In 28 months of war and occupation here, Iraq has always contained two parallel worlds: the world of the Green Zone and the constitution and the rule of law; and the anarchical, unpredictable world outside.
Never have the two worlds seemed so far apart.
From the beginning, the hope here has been that the Iraq outside the Green Zone would grow to resemble the safe and tidy world inside it; that the success of democracy would begin to drain away the anger that pushes the insurgency forward. This may have been what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was referring to when, in an interview published in Time magazine this month, she said that the insurgency was “losing steam” and that “rather quiet political progress” was transforming the country.
But in this third summer of war, the American project in Iraq has never seemed so wilted and sapped of life. It’s not just the guerrillas, who are churning away at their relentless pace, attacking American forces about 65 times a day. It is most everything else, too.
Baghdad seems a city transported from the Middle Ages: a scattering of high-walled fortresses, each protected by a group of armed men. The area between the forts is a lawless no man’s land, menaced by bandits and brigands. With the daytime temperatures here hovering at around 115 degrees, the electricity in much of the city flows for only about four hours a day.
* * *
Americans, here and in the United States, wait for the day when the Iraqi police and army will shoulder the burden and let them go home.
One night last month, according to the locals, the Iraqi police and army surrounded the Sunni neighborhood of Sababkar in north Baghdad, and pulled 11 young men from their beds.
Their bodies were found the next day with bullet holes in their temples. The cheeks of some of the men had been punctured by electric drills. One man had been burned by acid. The police denied that they had been involved.
* * *
For much of last year, the soldiers of the First Cavalry Division oversaw a project to restore the river-front park on the east bank of the Tigris River. Under American eyes, the Iraqis planted sod, installed a sprinkler system and put up swing sets for the Iraqi children. It cost $1.5 million. The Tigris River Park was part of a vision of the unit’s commander, Maj. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, to win the war by putting Iraqis to work.
General Chiarelli left Iraq this year, and the American unit that took over had other priorities. The sod is mostly dead now, and the sidewalks are covered in broken glass. The sprinkler heads have been stolen. The northern half of the park is sealed off by barbed wire and blast walls; Iraqis are told stay back, lest they be shot by American snipers on the roof of a nearby hotel.