the fight—do not live in the Green Zone, or even stop by. The Green Zone is essentially therefore a civilian place, though militarized, and with enemies all around.
Inside the zone the turnover rate is high: most people stay only a few months before moving on. The occupation has thus been characterized by a lack of institutional memory and expertise. Moreover, though there are some specialists involved, and a few non-native Arabic speakers, for ordinary officials no knowledge of the region is required. Indeed, the standard qualification for hiring on seems to amount to nothing more than a liberal arts college degree, and perhaps a political or bureaucratic connection. The officials make good money nonetheless: in addition to their federal salaries, they receive a 25 percent bonus for being in a foreign country and another 25 percent for hardship. Many also receive shovelfuls of overtime pay. As a result, even the lowest workers pull down the equivalent of six-figure annual salaries. Some work extremely hard. Almost all find living there exciting.
The culture that has resulted has been intensified by isolation. It is fundamentally American, like an outgrowth of Washington, D.C.—largely bureaucratic, somewhat political, and formed by the mingling of small-town soldiers, blue-collar workers, and legions of young buttoned-down Northeast Corridor types. But it contains romantic elements of foreign adventure as well—of colonial plantations and compound life, of military posts throughout the world, and of the war that swirls just outside the gates. The romanticism is visible in people's dress: many wear combat boots, though they could get by in street shoes or sandals, and they go around in variations of "travel" wear—convertible cargo pants, safari vests, and no small number of bush hats. Many also carry guns (some in quick-draw holsters), though there is no obvious reason other than style, since the security is tight, and the Green Zone has proved to be safer than many American towns.
For someone entering from the chaos of the city, the overall effect can be disorienting the first time: after standing in a long, tense line and undergoing two body searches and identity checks, you pass through the pedestrian gate and find yourself suddenly among green lawns, where office workers in combat boots stroll to lunch or simply wait at one of the shaded bus stops, chatting about NFL football, a General Motors recall, or some sitcom they saw on television last night. When the bus arrives, it is driven by an aging, affable Texan, and he's got Alanis Morissette wailing psychobabble on Armed Forces Radio, with the air-conditioning cranked up really high. America takes a while to get used to after time spent on the outside.
And then comes the driving. Traffic in the Green Zone is not merely light but numbingly slow and polite. Some drivers accelerate defiantly to cross the speed bumps made of flattened tank treads by the Republican Palace, and others sometimes ignore STOP signs on empty streets—but that is about the extent of any rebelliousness. The speed limit on the wide, dormant boulevards is 35 miles an hour, and it is respected. Most drivers are American, and they drive gently as Americans do, relaxing at the wheels of their SUVs, coasting, barely toeing their accelerators. They have nowhere to go anyway—maybe to the dry cleaners in a former palace of Uday's, or to one of the several bars or restaurants that have opened up, or to an outlying office over at the convention center in the far north side of the zone, where the press is kept at bay. When two SUVs cross paths, the biggest danger is the simultaneous impulse of each driver to let the other proceed. The contrast to driving in Baghdad could not be greater. Indeed, the orderliness of the streets inside the walls makes the streets on the outside seem all the more foreign and far away. With that distance comes room for imagination and a sort of infectious dread: you can feel it growing after merely a day. But since the only foreigners allowed to live inside the Green Zone are government employees and their contractors, eventually you do leave, plunging back into the dangerous, anarchic streets—and usually, unexpectedly, with a sense of relief.
Driving in Baghdad, like living there now, is a blood sport. It wasn't always so. Under Baathist rule the city was tightly bound by law and the police, and it was if anything too quiet and orderly. People were allowed to smoke in cafés, and to drive without seat belts, so it wasn't quite as petty as, say, San Francisco or New York. But it was in fact repressed. Iraqi law is civil law, an all-encompassing construct of written codes, similar to the civil law systems of continental Europe, on which it is based. Under Saddam Hussein it was weakened in practice by widespread judicial corruption and domination of the courts, and it was hollowed out by exceptions made for Baath Party members, by special courts, and by the brazen lawlessness of the ruling regime. As a result there was little faith in the law, and eventually little understanding of it even as an ideal, but to the extent that fear can replace the social contract, the rules were enforceable, and Baghdad remained a well-mannered place. Street crime was rare. People kept their weapons at home. When they wanted to celebrate, and were overcome by that powerful biological need to fire Kalashnikovs into the air, they shot surreptitiously from behind their garden walls, and then squirreled the guns away.
They were good drivers, too. Private cars were heavily taxed and restricted to the lucky few, and so traffic was light, and movement within the city was relatively smooth. It helped that there was a heavy presence of traffic police. They stood unarmed at all the important intersections and traffic circles, regulating the flow and stopping drivers for violations as minor as missing a light or overusing a horn. Many of these policemen were rail-thin. They were grossly underpaid, but allowed to collect fines in cash on the spot and, informally, to siphon off enough of the proceeds to allow their families to survive. From the public's point of view it made little difference: there was enough discipline in the system to prevent the traffic police from regularly fining drivers on false pretenses, yet the siphoning provided incentive to ensure that legal details would be enforced. And these police were not of the lethal sort—the security forces responsible for so much killing and repression. It is true that they had some power, and that this led to abuses, but they had a functioning internal-affairs branch, and for the most part were just plain traffic cops. After the invasion this is what the Americans lacked the worldliness to understand. When they tried, briefly, to let the traffic police continue to function, what mostly they saw was corruption, which they disapproved of puritanically, as missionaries do.
But that's getting ahead of the story. First, and now famously, when the lid came off Iraq in April of 2003, Baghdad fell completely apart. The failures of the ideologues in Washington, D.C., to anticipate this should stand for years as a warning against political arrogance and the dangers of formulaic world views, but in fairness, on the streets of Baghdad the thinking was no better and the surprise was equally complete. After years of strong government, suddenly pure anarchy reigned, and Iraqis were introduced to the most elemental forms of survival and predation. An acquaintance of mine witnessed a typical attack on a crowded sidewalk in the central city: a middle-aged man was walking home from the market with two bags of groceries in his arms when he was accosted by a knife-wielding youth demanding his food and money. Pedestrians passing by saw this, and did not intervene. The middle-aged man put down his groceries and reached into his pocket, but instead of coming up with a wallet, came up with a gun. He did not use it to chase his assailant away, but without a word thumbed off the safety and shot the would-be thief dead in the head. An approving crowd then gathered and urged the man to flee, not before the Americans galloped onto the scene (there was no risk of that) but before someone from the dead youth's family arrived to exact vengeance. The man pocketed the gun, picked up his groceries, and calmly walked away. Over the year and a half since the invasion, Baghdad has been filled with such robberies and killings without consequence—grave disorders that continue to present dangers today.
There is something to be said in favor of anarchy nonetheless. However brutal and unjust it may be, on the level of the street it offers the ultimate in market freedom—something like a shopkeeper's paradise. It is significant, for instance, that the man who was attacked was not merely out strolling but was heading home carrying a full load of groceries, including, probably, the superbly fresh vegetables and fruits that have been widely available in the city, and at a good price. Personally, I've found this to be one of the more striking details of life in Baghdad: even during the toughest weeks of the insurrection last spring, when American supply lines from Kuwait were interrupted and quantities at the meals in the Green Zone were temporarily reduced, there was abundant food in the rest of the city, which as usual included bananas—beautiful, perfectly ripe, unblemished Ecuadorian bananas, of a quality hard to find in Paris or New York, hanging in bunches in front of every little grocery store.
More recently, last June during the tense run-up to Iraqi sovereignty, when Americans in the Green Zone were formally locked down and required to walk around carrying flak jackets and helmets, Iraqis seemed bewildered by the overwrought advice being disseminated by U.S. officials, that those of us living out in the city should stock up on food and bottled water—as if the outbreak of civil war might somehow cause the shops to close, or the supplies to dry up. The point is that the Iraqis' recent experience has been exactly the opposite. Would you prefer beef, fish, or free-range chicken? Chinese, Lebanese, or American cuisine? Cool, watery cucumbers? Fresh greens, or carrots, or tomatoes with actual taste? Do you prefer red or green apples, Pepsi or Coke? And how about Scottish malts, Iranian caviar, Cuban cigars, or, better yet, a wide variety of weapons and explosives at discount prices? You can buy a new AK-47 with a folding stock, never fired and fresh out of the crate, for $170. A top-end Iraqi pistol costs about three times as much. But you need only about $15 for enough C-4 to waste an armored car, and hand grenades are cheaper still. You can also buy three sizes of mortars, and different kinds of rockets, too. I've heard that the problem with shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles is that the batteries go bad, and are hard to replace. I've also heard of a Russian tank for sale, and I only half doubt it. Of course there are security and logistical problems for Westerners who want to go shopping in Iraq these days—for potato chips, let alone weaponry—and you've got to have friends, as well as cash in hand. But with a bit of patience, in Baghdad you can find almost anything you could want.
