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Inside Iraq’s Green Zone

Left Turn
Date Published: 
March 01, 2006
    Inside the heavily fortified Green Zone (GZ) near Baghdad—Iraq’s politicians, imposed leaders, and occupation generals plan the future of the country. The GZ is where all major decisions are made, including the drafting of the Iraqi constitution. Supreme power is thought to reside in the GZ. Left Turn interviewed a “European Official” currently working and living inside the GZ about the disconnect between the life of Iraqis under occupation and the place where their rulers live. The official agreed to the interview under the condition of guaranteed anonymity.

LT: Regarding life in Baghdad’s Green Zone—do policymakers there have a grasp of daily life and life-affecting issues for ordinary Iraqis? Did you get any sense of what was happening outside or did you feel like you were living in a bubble? GZ: People in the GZ are completely insulated from daily life in Baghdad. There is 24-hour electricity and water and, while we can hear gunfire and blasts out in the city, these quickly become ignored background noise as no one has even been injured in the GZ for a long time. Most policymakers never leave the GZ and get most of their information about what’s happening in Iraq from newswires. They are no more informed than people back in the West and often less informed. While some Iraqis do come into the GZ to work in menial roles, few of them have much contact with the policy community. Furthermore there are surprisingly few Iraqi expats with a foot in both worlds in the policy community—in fact, there seems to be a bias against them. The most serious problem is transience, given that people rarely work in Baghdad for more than a year, and often less than that, with significant holidays during that period. Few people are here long enough to even begin to understand this complex country. The dreadful policies that result are no great surprise. LT: Who have been the key players in the drafting of the constitution and how were they chosen? Also, how were you chosen to participate in the process? GZ: The Constitutional Committee (CC), established by the Transitional National Authority (TNA) from its members and later incorporating 13 additional Sunni Arabs who were not TNA members, was dominated by the main political groups, particularly Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq SCIRI (its representative Sheikh Hammoudi was the powerful chairman and its member formed the majority of the staff of the secretariat which supported the CC and ran media and public submission campaigns) and the Kurdish Alliance that was backed up with powerful advisers and lobbyists such as former US-Ambassador Peter Galbraith. Adnan Janabi, one of the few Sunni TNA members representing Allawi’s secular Iraqi List on the CC, was an influential player as a vice-chairman, as was Masoud Othman, the Kurdish vice-chairman. The key Sunni figure, and most vocal critic, later in the process was Saleh Mutlaq, spokesman for the National Dialogue Council (who he has now spilt with to run independently in the December elections). The UN had an official mandate to support the process neutrally. The US and UK governments involved themselves considerably, particularly in the illegal stages post August 15, as did the US-government-funded NGOs. The German NGOs did not have a presence in Baghdad but supported the process from Amman. LT: Paul Bremer signed 100 Orders—de-facto laws governing everything in Iraq from road safety, privatization, demonstrations, intellectual property rights and trade unions. What did those who participated in the drafting of the constitution think of these Orders? Did they regard them as legal? How many have been kept on Iraq’s law books and why? GZ: To my knowledge there was no discussion of Bremer’s orders in the constitutional process. There should have been and would have been if the process was geared on the interests of Iraq as a whole. LT: Could civil war break out in Iraq? Is sectarianism a serious problem? GZ: Under many common definitions of civil war, it already exists in Iraq. Certainly the inter-community kill rate is far higher than in many other countries considered to be in a state of civil war (such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, etc.). Iraqis are not naturally very sectarian but the pressure of the occupation, the space given to sectarian exile political parties and the bungled political transition has resulted in intense sectarianism. Most Iraqis dislike this, but are being increasingly driven to defensive identification with their ethno-religious community as a result of attacks, political rhetoric and the dire economic situation. LT: Has there been, to your knowledge, much reconciliation and community and trust rebuilding in the past two years? GZ: Sadly there has been very little of this going on and little focused support for it from the international community. Some Iraqis have heroically attempted to work across community lines but have often been marked as targets by the Jihadists, ex-Baathists and sectarian parties who are drawing strength and advancing their agendas from community conflict. LT: Regarding the Structural Adjustment Programs that have been designed for Iraq—were there any voices in the constitution-drafting body conscious of the illegitimacy and immorality of Iraq’s debt and calling for its unconditional cancellation? If so, why not? GZ: These issues were hardly discussed at all. The issue only entered in discussions of the distribution of ownership of oil revenues between the center and the regions. The US was afraid that unless there was considerable centralism, Iraq would be unable to service the existing debt in the future and might have problems taking out new loans secured on oil revenues. LT:What were your expectations of the constitution-drafting process and the future outcome before you took part, and what are your expectations now? GZ: I hoped the constitution process would be an opportunity for Iraqis to unite around a common vision for their future. Unfortunately, because of sectarianism and because of the truncated process—less than a tenth of the time taken to write constitutions in other, less complex, contexts—the process was divisive rather than unifying. Also, the focus on a couple of key issues where different groups disagreed meant that there were a lot of omissions and deficiencies in aspects of the text that were not so controversial and rushed over. There is some small hope that deficiencies in the text and some of the concerns of the Sunni community can be addressed in the Constitutional Review Commission scheduled for the first four months of the new government, but that remains to be seen. LT: Who do you believe should have taken part in the process but did not? What were the reasons for their lack of participation? GZ: The big problem in participation was that many Sunnis boycotted the January elections and hence only had 17 seats (a third of what their numbers justified) in the TNA. The CC was composed relative to representation in the TNA and hence the low Sunni participation. There should have been an immediate acceptance that this would not work and Sunnis should have been involved from the beginning, whereas the additional members only joined in the second week of July, with only 5 weeks left to go, with lingering questions about their legitimacy in the eyes of the Sunni community. The other participation gap was the Iraqi public and civil society. There was not enough time to properly canvas their views and for the CC to seriously consider them. LT: Do you have anything to add about the likely outcomes for the future in Iraq and what you think the peace movement should be focusing on or doing with regards to meaningful solidarity? GZ: It is hard to predict the future in Iraq, and in some ways it gets harder the closer one becomes to the country and begins to appreciate the complexities. There are alterative visions of the future—the continence of the occupation, or indirect US control through a strongman (such as Allawi), a messy fragmentation into separate warring statelets, a strict Islamic state dominated by Shia or Sunni, or, least likely but most preferable, a united pluralistic democracy. The peace movement should strive to hold the occupation accountable for killings and human rights abuses and should put pressure on the government to withdraw troops but channel the vast amount of saved money from ending the military presence into actual Iraqi-led reconstruction, development, and reconciliation initiatives. They should lobby for an immediate end to the $1.3 billion Iraq is currently paying annually in reparations to wealthy countries and companies for Saddam’s occupation