by Patrick Lang (bio below)

Robin Wright, the WaPo Mideast writer, has been to Baghdad three times now since the capture of the city by US Forces. In these trips she has been in the entourage of the US Secretary of State, first Powell, and now Rice.

Wright finds that the circle of security is shrinking in the International (Green) Zone. When first she went there it was possible to stay at the Rashid Hotel, wander the city and walk about the International Zone.

On her second trip the delegation was flown into the country for a day, kept under a close watch and then flown out before the sun set.

On her latest trip, she found the following:

On this latest trip to Baghdad, the bubble shrank even more. No roaming the Green Zone. Not even a stop at the convention center. The press corps, including veteran war correspondents, was sequestered in Hussein’s old palace for most of the seven-hour stay. We were discouraged from wandering the palace and were provided escorts to go to the bathroom.” (Washington Post)

In the ’80s I used to stay at the Rashid for extended periods, go out and run through the neighborhoods with a colleague, and drift around in the Baghdad “suq” looking for trinkets. On the morning runs, the guards in front of public buildings would look up from their tea and sleepily call out “Good for you, mister! Good for you.” The “Leader” had decreed that exercise was good for you. Politically, that period may have been a low point for US-Iraqi relations, but it stands in marked contrast to a situation in which a visiting journalist of Ms. Wright’s experience in the Middle East is required to have an escort to go to the bathroom INSIDE A GOVERNMENT FACILITY.

It also stands in stark contrast to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) anytime between Tet, 1968 and the Fall of the town to the communists in 1975. In that period we drove our cars anywhere. We dined out as time allowed and were principally concerned (in the city) with pickpockets, traffic and beggars. I spent a lot of time in that period in the field where the war was and the contrast with the quiet in the city was striking.

Question: Why is the perimeter of security shrinking in the capital city if the government’s influence over the people is growing? The situation should be the exact opposite.

Pat Lang

Col. Patrick W. Lang (Ret.), a highly decorated retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces, served as “Defense Intelligence Officer for the Middle East, South Asia and Terrorism” for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and was later the first Director of the Defense Humint Service. Col. Lang was the first Professor of the Arabic Language at the United States Military Academy at West Point. For his service in the DIA, he was awarded the “Presidential Rank of Distinguished Executive.” He is a frequent commentator on television and radio, including MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann (interview), CNN and Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room (interview), PBS’s Newshour, NPR’s “All Things Considered,” (interview), and more .

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Drinking the Kool-Aid,” Middle East Policy Council Journal, Vol. XI, Summer 2004, No. 2

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