If you were a typical Iraqi man, what you would want most of all, after a weapon and a woman, is a car. This became obvious soon after the lid came off. Early during the occupation, the U.S. Army reacted with typical expediency to the corruption among the traffic police, and to other problems perceived in the law—by formally suspending enforcement of the Iraqi traffic code. The police did not exactly lose their jobs, but they were left with nothing to do. This worked well enough as long as traffic was light. Simultaneously, however, a long-repressed market sprang to life, and with no vehicle registration or driver's licensing required, no taxes to be paid, and indeed no controls of any kind, torrents of used cars began flowing down the highways toward Baghdad, from across the borders with Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. Those torrents continue largely unabated today. Though most of the new arrivals are lightweight Toyotas, Hyundais, or sagging Chevrolets, the market has developed a strong preference for German luxury sedans, many apparently stolen in Europe and whisked away with the original license plates still in place. These are not grandmas' hand-me-downs but late-model cars with powerful motors, the bigger the better in an oil-rich country where you can still fill your tank for a dollar. They sell for about a fourth of what they would bring in the West. So many have flooded in by now that the best way to move inconspicuously through Iraq is in a freshly battered BMW, perhaps burning a little oil, but with an engine still strong enough for quick getaways.
The fresh battering comes naturally, as does the engine wear. Quick getaways, on the other hand, require maneuvering room, which inside the city has become increasingly rare. In fact, so many cars of so many descriptions arrived so fast that by the end of the summer of 2003 the streets of Baghdad were filled to the point of gridlock. It did not help that they were also filled with untrained and unidentifiable drivers, whose inexperience in no sense diminished their assertiveness and taste for speed. With the traffic police now sidelined, the only workable technique for negotiating busy intersections was to assume the right-of-way and to keep moving if at all possible, swerving at close quarters to avoid crashing. A Kurdish friend of mine witnessed an argument between two drivers after one of the innumerable smashups, during which one man shouted, "What kind of driving was that?!" and the other shouted back, "This is a democracy now, and I can drive as I please!"
Add to that the complications of an expanding guerrilla war, and the presence of U.S. military patrols—generally groups of machine-gun-equipped Humvees, operated by tense and frustrated GIs who swung their weapons at the surrounding traffic and were more than ready to shoot. If there was one remaining road rule in Iraq, it was to stay well behind those patrols, because of the understandable tendency of American soldiers to fire back indiscriminately when attacked. There are many stories, glossed over in official reports, of innocent Iraqis who were shredded in their cars because they happened to drive too close to a patrol that had been bombed or fired upon. Sometimes entire families died that way. Iraqis blamed the soldiers, but the soldiers were not really the ones at fault: they had been plucked from home by the highest councils of the United States, flown to a bewildering place, and plopped into a fight without front lines. They were draped with lethal devices and dressed like battle robots in body armor, boots, and wraparound ballistic sunglasses, but beneath their stony façades they were just regular young American guys, many of them peering out at the world for the first time. One in ten seemed to be a Californian with ties to the beach. Only the most exceptional of them could have made sense of this city, or distinguished between acts of aggression and normal driving on these newly anarchic streets.
The soldiers themselves did not always handle their vehicles well. They stopped traffic rudely, jumped the medians of divided boulevards, forced cars off the road, sideswiped passing motorcycles, drove on the sidewalks, and busted through intersections shouting profanities and brandishing their guns. This was loosely called "tactical driving," and on a battlefield where traffic jams pose a deadly threat, it certainly helped some soldiers to survive. But the soldiers also drove that way simply because they could, because to be at war and overseas, despite the hardship involved, is in some manner to feel free. They had imitators, too, who tended to be less disciplined and more extreme. These were the commercial bodyguards—mostly British, American, and South African—who formed heavily armed units known as personal-security details, or PSDs. There were thousands of these civilian warriors in Iraq, providing protection for everyone from the American proconsul Paul Bremer to the technicians out working on the electric grid. The best of them were former soldiers of their national special forces, and they were serious and discreet. But plenty were cowboys, too, and upon emerging from the Green Zone they drove in showy clusters of SUVs, nose to tail, cutting off traffic and careening down the streets as if they were taking fire. I thought they were rather too pumped up. But many young Iraqis were impressed and thought that their driving was to be admired.
By the fall of 2003 the vehicular anarchy was full-blown. On the large divided highways leading into town drivers routinely hit 100 miles an hour, and more if they could, swerving among creeping tanker trucks and nearly stationary donkey carts, passing on the shoulders, ignoring scurrying pedestrians, and blowing through the cross traffic with abandon. Actually there was a lot to be said for this sort of driving, once you accepted that a seat belt wouldn't matter even if you bothered to put it on. But there were frustrations, too. They came in the slow lines at the nearly worthless checkpoints, and more maddeningly behind the plodding U.S. military convoys, particularly those carrying supplies. The convoys could delay you for a hundred miles or for ten. At the tail end there was always a Bradley or a Humvee with a machine gunner looking backward, whose job was to keep the following traffic at a safe distance, about a hundred yards behind. The traffic would jockey madly for position (why I don't know, given the risk of getting shot) until some brave driver would swerve across the median to pass the convoy on the opposite side of the highway, now moving the wrong way against high-speed oncoming traffic. If the soldiers were in a sporting mood and allowed the maneuver to succeed, a herd of other cars would go bumping across the median and string out single file behind the leader, accelerating to keep close behind. Now came the catch: once established on the wrong side of the road, and having passed the U.S. convoy, the drivers could not return to the right side of the road, because the oncoming traffic, having split apart to avoid head-on collision, was now either driving on the inside shoulder or had itself crossed the median, and was locked into its own high-speed file on the wrong side of the road. Further divisions of the traffic flow were then possible. I was once embedded in one of seven columns that were passing one another in alternate strings of high-speed flows along both sides of a four-lane divided highway, and with a symmetry that was quite beautiful to behold.
But then came Baghdad itself, with its helter-skelter intersections where all the symmetry crumbled and gridlock set in. The gridlock posed threats to Westerners and their Iraqi friends, who become stationary targets, vulnerable to attack. The streets then had the feel of a hunting ground where you were the quarry with no room to run. It helped to carry weapons, but the mood could be tense. Unless of course you qualified to escape into the peace and space of the Green Zone.
Living in isolation was not what the American administrators had in mind when they first came to the Green Zone on the heels of the invasion, in April of 2003. The original team was known as the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, or ORHA. It was headed by a retired general named Jay Garner, who was assisted by a group of former officers and ambassadors, all of whom were high-powered and competent people. They were an affable, self-deprecating bunch, given to calling themselves "space cowboys," in reference not to their state of mind but to a Clint Eastwood comedy in which a group of aging astronauts are called out of retirement to make one final flight. After weeks impatiently waiting in a five-star hotel in Kuwait, they established their administration in the vandalized and looted Republican Palace, where they slept on cots, and gladly endured the heat and dust and confusion of the time. People later came to name them Orhanians. They were folksy and unafraid. They were also on a wildly optimistic mission. Washington had decided that war is like surgery, and that all that was needed now was to fill in for the top Baathists who had been excised. According to that model (which included the Iraqi public's adoring acceptance of their liberators), the Iraqi government would continue to function, and society would remain intact. With that in mind, the Orhanians were utterly unprepared to handle the dual reality of governmental disintegration and catastrophic social collapse.
And so in came the Cpathians. Paul Bremer arrived on May 12, 2003, with instruction to assume full governmental control. Bremer seemed made for this task. He was a tough, shrewd operative with strong conservative credentials, who had initially risen through the State Department, but was certainly no diplomatic pansy. In Washington he was considered to be an expert on terrorism. With his own people he was severe. His attitude, one of them said to me, was "You're here for the mission. Get the job done. If you can't cut it, fuck off." Fine. Bremer was not big on compliments. He was smart, flexible, and very hard-working. He called Washington, D.C., "the squirrel cage" and detested getting caught up in it. Even those who bore the brunt of his scorn admired him for his style. He was the Dude exuding power, the Anointed One. He would fly around Iraq in the early days, dressed in a business suit and combat boots, responding to the immediate problems that he encountered, and snapping out orders to make things right. This was not necessarily the best way to go about running a nation ("I want a law prohibiting potholes" is how someone described it to me), and follow-up turned out to be a problem, but Bremer was confident and decisive, and so, therefore, was his newly formed CPA.
