Like a super-strength bubble, dodging volatility on its parameters, Iraq’s Green Zone has now become less the International Zone it once was.
Intensifying Iraqi government control of the area ─ once known as the heart of the American occupation ─ has goaded international inhabitants to leave, creating an increasingly isolated area and a fortified Iraqi security force presence.
“They have hit a point where it’s virtually impossible to stay,” Doug Brooks, president of the International Stability Operations Association, a trade group that represents foreign firms and nonprofit organizations in Iraq told the Washington Post.
The Green Zone was once riddled with international private security companies and international firms but an increasing Iraqi hold on the area has forced such firms to relocate.
It began when in early 2009 the United States began shifting control of the zone to the Iraqi government as the country was becoming less dangerous. But Iraqi police and military forces then began to raid offices of private security companies and such international firms operating within the Green Zone, ultimately pushing them away.
It was a good place for business, however; Iraq’s movers and shakers took up office in the area.
The Zone was home to the offices of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and parliament, including the residence of many top Iraqi officials. Thousands of foreign diplomats and support staff members also live in the area, although they “tend to stay inside their own walled-in compounds,” the Post reported.
“When they leave, they travel in armed convoys. And even their presence could decrease,” it added.
And so, the future looks bleak for a strong international commercial presence in the area to be enhanced.
But this could be viewed as “blind” Iraqi government domination. The spokesman for Maliki, Ali Hadi al-Moussawi, was quick to brush off speculations over the Zone’s misgivings.
In reference to commercial firms, Moussawi told the Post: “If they don’t have any business in the International Zone, they have to leave.”
And with regards to Iraqi citizens within the International Zone, Moussawi painted a happy picture, explaining that they don’t see the government center as isolated but as no longer occupied.
“Now,” Moussawi said, “they feel it is for them.”
Iraqi control of Iraq
But Iraq’s future control over the Green Zone moves in par with the government’s control of its entire country at a time where political quagmires have intensified, particularly since the U.S. troop withdrawal at the end of 2011.
In just a few months, there has been a decline in American influence on Iraqi politics. A row erupted in January between the Shiite-led government and the Iraqiya bloc as authorities charged Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni and Iraqiya member, with running a death squad.
In turn, Iraqiya began a boycott of parliament and cabinet to protest what it charged was Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s centralization of power, and it has since called for Maliki to respect a power-sharing deal or quit.
The boycott has now ended but factional violence spatters throughout the country and the government’s control appears to be suffering from the years of flaws in Iraq’s political structure which lurk beneath the surface.
Or, hang like a thick cloud visibly above Iraq’s political scene.
The Green Zone, the once safe-haven bubble, could easily burst under political pressures and increasing unrest on its doorstep.
Once a bastion of safety in the war-torn country, concerns over its stability have shifted away from the fear of militant attacks on the area. The reality is much more threatening and far more impending for the Zone’s long-term stability.
Iraq could crumble under its own control and state failure looms in the government’s effort to grapple over power. In essence, the Green Zone is a microcosm of the country as a whole; the attempt to flush out American or international occupation is dangerous and tells the tale of a regime that wants too much, too soon.