This article is written by an embedded reported that came here for a few days. Enjoy.
Green Zone: Safest place to be in Iraq
U.S. troops who guard Baghdad's Green Zone confident but cautious
10:52 PM CDT on Friday, June 25, 2004
By ED TIMMS / The Dallas Morning News
BAGDHAD, Iraq – Baghdad's so-called Green Zone is Iraq's ultimate gated community.
Heavily armed soldiers control access to the area's closed-off streets in central Baghdad, aided by a seemingly impregnable maze of dirt-filled barriers and imposing concrete walls topped with razor wire. From observation posts above, troops monitor potential threats.
Because U.S. occupation authorities and members of the emerging Iraqi government live and work in the Green Zone, keeping it safe and secure is a top priority. U.S. soldiers and Iraqi National Guard forces search thousands of pedestrians and vehicles that enter the area daily. In addition, high-tech sensors and dogs trained to sniff out explosives help keep bombs from getting inside.
First Lt. Jordan Enger, 24, of Houston is a 2002 graduate of Texas A&M University who serves with the task force responsible for defending the Green Zone and some of the adjacent neighborhoods. He said tight security "creates a much different atmosphere" than the rest of Baghdad.
"With our presence here, it's definitely the safest place to be in Iraq," he said.
In fact, life inside the Green Zone is more low-key. Pizza takeout is available. Nonmilitary personnel can visit several bars. Soldiers can walk around their compounds without helmets and body armor..
Civilian joggers in shorts and T-shirts or tank tops run along the streets unarmed. Women, including Iraqis, are more likely to wear Western clothes, including jeans and short-sleeved blouses.
But the Green Zone is a big target for insurgents who want to sabotage U.S. efforts to establish a more stable and democratic government in Iraq.
"If we don't protect this base of power, then we'll never get a reasonable democracy or government stood up in this country," said Lt. Col. Robert Campbell, 42, of Bonham, who commands the nearly 1,100 soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division's 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, and other units that comprise "Task Force Warhorse."
His soldiers are taking additional measures to beef up defenses and rehearsing for possible attacks in the coming days.
Even now, the Green Zone is not immune to attack. Mortar shells and rockets randomly detonate within its boundaries, usually harmlessly. Occasionally, car bombs – to date, the deadliest method of attack employed by insurgents – explode just outside its boundaries.
So far, none of the car bombs have made it past the defenses. Insurgents sometimes fire at the soldiers manning the checkpoints, from the cover of buildings or from vehicles. But the task force has suffered no fatalities.
"It's like water coming up against the dam," Sgt. Daniel Stinebaugh, 43, of Killeen, said of the violence on the Green Zone's edges.
No illusions of safety
The soldiers have no illusions, however, that they have it safe or have the luxury of relaxing their guard. They know that insurgents would like nothing more than to successfully launch an attack against what is effectively Iraq's political and military nerve center – and that their security measures are constantly being probed for weaknesses.
"It's very hard to stop somebody who's willing to give their life for what they believe in, right, wrong, or indifferent," Col. Campbell said. "We know we can't stop a car bomber from setting off a bomb outside a checkpoint, or right at a checkpoint. What we can do is limit the number of casualties."
A tangible reminder of the risk is gouged into the road that passes through Checkpoint 11. The filled crater marks the spot where a car bomb exploded on May 6, killing Arkansas Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Hesley Box Jr., 24, of Nashville, Ark., and seven Iraqis, shortly before Col. Campbell formally took command of the area.
At checkpoints, soldiers give Iraqi workers and residents the most scrutiny. Residents have been issued identification cards. They can receive visitors from outside the Green Zone but must meet them at a checkpoint and surrender their identification cards, as must the guests. The documents are returned when the visitors leave.
Iraqi workers and residents sometimes must wait for hours in line to be screened before they can enter the Green Zone.
"At the same time, there are ways that you can show that you care," said Staff Sgt. Richard Barrera, 25, of Fort Worth. "Some guys who are sweating in the hottest part of the day, maybe you offer them a drink of cold water. Somebody who looks like they're hungry, you offer them a little food."
This week, traffic at one checkpoint was halted for more than 90 minutes when tests indicated that a car might be carrying explosives.
"We upset some of the residents who live here ... but we don't want anyone driving through here while there is possibly a car bomb," said 1st Lt. Bryan Frizzelle, 24, of Baltimore.
None were found in the car.
The soldiers who man the checkpoints develop a knack for spotting vehicles and individuals who merit more scrutiny.
Sgt. Edwin Ordanza, 36, a native of Baguio in the Philippines, looks for "low-riders" – cars that seem weighted down. People who seem nervous, appear to be sweating excessively, or whose hands shake as the soldiers check their identification also are more likely to get more attention.
Some soldiers are able to tell when a vehicle that's not normally in the neighborhood is parked on the street, potentially a car bomb.
Getting to know the neighborhood also may lessen the chance of a misunderstanding with potentially dire consequences.
Spc. Joseph Lampron, 43, of Rumford, R.I., one of several Rhode Island National Guard members who volunteered for service in Iraq, learned that some Iraqis living near Checkpoint 11 raise homing pigeons and wave flags to get them to land or fly. Soldiers who were unaware of what they were doing, he said, thought it might be a signal to insurgents.
To break the monotony, soldiers rotate through different positions at the checkpoints, and many go on patrols through Iraqi neighborhoods in the Green Zone, or in adjacent neighborhoods under Task Force Warhorse's control.
"Everybody likes patrols," said Sgt. 1st Class John Kaasch, 40, of Columbus, Neb. "One reason is that you get out and mingle with the civilian population."
By cultivating relationships with Iraqi residents, the soldiers said they hope to encourage their cooperation in helping deny insurgents use of Iraqi neighborhoods in the zone to launch attacks. They also said they want to help Iraqis improve their neighborhoods.
Capt. Alexander Rasmussen, 27, of Crown Point, Ind., the task force's civil affairs officer, said projects valued at about $500,000 – ranging from sewage system improvements to school supplies – have been funded in its area of responsibility. Task Force soldiers have helped jump-start neighborhood governing councils and provided aid to businesses.
Capt. Henry Alvarez, 31, of Roswell, N.M., whose soldiers operate in the Iraqi neighborhoods inside the Green Zone, said he is asked to help resolve everything from housing issues to domestic disputes.
"The only thing I have trouble with is everybody wants me to come over and eat at their house – and the Iraqi food kind of tears me up sometimes," he said.