Those were heady times. People in the Green Zone talked about democracy, and they believed in it in the long run, but for many of them the more immediate operative belief was that the potential for personal wealth and comfort could be made to prevail over all other forces in Iraqi society. The handouts would end, and business opportunity would win the peace: Iraq would be remade into the American ideal of a free-market state. Because Iraq had had a socialist economy for generations, dominated by large state-owned enterprises, this was a radical goal—and certainly far beyond the mandate of the U.S.-led invasion. However, the CPA had essentially unlimited resources to spend preparing the ground, and the assistance of the contractors who were arriving in force; there seemed to be no limit to what could be achieved. The assumption was that the United States would maintain full and formal control for several years, and that the political environment would be benign. The United States, in other words, was going to found a whole new nation, and worry about the political structure and the transition to sovereignty later on. Moreover, there would be no need to negotiate with stubborn constituencies like those that fetter business back home. In Iraq things were going to get done, simply because no one would say no. Of course, the Iraqis then turned out to be the most stubborn constituents of all. But those troubles were still to come. For the first few months the country was relatively docile, and Iraq seemed almost like a blank slate. For people at the CPA that was the thrilling side of the breakdown that had occurred. In the Green Zone you could make a mark on history.
There were excesses, as might be imagined. The hiring of the senior CPA staff was steered by Donald Rumsfeld and his conservative deputies at the Pentagon, who, by insisting on rigid agendas, effectively ruled out some of the more worldly officials and diplomats who might otherwise have been willing to intervene. In their place came zealous amateurs, often from the private sector, whose chief qualifications seemed to be their Republican credentials and their eagerness to get involved. To their credit, most of them eased off the ideology once they faced the practical realities of Iraq. They muddled through and sometimes got something done before getting out; they left no marks.
A few of the most zealous, however, refused to back down, and, indeed, upon arriving in the Green Zone seemed to think of Iraq as a living laboratory, a testing ground for their ideas. A high-ranking military officer with deep experience in the turmoil of the Third World, and who had worked closely with these people, later described them to me with a mixture of wonder and amusement. One of the characters was a cigar-chewing banker, who at that time was the president of Michigan State. He was a Republican partisan named Peter McPherson, whose obsession for a while seemed to be to keep the French out. The officer laughed hard remembering this. He said, "He was so fucking paranoid about the French! He was absolutely rabid! He wanted to make sure they didn't get a look into anything. We went through this discussion about the mobile phones, the networks, because you know the French are big in the region in mobile phones. McPherson wanted to find a way to construct a public tender that would"—he laughed again—"that would somehow exclude the French." If so, apparently he did not entirely succeed: The Egyptians won the contract for central Iraq, but awarded a large contract in turn to the French communications company Alcatel. So much for lofty thoughts. McPherson eventually returned to Michigan State.
Then there was a businessman from Connecticut named Thomas Foley, who was an old friend of George W. Bush's, and a major contributor to the Republican Party. Officially Foley was the CPA's director of private-sector development. In translation, according to the high-ranking officer, this meant "he was a wealthy guy who came in to play with Iraq." I asked the officer what Foley had in mind. He said, "These incredible ideas of what to do with the state-owned enterprises, and various things that never happened, thankfully ... His idea with the state-owned enterprises was just shut them down, trash them, and throw everyone onto the street. With no safety net at all. Just a sharp shock thing. Get rid of them, and let private industry take over in the void. We'd already had a disaster with the decision to disband the Iraqi army in the early days here." That decision, which was made in Washington and forced onto Bremer in May of 2003, is generally acknowledged to have been the worst of the American occupation, directly related to the competence and intensity of the insurrection that followed. The officer, who had been there at the time, said, "That was just so stupid. They had no duty-out plan. No demobilization plan. It was a mistake."
Of course the sign of real stupidity is the repetition of mistakes, and the CPA proved to be sufficiently smart to avoid that, most of the time. When eventually I spoke to Foley he appeared to be mostly unaffected by the American experience in Iraq, and as convinced as ever about what he described as the inevitable progression of world history toward a future of free-market capitalism—but he admitted that his plans to hurry Iraq along that path had so far not amounted to a single privatization. I asked the officer how successful in the end the ideologues had been, and he answered not very. They had managed to get a flat tax put into law (in an oil-rich country with no tradition of income taxes—and leaving aside the problem of collection). But most of their initiatives were blocked within the CPA. The officer said, "We went down the road of trying to turn them down by consulting with the Iraqis. We hosed them off, or tried to."
Foley went home early. He was replaced by Michael Fleisher, the brother of the former White House spokesman Ari Fleisher. Michael Fleisher said that he wanted to teach the Iraqis the concept of competitive bidding for government contracts, and he explained, "The only paradigm they know is cronyism." Back in the United States, in May of 2004, Foley addressed the Chamber of Commerce of Naples, Florida, where he responded to press reports of the Iraqi insurrection by saying, "The Iraq I came to know is the exact opposite of that. It's an Iraq that is very grateful to the Americans who are there." There is no reason to doubt that Foley was sincere.
But those were the standout cases. Even from within the Green Zone few of the Americans fooled themselves about the growing hostility of the Iraqi population—and indeed, they were if anything too concerned about it. Moreover, the idea, which was widespread among the Baghdad press corps, that the CPA was nothing but a radical neoconservative construct turned out to be operationally wrong. In practice the CPA was a broad American construct, and for better or worse it functioned as a piece of ourselves. It is true that most of the rank and file had supported the invasion, and continued to believe that they were contributing to the struggle against terrorism, but they were not ideologues so much as ordinary, overconfident, mildly presumptuous college graduates—freshly scrubbed Americans of the sort who inhabit Washington, D.C., nestling up to power.
A man from the inner circles of the Republican Palace, who was known to be a wise and experienced observer, told me I had it wrong when I said that there was something about the CPA staff that reminded me of student utopians. He said, "It wasn't that idealistic. You're right that there were a lot of young people who came in, particularly in the governance and policy area. Very nice, very personable people—nothing against them. But they had no knowledge whatsoever of Iraq, very very little of the region, and absolutely no prior experience in post-conflict operations. They were not so much idealistic as on a trip—a power trip. I don't mean this in a pejorative way, but they wanted to be Machiavellian, in the sense of 'How do we shape the politics in this country? How do we get the result of having a government friendly to the United States?' And every step that they took to try and achieve that achieved the opposite."
"Because it was manipulative. Because it was not transparent. Because it was done in every possible way calculable that would make the Shiites suspicious."
If anything the maneuvers were not Machiavellian enough. In his description of an effective prince, Machiavelli wrote, "He should appear to be compassionate, faithful to his word, kind, guileless, and devout. And indeed he should be so. But his disposition should be such that if he needs to be the opposite, he knows how." And to know how, the prince needs to understand, and never to underestimate, the people he would rule.
The introduction of a new traffic code for Iraq was hardly a page from that book. I heard elements of the story from many sources, Iraqi and American, inside the Green Zone and outside. The story began with an Army captain, a reserve officer in civil affairs. In civilian life he was a personal-injury lawyer in Maryland, some said from the suburbs, some said from a rural part of the state. I later learned his name and spoke with him, but only after his role had come to an end. He had fought his way north with the invasion, had enjoyed the period of apparent welcome that followed, and finally had been assigned to work at the CPA. True to form, he lived in the Green Zone and worked in the Palace, walking the long hallways past endless office doors, among a cast of thousands. People remember him as a good man, intense and rather humorless, but very sincere. One day, in response to Army orders, he set out to reform the native driving. This was going to be his contribution: what Iraq needed was a traffic code.
Of course Iraq already had a traffic code: the one that had been suspended by the Americans at the start of the occupation. The captain knew of the Iraqi code's existence, but he believed that the previous system was rotten to the core. When he set out to reform the streets, he did not consult with the legal advisers at the CPA, let alone with the specialists in the Iraqi traffic police, but dug up a former traffic court judge and consulted with him. Primarily, though, he seized on a model that in his own experience had worked back home—that shining artifact of evolved self-government, the Maryland state traffic code. The code required some improvements, but the captain willingly put in the time, and by January of 2004 he had come up with a tidy package, written in English, of course—a gift from the people of Maryland to those of Iraq. There were some Palace procedures that had to be gone through: like all such initiatives generated by the occupation authority, the package would have to be approved by the appropriate American "Ministry"—in this case of Justice—and it would have to be vetted by the Office of the General Counsel, but then it could be taken to Paul Bremer, who alone had the power to sign it into law. The captain had no doubt that this would be done.
The CPA Ministry of Justice was staffed by a handful of American lawyers. Like other such ministries in the Palace, it was supposed to oversee (read "run") the corresponding Iraqi ministry until Iraq could be given nominal sovereignty. The CPA Justice people were also involved in a special effort necessarily disassociated from any Iraqi ministry, to establish an honest and independent judiciary throughout Iraq. This was a lofty project, crucial to the legacy of the American occupation of Iraq, and of particular interest to such substantial legal figures as U.S. Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor. It is hardly surprising therefore that when this uninvited initiative—this traffic code—arrived unexpectedly in the office it was shunted off and delayed.
