Why It's So Easy to Blow Up Important Buildings in Baghdad, and the Circle of Trust

President Obama weighed in on the horrible attacks here yesterday, calling them “outrageous.” Iraqi politicians continue to point fingers–it’s Al Qaeda, it’s the Baathists, it’s Iran, it’s Syria, it’s the Maliki government’s fault. A number of MP’s called for tightened security, a review of procedures, and maybe even a resignation or two.

Part of the reason there’s so much anger and confusion over the blasts is that the areas where the bombings hit are supposed to be well protected. Therefore, goes this line of thinking, it has to be an inside job, it has to be a conspiracy. How else could these car bombs have gotten through?

But there’s a simple reason why these attacks happened: security really isn’t that tight.  (Clearly.)

Let me explain. Yes, there are hundreds of checkpoints all around Baghdad, especially numerous in the neighborhoods where the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are. But while driving around Baghdad the last couple of days, I’ve noticed that most checkpoints are kind of a joke. There is no consistency on what cars get stopped or when.  The police (and Iraqi army) running the checkpoints could easily wave through a car packed with WMD’s and trunk full of kidnapped Yazidis without ever noticing it. Flash a piece of paper, some fake or real ID, a few pleasantries, and you’re good to go. The checkpoints do a fine job of snarling traffic, maybe even give the illusion of security and act as somewhat of a deterrent, but I’m not surprised that they aren’t too effective at actually discovering carbombs.

Now, what important buildings haven’t (yet!) been targeted? Those inside what’s left of the Green Zone. Even the Green Zone is not so green anymore–my translator, Mr. Mohammed, calls it “the Graying Zone.”  Walking through one of the outer checkpoints today, I could have slipped in a family of suicide bombers and a six pack of Natty Light without much trouble, had I been so motivated.

This brings me to my next point, which I’ll call the circle of trust.

One of the most fascinating thing to me about the Green Zone has always been the collection of motely nationalities that have guarded it over the years. First it was the Gurkhas, then the Georgians and Peruvians and Americans and Iraqis, then the Ugandans, and now, Iraqis, Ugandans and Peruvians.

Looking at how the security of the Green Zone is arranged today, however, you also get a glimpse of who the Iraqi government actually trusts. The outermost checkpoints are manned by Iraqi Army soldiers, mostly from Shiite strongholds in the south or from Sadr City. These guys, God bless them, aren’t really that thorough. Then, the closer you get to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Parliament, there are the Peruvians, employees of a private security company. The Peruvians are very good–much better than they were two and half years ago–and it would be pretty tough to sneak much past these guys (unless you were some high level person with the right badge.) Guarding the actual parliament is another Iraqi army unit–however, they are Peshmerga, or Kurds.

So in our Iraqi trust hierarchy we have: Kurds (well trusted); Peruvians, Ugandans (thorough!); and, on the outside, Shiite guys (you never know with them, let’s be honest).

What sectarian group is missing from the circles of trust? Why, the Sunnis.

I’m just saying.

What’s my point? Since assuming control of security, the Iraqis have done a pretty decent job at keeping the relative peace, it seems, but they are still very vulnerable. The ‘high profile’ attacks showed there are gaping holes; the holes are at those places where traits such as thoroughness, following procedure, and not slacking off would have come in handy. (i.e., traits that the Americans like to push when they’re around.)  Maliki wanted to bring down the blastwalls, to prove Iraqis were finally in charge and things were heading back to normal. But I think his government underestimated how much having an American presence to backstop their security had actually been helping them.


About michaelhastings

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