Go to Original
Iraq: an Isolated Power in Inaccessible 0aFortresses
By Adrien Jaulmes
Thursday 18 September 2003
American troops have multiplied security measures in Baghdad 0abecause ofattacks. Three Americans, an Albanian, and thirteen Iraqis were 0awoundedin the last twenty-four hours in attacks in Iraq, while Washington 0ahasadmitted that there could be as many as 2,000 foreign combatants in 0athecountry ready to attack coalition soldiers. According to 0aCondoleezzaRice, National Security Advisor to the American president, George 0aW. Bush,"these hardened militants try to enter the country because Iraq has 0abecomethe central front in the war against terrorism".
Lieutenant Hays doesn't know where to find the Iraqi government. "Sosorry, my friend! Perhaps you should ask the Iraqi Help Center", says 0atheyoung American officer before returning to his conversation with a 0asoldierin his glass office.
As pink and blond as a Norman Rockwell character, Lieutenant Hays 0ais,however, the duty officer at the former Congressional Palace in 0aBaghdad.This immense building in the form of a toaster is, however, the 0anervecenter of the American Administration in Iraq. And the Iraqi 0aGovernmentCouncil since August, however, sits within the enclosure of this 0acentralBaghdad fortress. But Lieutenant Hays knows nothing about this 0aauthorityof 25 members picked according to an ethnic-religious mixture, and 0achargedby the American Administrator, Paul Bremer, with Iraq's 0ainstitutionalreconstruction.
Moreover, no one seems to know anything in the Congressional 0aPalace. Inthe deliciously chilled air-conditioned air, armies of Iraqi 0aemployees goback and forth with huge mops, polishing the marble hall vast as 0aagymnasium. Senior American officers walk through with hurried steps, 0afilesunder their arms; as do diplomats in cream colored suits with 0abriefcasesand body guards with wires running from their ears. Less busy, 0ayoungIraqi interpreters in tight pants flirt with the GIs.
Finally, I find a long deserted counter baptized "Iraqi Help 0aCenter". Butit's run by other young Iraqi women with lacquered hair, who 0agraciouslyanswer that they know nothing either. "Maybe it's in the building 0anextdoor", one of the sweepers offers. "In Tarek Aziz', Saddam 0aHussein'sformer Foreign Affairs Minister, old offices."
I leave the Congressional Palace passing by Lieutenant Hays' 0aoffice, wherehe is still involved in an intense discussion. The windowed 0adoors aredecorated with posters offering 25 million dollars for the capture 0aofSaddam Hussein. These are the only ones visible in Baghdad: all 0athoseposted in town have been mysteriously torn down.
From the other side of the street barred to all traffic, the 0asilhouette ofthe Hotel al-Rashid seems to tremble in the heat. As charming 0aas anuclear generator, this former palace of the Baath regime, with an 0aentrythat was ornamented with a grimacing mosaic of George Bush senior, 0ahasbecome the residence of senior American officials from the Defense 0aandState Departments. Past a former equestrian statue of Saddam Hussein 0aofwhich only the back of the horse remains, one walks along a concrete 0awallthat is curiously evocative of the walls the Israeli army has put 0auparound Palestinian enclaves in Transjordan.
Finding the entrance to the building in question is impossible. "Sorry,son! We're just here to stand guard. You'll have to ask the 0adutyofficer!" says a helmeted corporal in a strong Midwestern accent. He 0aisstrapped into a bullet-proof vest, his M 16 assault rifle cradled in 0ahisarms. "In any case, we don't know what's here!"
The traditional opaque tendency of campaign soldiers, 0aparticularly presentin the American army, achieves new heights in Iraq. Five 0amonths aftertaking the city, the American army is walled into inaccessible 0afortressesin the center of the same Baghdad. Installed for security reasons 0ain thesebubbles, the new transitional Iraqi institutions, like the 0afamousGovernmental Council, are so cut off from everything that no one seems 0atoknow how to physically locate them.
"It's like it was during Saddam's time!" the drivers remark, 0asmiling, asthey pass the Palace of the Republic's monumental porch. Signs 0aforbiddingphotos have made their appearance. And no Iraqi has access to the 0aPalace,a vast "forbidden city" that covers several acres on the banks of 0atheTigris, right in the middle of the city. Saddam's sons' other palaces 0aandthose of his regime's hierarchs have also become sanctuaries for 0aAmericanoccupation troops.
Daily attacks against American patrols in Baghdad and elsewhere 0ahave notmotivated the army to relax its security rules. GIs leave their 0aenclavesonly in groups of a minimum of two vehicles, armed and in combat 0agear.
The summer attacks, perpetrated through booby-trapped vehicles 0aorkamikazes, which devastated the Jordanian embassy and the United 0aNationsheadquarters in Baghdad, have only extended the psychosis.
Access to the Congressional Palace, the last American enclave 0aopen tovisitors, is like the entry to a combat zone. One parks in a 0agarageguarded by Iraqi employees who search for explosives underneath the 0ahoodand the trunk carpet. Then one must go through a grill via a small 0adoordirectly in the sights of a shooting station. Then, one crosses a 0alongalley bordered with razor wire up to the first camouflage canopy, 0awhereother security employees body search each visitor under the GIs' 0avigilantwatch.
The next stage is an open zigzag in a giant wall of "bastion-walls", thesebig folding cubes filled with dirt that American 0agenius employs like aconstruction game. Visitors' identity is re-verified at 0athe Palaceentrance. Then, in front of the Hall's windowed doors, a new body 0asearchassures that no weapon penetrates the air-conditioned hallways of the 0anewIraq.
Nothing prevents visitors from walking around the former 0aconference roomswhere the members of Saddam Hussein's rump Parliament still 0amet at thebeginning of the year, and where they have been replaced in recent 0aweeksby Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell. Or even from trying to find where 0atheIraqi Government Council sits.
Translation: Truthout French language correspondent Leslie 0aThatcher.
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