But there were real problems with it as well. First, it suffered from a fundamental structural problem: how was this all-American package, based on the Anglo-Saxon system of common law, and therefore dependent on administrative regulations and judicial history (case law), supposed to fit into a system of civil law like Iraq's, where every detail has to be spelled out in legislation, for purposes of both criminal enforcement and civil litigation? Second, even if one was willing to ignore the conceptual misfit, in Iraqi practice a common-law code would by its very omissions implicitly legalize some of the wildest local driving. And third, what was all this about anyway? Didn't Iraq already have a traffic code? The officials at CPA Justice told the captain that they could not just sign off on his initiative, and that as a start they would call a meeting with the Iraqi traffic police. The captain went away disappointed. He saw this as a case of bureaucratic interference, and all too typical of the CPA. He believed in military occupations, and thought that had the Army been in charge things would have gotten done.
The CPA was indeed a bureaucracy. Because it was a temporary organization, cobbled together from various agencies to whom many of its officials still owed allegiance, it was crippled from the start by pre-existing turf fights. At the same time, paradoxically, it was infused with the Bush Administration's disdain for governmental process and procedure—the same attitude that led to the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and that later laid the CPA open to accusations of financial impropriety. Be that as it may, on the matter of the traffic code, the CPA lawyers were not being bureaucratic so much as diligent. The code was translated into Arabic, and an American adviser who was assigned to the traffic police arranged for some high-ranking Iraqi traffic officers to come to the Palace for a meeting.
The captain dutifully showed up, as did the Iraqi officers, who were a little late because they had to be escorted in by American MPs. The Arabic translation that was given to them was poor (a perennial problem at the CPA), but it was good enough for them to understand the gist of the American initiative. They were perplexed, I was later told—astonished by what they believed was the stupidity of the document that had been handed to them. They exchanged glances as if to ask the standard Iraqi question when first encountering the CPA: could it truly be that these were the same people who had put men on the moon? As officials of high rank, they were also quite simply insulted. "Why are you rewriting our code?" they wanted to know. Since the answer couldn't very well be "Because we invaded you and won the war," or "Because the captain here got orders to," as the meeting continued, they gradually gained the high ground. They admitted there were improvements that needed to be made to the former traffic code, largely by including references to new safety equipment, and purging the old law of the exceptions it allowed for Baath Party members. The Iraqis proposed that they return to their headquarters and write a new code themselves. They promised to get back to the Americans with their own product within two weeks. The Americans agreed.
After the meeting, the captain remained unconvinced. Someone familiar with aspects of the saga explained, "This was his baby ... And he had started out like many people do here, with an assumption that was wrong. Which was that all the traffic police were corrupt, and that no one in Iraq was educated enough to write the law or to understand the problem." Speaking not of the captain, but of the Americans in general, the observer continued, "People just made assumptions about the level of sophistication and knowledge here. One of the Iraqi police told me a story of going to a training session given by the military, where some guy is explaining the Internet. Like, 'This is a phone.' And the Iraqi said, 'You know, we're not complete morons.' People came to the CPA, never spoke to an Iraqi, and just launched these projects." For related reasons, once the projects were launched there was a tendency within the Green Zone to believe that therefore progress had been made—often despite strong evidence on the outside that it had not.
The captain continued to push for his project, though by now it was clear to others that the Maryland code did not have a chance. Because the captain was a decent man, reasonably smart and well intentioned, people ended up feeling a little sorry for him—all the more so when late last February he was wounded in an ambush south of the city, and sent home early to heal. He had hoped to leave a legacy behind, and had worked hard and selflessly to achieve it. He had even won a slew of medals for his well demonstrated bravery and dedication. But he had been largely thwarted during his stay in Iraq. To make matters worse, an increasing number of skeptics in the Green Zone suspected that his story was the story of the American occupation itself.
Meanwhile, after two weeks of hard work the Iraqi police produced their draft, in Arabic, and the Americans had it translated in a rush. Again the two sides sat down for a meeting in the Palace. What the Americans saw before them was an unusual document, a traffic code that was apparently compatible with a civil law system, and that had been cleaned of references to the Baath Party, but that seemed at times to be too eager, if not completely nuts. It included, for instance, a provision against standing on the seats while a car is under way, and another against talking to the driver. Even more strangely, given the habits of Iraqis, it banned smoking in cars. One of the Americans there remembers thinking, "Well, it's not our country ... And it's true, after all, that smoking is not good for people's health."
The Americans, in other words, were trying hard to be sensitive, and they were determined to accommodate the Iraqi perspective. Entering into the spirit of things, one of them brought up a relatively recent stateside harassment—how about a nicely progressive provision against the use of cell phones while driving? When this was translated for the Iraqis, the commanding general answered that he was against it. Cell phones had been outlawed by the Baath regime, along with satellite dishes and even street maps. The general did not explain the history, but said, "You know, the Iraqi people are just getting some freedom, so I don't want to include that at this time." By now the Americans were thoroughly confused: in this new society being cooked up, drivers could use their cell phones, but they would not have the freedom to smoke? What was the logic here? A long and typically American discussion ensued, in English, pertaining to which of these various behaviors might be considered to be most dangerous. The Iraqis followed the discussion as best they could through the summaries of one of their officers, a colonel who understood English, but they were bewildered. One might expect that their confusion had something to do with the distance between such deliberations and the realities on the violent streets outside, where danger took the form of guerrilla attacks and high-speed anarchic driving. But their problem was more procedural than that: a smoking ban? Again they exchanged glances. They assumed that this was another strange American initiative, because they themselves had never written any such prohibition into the driving code. And so the Americans kept talking on.
It took most of the meeting to sort things out. The problem lay in the translation. As it turned out, while converting the Arabic document into English the CPA staff had somehow jumbled the categories, so that some of the laws meant to regulate public transport—no standing on the seats, no talking to the driver, and no smoking while riding the bus—had been mixed in to the sections pertaining to the operation of private cars. Further modifications were made to the proposed traffic code, particularly one that attempted to reduce corruption by eliminating the collection of fines in cash on the spot—in a place still essentially without banks, checks, or credit cards. One of the paradoxes of the story is that in this and other details of the emerging law, the new Iraqi code was often quite similar to what the captain had originally proposed. This was civil law versus common law, yes, but history rarely presents such simple oppositions.
In any case, the weeks and months went by. Fighting broke out in Fallujah and beyond, and the police went through various upheavals. As Iraq grew wilder, the vehicular anarchy grew in kind. The U.S. Army weighed in, saying that gridlock was posing a serious security threat to its patrols, and that something had to be done about it. Now the Iraqis were in a hurry too, because they hoped somehow to levy fines. As a result the traffic code was "fast-tracked," meaning that unlike other CPA laws, it did not have to wait for comment from Canberra, London, and Washington, D.C. Late last May, Paul Bremer signed a new Iraqi traffic code into law. One month later, when the CPA's existence was nearing its end, it was possible to imagine, if you squinted hard, that the traffic in Baghdad was becoming a little more orderly. Frankly, however, the traffic code was less of a factor in the improvement than was the heavy presence of Iraqi police at the city center in those days leading up to the birth of a nominally independent Iraqi state.
Misreadings much larger than confusion over traffic were at play in the Green Zone. One point made to me by an insider was that Americans had approached Iraq with Algerian and Iranian models in mind. They believed that given the chance, the Shiites, who constitute a majority in Iraq, would vote themselves into power and then install a fundamentalist theocracy, which would become a puppet of Iran. The insider said, "And, uh, wrong on both counts. Because ninety-five percent of the Shiite population did not want a theocracy. And they hated Iran ... But the Americans were looking at Iraq through all these incorrect prisms. They expected to be here for a while, and to manage the whole process, and shape how the politics developed, and neutralize the Shiites, and promote their own people. So they set up this 'Iraqi Governing Council' that promoted guys—like Ahmed Chalabi—they had worked with outside of Iraq, which was completely the wrong way to go. I mean, we knew that Chalabi was less popular in Iraq than Saddam Hussein. And the Iraqi Governing Council was detested by everybody in the country. It was seen as a CPA creature, seen as undemocratic, and seen as a group of outsiders—featherbedders who were only interested in themselves. It never got any acceptability. All it did was drag us down." But the CPA was visibly afraid of democracy, he said, and it was distracted by the pet theories of economic reforms. "That's where we went off the rails," he said. "Badly."
As train wrecks go, this one was barely perceptible at first. During the summer of 2003, even as the frequency of Iraqi attacks began to grow, the most noticeable change for foreign residents of the Green Zone was that life had taken a turn for the better. Gone was the Spartan existence of the first few months, when even good drinking water could be hard to find. By now the contractors had settled their crews into compounds and expropriated residences, and they were making the places comfortable. As the CPA and the contractors staffed up, thousands of new arrivals and replacements came onto the scene, including a good number of women, and people began to take the time to socialize. It was a particularly hot summer all through Europe and the Middle East, but the air-conditioning now functioned in the Palace and elsewhere, and enough generators had been brought in to avoid the power outages that afflicted the city. At the center of the operation, the CPA employees still slept in the Palace, on cots scattered all about. They worked there, too, in little offices crammed with desks and a growing number of computers, for the various ministries that made up the occupation government. In alphabetical order the ministries included Agriculture, Communication, Construction & Housing, Culture, Education, Electricity, Environment, Expatriates & Immigrants, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Health, Higher Education, Human Rights, Industry & Minerals, Interior, Irrigation, Justice, Labor & Social Affairs, Oil, Planning, Public Works, Science & Technology, Trade, Transport, and Youth & Sports. Clearly, some of these were more important than others, and some were more demanding, but even in offices where there was not much to do, people arrived by 8:00 A.M. and often stayed through the evening, if only sometimes to watch DVDs; they had nowhere to go home to anyway.
