Green Zone handover: The farce of Iraqi sovereignty?

© copyright 2009 Michael Prysner.  Party for Socialism and Liberation

Originally Published, Thursday, January 8, 2009

Only end of occupation can restore self-determination!

The author is an Iraq war veteran.

On the heels of the Status of Forces Agreement, the Iraqi flag was raised for the first time since the 2003 invasion in a symbolic handover of the Green Zone to the Iraqi government.

The Green Zone is a 5.6-square-mile community along the west side of the Tigris River in central Baghdad. It is home to roughly 30,000 residents, including 14,000 U.S. and coalition forces. For nearly six years, the Green Zone has been used to paint a picture of stability and U.S. success in Iraq. When U.S. and foreign politicians visit occupied Iraq, they stroll around the Green Zone, being shown beautiful gardens and lavish palaces that paint a picture of a safe and successful occupation.

But the Green Zone itself is nothing more than a public relations prop and a headquarters for the military brass, private military contractors, and Western corporations to conduct their affairs in luxury. It is off limits to most Iraqi citizens.

Its relative safety is due to a 13-foot concrete wall, miles of barbed wire, machine gun nests every few hundred meters and tightly controlled entry points. Anyone entering the Green Zone is searched thoroughly with high-tech devices such as body scanners. While the Green Zone is frequently attacked from outside with rockets and mortars, there have been few attacks within its walls due to the overwhelming security measures.

The situation just outside the walls of the Green Zone is drastically different. The Green Zone sits in one of the areas where the Iraqi resistance is strongest. Residents outside its walls must cope daily with the severe manifestations of the occupation-extreme poverty and violence.

With U.S. officials coordinating every aspect of Iraqi governance from within its walls, the Green Zone has long been a symbol of U.S. colonial occupation in Iraq. But now, in a move to further tout the occupation, the Green Zone is being manipulated to become a symbol of Iraqi sovereignty.

The handover of the Green Zone, in fact, does nothing except place Iraqi guards in charge of security. Essentially, the “sovereignty” heralded by the handover only gives the Iraqi security forces backed by Washington the sovereignty to protect their occupiers as they continue business as usual within its walls.

Public spectacle changes nothing

Still, Iraq’s puppet president, al-Maliki, declared Jan. 1 a national holiday titled “Sovereignty Day.” A banner at the transition ceremony read in Arabic, “Receiving the security of the Green Zone is a major step toward full independence and the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.” Once the ceremony concluded, the banner was taken down, and behind it was a sign listing a set of rules created by the U.S. military. (Washington Post, Jan. 1)

While the Iraqi security force in the Green Zone-the “Baghdad Brigade”-has supposedly been put in charge, that too is a farce. The Baghdad Brigade is under direct control of President al-Maliki-a U.S. puppet whose government would collapse without Washington’s backing. Furthermore, U.S. forces will continue to be in direct control of security for the next 90 days, at which point the arrangement will be “re-evaluated.” While the Status of Forces Agreement mandates that U.S. forces in the Green Zone come under Iraqi control, U.S. officials have acknowledged that how and when that will happen is uncertain, and unlikely for the time being.

Even if the Baghdad Brigade does officially control security in the Green Zone, it will only be under the strict watchful eye of the U.S. forces. Baghdad Brigade commander Brigadier General Emad al-Zuhairi said, “The Americans will supervise us.” (Washington Post, Jan. 1)

Majid Mola, a resident of Baghdad, commented on how he viewed the newly gained “sovereignty”: “Where are the government services? Where is the electricity? People want practical things.” (Reuters, Jan. 1)

The handover of the Green Zone serves only to improve the public image of a brutal occupation that has killed more than 1 million Iraqis, displaced 4.5 million more, and plunged the Iraqi population into deep poverty. The symbolic handover should be seen for what it is: a public-relations ploy detached from the reality on the ground. While the Iraqi flag now flies over the hub of the occupation, nothing has changed for the Iraqi people.

Raising the Iraqi flag is a symbolic step that brings Iraqis no closer to sovereignty, but is a real step towards cementing U.S. imperialism’s geopolitical and economic goals. Real sovereignty requires an immediate end to U.S. occupation and intervention-a goal the Iraqi people have bravely been fighting for, and for which they deserve our full support.