By July of that summer, a couple of months after the founding of the CPA, a fourteen-floor luxury hotel named the Rashid had reopened within the bounds of the Green Zone, on the far-northern side, and about 700 CPA employees moved in to make it their home. They lived there two to a room with private cold-water bathrooms attached, and found that by comparison to their Palace quarters it was some sort of paradise. The Rashid was an authentic showpiece of the former regime, decorated in heavy Middle Eastern style. Kellogg Brown & Root had converted a ballroom into a standard CPA chow hall, but otherwise the place was almost untouched. It offered risk-free souvenir shopping, a coffee shop, a more formal Middle Eastern restaurant, a second-floor discotheque, an outside pool, and two extremely popular bars. Just three months earlier the discotheque had been the special preserve of Uday, Saddam's psychopathic son. It was said that his invitations to carouse there were dreaded by the recipients, who dared not decline but feared his habits of raping the women he fancied and gunning people down. Now the CPA staff packed in on Thursday nights, and danced across a lit and inlaid Baath Party star.
The dancing was sexual, as, increasingly, was the after-hours Green Zone social life. There were elements of frustration involved, but also of special opportunity. Poolside, women were surrounded by gaggles of admiring men. A few went wild, or began to preen like movie stars—behavior that added spark to an otherwise utilitarian culture. In the isolation and shared circumstances, people fell easily in love. Some marriages resulted. These were the glory days at the CPA, the ones remembered later with fondness and regret. Baghdad was certainly never a holiday spot. Between songs at the discotheque you could sometimes hear firefights in the distance—and the fact that GIs and Iraqis were out there fighting and falling was a reality that no one forgot. Nonetheless, it was still quite safe to move around the city. Many of the Americans confined themselves to the Green Zone out of discomfort with the unknown, but the best of the CPA staff went out often, whether to consult with Iraqi officials or simply to explore. They drove, or took taxis at the Green Zone gates. Traffic was thick, but at night it thinned down. There were some good restaurants on the far side of the river. Westerners learned to sit away from the front windows, as much for discretion as to avoid broken glass in case of a blast. But without undue concern they could even walk around.
However, as the summer stretched on, the insurgents ramped up their offensive and began to go after civilian targets that were unfortified, or relatively easily attacked. On Tuesday, August 19, 2003, at about 4:30 in the afternoon, a truck came crashing through the thin defenses surrounding the Canal Hotel, across the Tigris and about three miles from the Green Zone. The Canal Hotel was the United Nations' headquarters in Iraq. The truck exploded against it with a characteristic thump that broke windows for a half mile around and was heard throughout the city. A section of the hotel's roof collapsed, wounding at least a hundred people and killing another twenty-two. One of the dead was the beloved UN envoy, a fifty-five-year-old Brazilian diplomat named Sergio Vieira de Mello, who had been appointed the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, and was about to leave for Geneva. He lay trapped in the rubble for several hours before succumbing. Afterward the United Nations began to withdraw from Iraq. In the Green Zone, where antipathy for the UN ran strong, the retreat was noted without great concern. These were high times still at the Rashid Hotel.
But ten days after the UN bombing a car bomb killed as many as ninety-five people, mostly pilgrims, in the Shiite city of Najaf, about one hundred and ten miles to the south, and Iraq teetered toward civil war before it teetered back. In Baghdad there were increasing numbers of relatively minor hits—kidnappings, political murders, grenade and small-arms attacks. This peppering was significant largely because it was pulled off with such impunity; though the prisons were full of potential enemies, very few of the real aggressors were ever identified and caught. The truth is that with no functioning police, few real friends, and still only a sketchy knowledge of the streets, the United States really had no idea how to respond. Implicitly the problem was acknowledged early on. In Washington people spoke before Congress and on TV about the need for more soldiers on the ground, as if those soldiers could serve as a local police force. Had the speakers come to Iraq and taken the time to observe, quietly and unprotected, they would have seen that even just Baghdad is a very large place, and that the U.S. armored patrols rolled through at considerable personal risk, but with only fleeting effect. Iraq opened briefly to let them pass and then immediately closed in behind. The United States had put itself into a bind from which it would not be able simply to spend or fight its way free. And the Iraqi resistance knew it, even if those in Washington did not yet quite.
On September 2, 2003, the Iraqi police headquarters in Baghdad were car-bombed, leaving one dead and perhaps twenty-five wounded. A lull followed, during which, however, military patrols continued to come under regular attack, with loss of life on both sides. Then, on September 20, one of the three female members of the U.S.-installed governing council, Akila al-Hashimi, was shot and grievously wounded. On September 22 the Canal Hotel was hit for the second time, now in a parking lot at some distance from an area where the UN's rearguard staff occupied some trailers; nineteen people were injured, and two died. On September 25 the hotel where NBC television crews stayed was bombed, with the loss of a guard. That same day in the hospital Akila al-Hashimi died. Briefly, then, the war came even closer to home: on the morning of September 27 insurgents fired three explosive projectiles against the Rashid. Several Americans were sitting in the lower-level bar watching sports on TV when an Iraqi came in and announced that the hotel had been hit. True to form for the CPA, the Americans reserved judgment until, very quickly, they found the news on TV. One of them later told me how strange it was to see a live image of the Rashid above a banner about an ongoing attack, knowing that he was on the inside and still calmly sipping a drink. In fact the attack was already long over. One projectile had gone into the top floor, one into the hotel yard, and one into a house outside the Green Zone. There were no casualties. The perpetrators were not caught. The Americans could not even figure out what kind of projectiles had been fired.
The troubles accelerated. On October 4, the day scheduled for the last meager payouts to members of the disbanded Iraqi army, former Iraqi soldiers demonstrated violently in Baghdad and other cities. American and British troops responded with gunfire, leaving three Iraqis dead and untold numbers wounded. This was clearly not the right way to lay people off. On October 9 a car bomb devastated a police station in the Baghdad slum called Sadr City, with the loss of ten lives. That same day a Spanish diplomat was assassinated. On October 12, in the center of the city, a hotel called the Baghdad was bombed. The Baghdad housed American contractors and security men, Iraqi Governing Council members, and, it was widely believed though officially denied, several employees of the Central Intelligence Agency. Eight people died, and thirty-eight were seriously wounded. This was the seventh fatal car-bomb attack on Washington's allies and collaborators since early August. All that same week tensions were rising fast in Fallujah, to the west. They were the same tensions that escalated into the pitched battles of the spring, when American forces were held off and much of the country then erupted into the sustained and open warfare that, with periods of calm, continues to afflict it today. On October 14 the Turkish embassy was bombed, and one person died. Mortar attacks on the Green Zone, until recently unheard of, were suddenly on the rise.
Such a list is of course compressed, and it tends to exaggerate the dangers of the time. For civilians at the CPA, as for soldiers not immediately engaged in shooting, the war was mostly just sound and aftermath, and for long intervals it was nothing at all. Some from the Green Zone continued to go out into the city, and the nation beyond, and as much for enjoyment as for work. Yes, there was war, but it was still reasonable, for instance, to sit at the sidewalk cafés in the central city. Indeed, though it was wise not to establish patterns, you could continue to do this through the fall and winter and into the spring, at which point sitting at the cafés became no longer reasonable at all.
The shock to the Green Zone was severe, therefore, when the Rashid was hit again, and this time hard. The attack happened on Sunday, October 26, 2003, at 6:08 A.M., when most of the residents were still in their rooms. Paul Wolfowitz, the Pentagon official responsible for much of what had gone wrong in Iraq, was visiting Baghdad on a typically quick tour at the time, and was staying at the Rashid on the twelfth floor. It is not known how good the attackers' information was, or if he was the target. Also staying at the hotel was an acquaintance of mine, an Australian military lawyer named Michael Kelly, who is in some ways Wolfowitz's antithesis—a calm and confident soldier who understands the complexity of the world and is respected for the balance of his judgment and his knowledge of international law. Readers may recognize that he shares the name of The Atlantic's former editor and correspondent, who seven months earlier had been killed in combat near the Baghdad airport. The Australian Kelly had arrived in Baghdad immediately afterward, with Jay Garner's ORHA, and he had stayed on in Iraq, traveling the country extensively, helping to set up independent Iraqi courts, and advising Paul Bremer on the legalities of the initiatives sent his way; people said he had done some of the best work at the CPA.
Kelly had a room to himself on the Rashid's seventh floor. At dawn on October 26 he rose and went into the bathroom to shower and shave. At about the same time, Iraqi guerrillas maneuvered a blue enclosed trailer into position about 1,300 feet away, on a street just outside the Green Zone's walls, within full view of the hotel. The trailer held rockets in launch tubes, arranged in rows and oriented to fire rearward. The guerrillas unhitched it, raised the rear door, and drove away; they were seen by an Iraqi policeman down the street, who did not understand their intentions, and might not have wanted to interfere anyway. Immediately afterward the rockets fired in sequence, having been triggered by either a timer or a remote control. Perhaps twelve of them launched successfully, and just as many "cooked off" in their tubes from the resulting heat. Such wastage was a standard technical problem for Iraqi insurgents, who tended to build their tubes too close together, and to brace their smaller launch platforms inadequately. Still, the rockets in the air were enough. One or two of them flew low, and blew a hole into the Green Zone wall, but as many as ten flew straight and true and slammed into the face of the hotel. They hit between the third and eleventh floors, sparing Wolfowitz but killing one man and wounding fifteen others, some severely.
Kelly was shaving when the rockets came in. The room next to his, which was unoccupied, took a direct hit and was destroyed. Kelly never mentioned this to me, but it was known to his friends that before escaping he finished shaving and dressed. He was steady by nature, and understood the reality of the attack: if you were not already dead or injured, you were probably safe. "No worries, mate!" he liked to say. But when he emerged into the hallway, he realized that the Rashid had suffered a serious blow: the hallway was thick with smoke, dust, and the smell of cordite, and when Kelly climbed down the stairwell it was slick with blood all the way to the ground floor.
The arm of a twenty-four-year-old woman hung by a thread; she was rushed to the Green Zone hospital, a specialized combat facility, where doctors heroically sewed the arm back on. Other injuries were nearly as bad. So this time, after all, there were worries, mate. And indeed, the man who died was Kelly's friend. He was a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel named Charles H. Buehring, age forty, who worked at the Palace in public affairs, and still counts today, nineteen months after the onset of war, as one of the highest-ranking American officers killed in Iraq. His room in the Rashid was on the eleventh floor. Kelly said that at the start of the attack Buehring had rushed with his M-16 to the window to fight back, and that he had been hit there.
Wolfowitz was one floor higher. When he arrived in the lobby, he was unshaven but dressed. Some reporters wrote that he was visibly shaken, but this seems too poetic or wishful to have been true. More believable were the reports that he was stubborn and resolute. At an impromptu press conference he said, "We're not giving up on this job." Although it was possible to feign uncertainty over his definitions, people understood precisely which job he meant. He also said, "They're not going to scare us away." He then visited a police station and the hospital, and went out on an armored "reconnaissance" patrol. When he left that night and flew back to Washington, his press people asserted the obvious—that his departure had long been scheduled, and that it did not reflect his personal concern for safety. Their assertion was made in the larger context of superficial needling by reporters, and was itself rather silly. But relations with the press were growing very thin.
Kelly told me that the attackers escaped in part because the Green Zone wall had protected them from pursuit. A joke went around that they would wait to attack again until the section damaged by their rocket was repaired. The Rashid was evacuated. With typical competence, the site managers at Kellogg Brown & Root quickly found emergency accommodations for the hotel residents in nooks and crannies throughout the Green Zone. That same day in Baghdad a deputy mayor came home from an international conference in Madrid, where countries had pledged to donate reconstruction funds to Iraq. When he got to his house, he told his family that he was going to turn Baghdad into heaven. But in the evening he went out to a café, and while he was sitting there playing dominoes, two gunmen shot him dead and walked away. The next day, October 27, was the first day of Ramadan. Within forty-five minutes four car bombs exploded in the city, including one against the headquarters of the International Red Cross. Thirty-five people died, and at least 200 were wounded. The Green Zone was mortared. Four days later there were riots in the city. A Chinook helicopter loaded with soldiers was shot down, and soon afterward a Black Hawk was lost. Iraq seemed to be unraveling fast. Within days the Red Cross reduced its staff, Doctors Without Borders moved its headquarters to Amman, and the United Nations completed its withdrawal of non-Iraqi employees from Baghdad.
The Rashid attack marked the start of an escalation that became known as the Ramadan Offensive. It led to the near doubling of American military deaths due to hostile fire—seventy dead soldiers in just the month of November. Paul Wolfowitz had said that Americans would not be frightened away, and if he meant Americans as individuals, he was mostly right. Quite a few civilians did flee Iraq, but most opted to tough it out. For some it was even an exhilarating time. Inside the Green Zone there was a sense of emergency and siege. Rumors were rife of an imminent assault, during which 600 diehard fedayeen would come over the Green Zone walls. People had Vietnam's Tet Offensive in mind. New "force protection" rules were put into effect, severely limiting access to the city. There was talk of "sleepers" in the slums on the inside. Even the Iraqis working for the CPA were suspect. Palace defenses, already strong, were made stronger still, so that the Palace became the Green Zone's Green Zone, as it remains today. A "town hall" meeting was called to allay fears, but it had the opposite effect. Work was disrupted. Mortars and rockets came in every night now, almost all of them falling into the Green Zone's open spaces. One of the biggest rockets landed in the Palace parking lot and took out twenty-six cars, mostly SUVs. Many people camped in the Palace basement because they felt safer underground. Duck and cover: you couldn't get farther from Iraq and still be there. Americans were not running away, but as a collective they were certainly giving ground.
Something similar happened in Washington, D.C. The President's advisers realized that the occupation strategy had failed. Concerned that the ongoing debacle in Iraq could cost George W. Bush the 2004 election, suddenly only a year away, they exhibited fast reflexes and strong instincts for self-preservation. Duck and cover. Though this was vehemently denied, in the fall of 2003 responsibility for the occupation was eased away from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his Pentagon brain trust and placed in the hands of the White House staff—particularly National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Henceforth the big decisions were apparently driven not by ideology or geopolitical considerations but by domestic political calculation—including, no doubt, a cold assessment of journalistic dynamics and the American public's attention span. Gone was the presumption of a long-term occupation, the very basis of action at the CPA until that time. The idea now was to limit American casualties, or the perception of them, and to "accelerate" the handover of sovereignty to Iraq by the end of June—an adequate four months before the U.S. elections. Bremer's freedom of operation would not be restricted so much as radically lopped off; he could come home before the summer, cool down at his new house in Vermont, and maybe write a book. Iraq would no longer be his problem, and by extension it would be less of the President's. The Green Zone would become an "embassy." And with Iraqi sovereignty would come some measure of Iraqi responsibility and blame.
Politically the plan worked remarkably well. To be sure, there were challenges along the way: the televised images in March of the mutilated corpses of four American contractors in Fallujah, and the political requirement to bear up and respond militarily; the frustrations of the resulting Marine Corps siege; the mutinies of the new Iraqi forces; the various episodes of sustained fighting ever since; the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib; the difficulties of assembling an Iraqi government to which the mantle of power could be passed; the very need to return to the United Nations for help, and with smiles in the form of gritted teeth. But having gone through all that, by the end of this summer it was possible to see the slow fading of media coverage, and an important part of the American electorate turning away.
At the end of November of 2003 the Ramadan Offensive faded, and Iraq settled down for the winter months. Though the insurgents still fired mortars into the Green Zone, and continued to explode deadly car bombs in the city, the frequency of the attacks diminished. The residents began to move from their emergency quarters into the new trailers around the Palace, and to dance again at the Rashid. Life seemed almost normal, though "normal" still meant living in a state of siege.
Like the bombings in the city, the mortaring of the Green Zone occurred in distinct phases over time, whether in the mornings, or evenings, or late at night. Rockets were relatively rare. But the mortar attacks were so predictable at any given time that people working in the safety of the heavy-roofed Palace had office pools going on when the rounds would come in. The explosions were loud but brief and usually quite small, with destructive power that was concentrated, and therefore localized. Because of the presence of American helicopters on patrol overhead, the mortar rounds were not "walked" to targets by forward observers but fired hurriedly at the Green Zone in the blind. The insurgents pulled up on the Baghdad streets, sometimes in full view of Iraqi crowds; they set up their tubes, shot off maybe two or three mortar rounds, and then packed up and disappeared. A person in the Green Zone would have been extremely unlucky to get hit by one, and with the possible exceptions of a Gurkha guard and an Iraqi electrician, each rumored to have been killed, across the entire duration of the CPA no one knew of any civilian who had even been grazed.
By spring the trick was to avoid getting caught up in the Palace procedures. An attack would come banging in and quickly end. After a delay of several minutes—a silence meaning that the danger was past—an alarm would go off, followed by a public-address system known as the Giant Voice, which said, "Take cover! Take cover!" The rules then required people to troop down into the basement, where they had to wait until some anonymous official could summon the bureaucratic courage to have the Giant Voice issue an "All clear!" This usually took about an hour. The rules were enforced by Marines who were supposed to keep an eye out for stragglers. At some of the busiest offices people responded to the sound of explosions not by fleeing but by locking their doors from the inside. The best thing about the Giant Voice, it was said, was that it often failed, leaving people at peace with the war. Reactions were the same at the residential trailers, which were enclosed by sandbagged walls but had thin metal roofs offering no protection from high-trajectory rounds. Huge culvert pipes and heavy concrete boxes had been laid on their sides nearby to serve as shelters, but they were not much used. On a few occasions explosives landed close enough to the trailers to knock fixtures from the ceilings, and this did arouse comment. Usually, however, when the mortars came in, people didn't even bother to get up.
One of the real stars of the occupation was a soft-spoken and thoughtfully conservative young lawyer named Brett McGurk, now serving at the embassy, who had clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and worked at the CPA directly under Paul Bremer, in a busy office that included the Australian Michael Kelly, among others. These people worked particularly hard—seven days a week, usually from early morning until late at night. McGurk told me that somehow they had gotten hold of a DVD of The Cannonball Run, an old comedy starring Burt Reynolds and Farrah Fawcett, which is said to have its charms. He said that for five months they joked about needing to sit down and watch this stupid thing, and finally one night they did.
A new man, recently arrived, was working in an adjoining room. McGurk said, "So we were watching Cannonball Run when four rockets hit. Boom boom boom boom. And the new guy stuck his head in and said, 'I hear explosions!' We turned and just looked at him. Like, 'Dare you interrupt this movie?'" McGurk laughed. "He came back in the morning and said, 'Did you guys find out where those rockets hit?'
"And it was, like, 'No.'
"Then we went back to digesting Cannonball Run."
This is a reality rarely conveyed to Americans back home. The American press in Baghdad reports on the Green Zone attacks minimally, without description or context, leaving readers to think in terms of World War II or Vietnam. Moreover, many staff members upon returning to the United States tend to indulge in innocent exaggerations about their lives on the front lines. Thus in local papers all through the nation the distinction between combat units and the CPA has been blurred, and it is the idea of sacrifice and risk that has emerged.
McGurk once described his frustration at trying to break through the public image for the sake of his family's feelings during a recent quick trip back to Connecticut. He had found it difficult to convince his mother that he needed to extend his tour in Iraq to continue his work there, which he found extraordinarily interesting. She was terribly worried about his safety of course, and was tracking all the news reports. She knew right away, for instance, when a rocket had hit the Palace. McGurk recognized that he probably sounded either reckless or slightly warped by his months in Iraq when he pointed out that this had amounted to a superficial hit, hardly more than a scratch on the face of the building, and that no one had been injured. To me after he returned he said, "You try to explain, the Green Zone's big, and a rocket, the odds of it landing on you are so slim. But you can't explain it to someone who isn't here, and doesn't have the context." His mother could not be reassured—what mother could? But McGurk's assessment was right. He had no desire to get killed in Iraq, and he knew with reasonable certainty that he would not. He was doing good work, and learning a lot. Though he never said this to me, he was one of those in the Green Zone—the serious operators—who might have wished that others there would stop with their self-dramatizations. But they would not. Many were doing little there anyway except living an adventure in their minds. They were mirror warriors. They were shadowboxers.
One twist in the Green Zone's culture is that even as the residents learned not to overreact to the inbound rounds, they grew increasingly fearful of the enemy that was firing them. By early spring violence in Iraq was again on the rise, and the force-protection rules for venturing out were ratcheted up further. The rules varied depending on nationality, employer, and branch of the CPA, and people were largely self-policed, but most residents took the restrictions as good advice: you were supposed to have a reason for going into Baghdad or beyond, and to travel only in multi-vehicle armored convoys with armed guards. In other words, you were supposed to mount an expedition. And why bother? A more prudent choice was to stay in the zone and require the Iraqis to come to you if for some rare reason you really needed to deal with them face-to-face.
But there was always a counterculture, too, made up of CPA rebels who were determined to maintain contact with Iraq, and who were willing to break the rules to do it. They simply got into cars, usually with a translator, and drove out through the gates to do their jobs. Such behavior was of course frowned on by the officialdom left behind. But the rebels tended to be strong-minded people doing practical work, and they kept at it despite the obvious dangers, for a very long time. Then, last March 9, three of them traveling together were killed.
The best known of the victims was an American woman named Fern Holland, age thirty-three, who worked for the CPA as a lawyer specializing in women's rights. Holland was blonde, blue-eyed, and beautiful—and an answer to anyone who believes that the CPA hired only right-wingers. She was a devoted liberal, fiercely committed to improving the world, and quite typically altruistic and brave. Indeed, she had something of a missionary's zeal. In 2000 she had quit her law firm to join the Peace Corps, and had gone off to Namibia, where she had stayed for eighteen months, promoting women's rights. After a stint back in the United States to study international law, she had moved to the hellish lands of West Africa—Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—where she had worked for a charity called the American Refugee Committee, investigating the sexual exploitation of women and children. She had arrived in Baghdad in the summer of 2003, and after a stint investigating mass graves, had begun to set up women's centers around the country. She was known for defying the CPA rules, for insisting on driving herself, unarmed and unguarded, in a small Korean-made sedan. She refused to wear Islamic dress, which would have made her less conspicuous on the road, and normally she did not even don a head scarf to cover her hair.
On the day she was killed, she was traveling as usual with her Iraqi translator, another women's-rights advocate named Salwa Ourmaishi, age thirty-five, whose late sister had lived in Nebraska, and who had spent several months in the United States before returning home to Baghdad, just before the American invasion. The women picked up a third CPA employee in the city of Karbala, about fifty miles south of Baghdad. He was a former Marine named Robert Zangas, age forty-four, who had entered Iraq with the invasion, had left in September of 2003, and three months later had returned to Baghdad as a civilian to work in public affairs. In Karbala he had spent the day at one of Holland's centers, conducting a workshop on the concepts of a free press for aspiring women journalists. There was a police station across the street, where Holland and Ourmaishi were known. The trio set out for the city of Hillah, to the south, with Holland behind the wheel. The end was then near: at some point between Karbala and Hillah a group of men armed with AK-47s forced them off the road, and at close range gunned them down. Soon afterward four Karbala policemen and two Iraqi civilians were identified as the killers, and arrested for the crimes—an allegation that the Karbala police denied. A few months later, during this summer's battles around Najaf, the accused men escaped (or were released) from the prison there, and of course they disappeared.
Within the CPA news of the slayings came as a shock. Soldiers and contractors had been killed during the occupation, as had Iraqi collaborators, but Holland and Zangas were the first (and ultimately only) American civilian CPA officials to die by hostile fire. There was a moralistic told-you-so quality to the reaction that followed, because of Holland's blatant disregard of the force-protection rules. But it was also admitted that the bulletproof glass of an armored car will shatter under the impact of a few closely spaced rifle rounds, and that the betrayal implicit in any sort of police attack poses special dangers even for armed convoys. More profoundly, the attack seemed to stem from terrifyingly alien minds: if the lovely and sensitive Fern Holland could be at the receiving end of such homicidal rage, then imagine the greeting awaiting ordinary American men should they ever show themselves beyond the Green Zone walls. The CPA recoiled once again, and took another step back from Iraq. Fern Holland's women's centers were turned over "early" to the Iraqis, which means in practical terms that they were probably doomed. Back in the Green Zone, many of the people who had been willing to go out and do their jobs decided henceforth just to put in their time. This was known in official language as complying with the force-protection measures. People pointed out that technically you could be fired if you did not.
But there was more to the story than that. A smart and energetic reporter for the Chicago Tribune named Aamer Madhani was based in Baghdad at the time. Madhani had traveled extensively through the dangers of Iraq—unarmed, unguarded, in ratty old cars—and he knew that many apparently random attacks had hidden histories behind them. Now he drove down to Karbala and began to ask around. What he eventually discovered was that Holland and Ourmaishi, having dropped the ex-Marine Zangas off at the women's center that morning, had proceeded to a village where one of their "clients" lived. Madhani drove to the village. The client was an old woman with a farm, whose husband had left her years before, and who ever since had been bullied and ostracized by her neighbors. During the Saddam years a local Baath Party member had come onto her land and built a house. After the fall of the regime she had tried to get this man to leave, and he had refused. The judge and the mayor had taken his side. Ultimately Fern Holland had gotten involved, and having exhausted other means of persuasion, had arranged for a bulldozer to come in. On the morning of the last day of her life Holland had supervised the razing of the house.
Madhani wrote this up in a 3,000-word feature that was co-authored with staff reporters in the United States and published by the Chicago Tribune ten days after the attack. For lack of evidence, the article avoided asserting the existence of a definite link between the bulldozing and the murders, but that possibility was now clear. The U.S. investigators assigned to the case must have discovered it too, though they could not talk about their findings. But even after the Tribune report appeared, most residents of the Green Zone seemed not to have heard. One might think someone would have taken pains to spread the word, since even a potential motive beyond blind hatred and war might have helped to ease people's anxieties, and encourage continuing contact with Iraq. But there was a problem in the Green Zone with the lack of local news. People watched Fox and CNN for what they were worth, and they saw plenty of reporting from Iraq (offering many their only view of the country), but they suffered a nearly complete blackout from the Green Zone itself. What the residents needed was a good hometown paper, independent and pugnacious, an uncensored Occupation News. Instead they got Stars and Stripes. Even in internal communications simple information was guarded and compartmentalized, often for political reasons posing as "security," or for no reason at all. Real events were known to have happened, but their resolutions were never explained. For instance, when an Arab TV crew was arrested at a gate, had explosives really been found packed into the cameras, or had the dogs simply been reacting to the chemical traces of a battle legitimately covered? Or Fern Holland—is it true that she got into the middle of a land dispute? So tense and politicized was the CPA that it was considered bad form even to ask. Residents were left to contemplate innumerable plausible rumors that could not be verified and yet would not fade away. Had there been a firefight out by the crossed-swords monuments on Saddam's parade ground? Had there been a drive-by shooting? A bomb found in the convention center? In the Governing Council building? In the Palace itself? People lived in a fog, and could never be certain of what was happening around them. It was partly as a result that they were so easily spooked.
The clearest example I know of occurred soon after Fern Holland was killed. Late one night behind the Palace an Army captain working for the CPA was returning to his trailer when he was stabbed in the face, neck, and torso. A guard heard the noise, and the assailant fled into the darkness. An internal alert was issued, rousing the entire Green Zone and causing a full-scale lockdown. The victim was taken to the hospital. Word went out that the assailant appeared to be an Iraqi—and by implication a terrorist. The Palace and the trailers were thoroughly searched, and over the next few days roving patrols of Gurkhas checked the grounds, and new lighting was installed throughout the trailer camps. People were urged to walk nowhere outside the Palace without escorts.
All this amounted to a big disruption of the sort merited only by genuine danger. It is also simply a rule of fortress life that infiltration is much to be feared. People therefore felt personally involved. Word eventually came down that the victim was stable, and that he would recover. But that was the end of it. The captain was never publicly named. He must have been flown out, because he was not seen again. More to the point, no further word was given about the Iraqi assailant. What did he look like, for instance? Had he come over the wall? Through a gate? From the slums on the inside? And how had he escaped? Or was there an Iraqi at all? Had the captain been drinking? Had there been a fight? Was there an old-fashioned love triangle involved? For all these questions the rumor mill provided answers, but tentatively. And this was not fun. Many people were too uncertain to concentrate much on the larger mission, whether it was running or rebuilding Iraq. Progressively through the spring, past June 28, when nominal Iraqi sovereignty came, and into the summer under the new embassy regime, the Green Zone kept seizing up with fear.
But there is an encouraging side, too: among the crowds of ineffectual officials, bureaucratic obstructionists, and delusional politicos rotating through the Palace, there were always a handful of smart and experienced people who were bearing up well, often despite their own misgivings, and they were carrying the CPA. For instance, there was a grandfatherly retiree who went daily into the city, quietly and alone, and helped to establish the first functional banks. There was a Coast Guard officer who came to Baghdad late, but rescued the CPA's Ministry of Transportation from its shambles, and got the southern ports in order. There was a motorcycle cop from Florida who did risky and effective work getting the Baghdad police back onto the streets. There was another American who strove to clear barricades and debris. There were people from the U.S. Department of Justice performing miracles to establish an independent Iraqi judiciary. There were crews out upgrading the national electric grid, despite attacks. There were civilian security men out taking fire and saving lives. There were others.
At the top of the pyramid, with good fortune for the United States, was the besieged legal team on which Brett McGurk and Michael Kelly worked. This was the Office of the General Counsel, headed by a U.S. Army lawyer named Scott Castle, who proved to be quite brilliant and capable. The office was dreaded within the CPA, because it blocked so many pet programs. The programs were blocked because they were illegal under international law, because they were inappropriate for a country like Iraq, or because the Iraqi Governing Council itself objected. They were all the well-intentioned Maryland traffic codes that had somehow passed through the Green Zone labyrinth and were inbound for Paul Bremer's signature. Because of the small-town character of the Green Zone, rejecting them was often awkward for the staff. At one point, for instance, an official originally from the U.S. Department of Labor submitted a proposed new Iraqi labor law that he seemed to have been working on for months: it was a wild document, ninety pages long, and full of such minutiae as requirements for specific companies, including staffing levels, the placement of doctors and nurses, and the management of breast-feeding breaks. How do you say to someone you live with that his work is that far out of touch? Word was sent through back channels, gently. In the end the law was whittled into a provision against child labor.
But the office was not just defensive in nature. Working under Scott Castle, and ultimately under Bremer himself, the lawyers there essentially drew up a new nation, helping to create a temporary constitution to serve as a practical structure for the soon to be sovereign government, working with the United Nations to shape the first election plans, and ultimately delivering a hundred basic laws, known somewhat unfortunately as "Orders," with which an Iraqi government could start to work. The Orders have been much criticized. They suffer from an ad hoc quality, the same lack of a coherent plan that has hindered America in Iraq from the start. Moreover, some of the Orders in the area of economic reform seem to have been driven by conservative zealotry, and are of questionable legality anyway: despite resistance from London, which was reluctant to violate a clear ban on economic restructuring that is imposed by international occupation law, Washington and its then ally Ahmed Chalabi drove through the reforms on the basis of a UN resolution that after the American bombing campaign and invasion had called for economic reconstruction in Iraq, and the establishment of conditions necessary for growth and stability. Some of the Orders are also almost comically disconnected from the foreseeable realities of Iraq. The Copyright Order comes to mind, as does Order 81—the Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety law. But in those cases certainly no damage was done. And, quibbles aside, the Orders overall constituted serious and important work—certainly the best that the Green Zone has produced. They are the CPA's legacy, after fourteen months of a difficult occupation—a set of tools that might somehow be used by the Iraqis in the upcoming fight to stave off troubles worse than any yet seen.
The birth of the American-made Iraq, last June 28, was a striking experience for the American officials involved. Though Iraqi sovereignty was weak, and did not extend to control over U.S. officials or troops, it was immediate, and more real than cynics on the outside believed. The Green Zone, however, remained unchanged. One week later I went to a July 4 party at the pool on the Palace grounds. Chairs were arranged on a lawn. The evening was hot. There was food and drink, and an Army band played songs. A car bomb had exploded that afternoon in the central city, but it seemed long ago and far away. A video of fireworks played on a big screen, with the volume turned off. Everyone expected that mortars might come in, but for some reason none did. Helicopters patrolled overhead.
It was a strange time in the Green Zone. Paul Bremer was gone, and the Palace had become an embassy. Now the Green Zone was to be called the International Zone—a descriptive enough name, which in a year or two might actually stick. CPA employees had been shipping out for weeks, crossing paths with State Department strangers shipping in. About half of the old crowd was leaving. As a measure of the new one, it was said that men could be seen wearing ties in the Palace hallways. There was some hope at the time that an infusion of worldly diplomats might somehow loosen the Green Zone up and allow people to engage with Iraq. Months later now, in the fall, it has become clear that this was not to be—that the new regime is perhaps even more tense than the CPA, as U.S. elections approach and the fighting in Iraq surges.
In any case, at the July 4 party it was diverting to spot a few men wearing dark suits and good shoes. They kept together a little cautiously. But others were having a good time. There were hundreds in the crowd now, maybe more. Many wore a T-shirt of Uncle Sam saying "Bring It On!" Many were middle-aged and slightly overweight. Many were young. Some wore bush hats. I spotted surprisingly few guns. Some people jumped in and out of the pool, or lolled around in the water on children's floats and duckies, drinking beer. At some point the band played "God Bless America." Later a Green Zone choir stood in a little open-air pagoda and sang all four military service songs, for the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marines. You could see who was (or had been) in what service by those standing at attention, and maybe even getting a little emotional. I felt a twinge for the Coast Guard man, though I don't know if the Coast Guard has a song. By this time there was a lot of drinking going on. People began dancing on the lawn. Voices were loud. Slowly, as the night went on, the party got wild. I saw no Iraqis there at all. I walked through the crowd looking at the characters, wondering as I had before what this enterprise was all about. Everyone there would have had a different answer, based on background, motivation, and experience here on the ground. So maybe there was no answer at all. Maybe you just had to assert the obvious: that this was a war, that this was the Green Zone, and that this was America.