Running in the Green Zone
BAGHDAD, IRAQ: A street in the Green Zone is seen through a U.S. military Humvee window March 8, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq.
I won’t be running in the Green Zone anymore, though it made perfect sense last week. I was stuck there (I had planned to be there for one day working for Newsweek) after the shrine in Samarra had been bombed and a 24-hour lock down had been enforced on Baghdad.
Without much else to do, I jogged every morning around the Green Zone, down its wide boulevards lined with trash, concrete blast walls and empty fields. Newsweek employs a South African security man, I asked him if running there was safe and he gave his reluctant approval.
“Just watch for mortars,” he said with a sigh. I nodded, we both knew that wasn’t possible.
BAGHDAD, IRAQ: The Iraqi flag flies over an Iraqi government building in the Green Zone, on June 28, 2004 in Baghdad, Iraq.
The runs were tense. I’d stretch at the front gate at the Newsweek house, then head out onto the main streets. The Green Zone was the neighborhood that held Saddam’s palaces and housed his cornies; so the streets are broad, as wide as an interstate freeway, and yet are lined by only the occasional opulent house or tacky monument. There are no real sidewalks, so I ran on the side of the road, passed by dusty American Humvee convoys or pickup trucks bolted with ad hoc armor and filled with Iraqi “police,” brandishing weapons. Sometimes a convoy of some VIP or another would go by, a long string of anonymous, armored SUVs, brand new and clean.
BAGHDAD, IRAQ: The Hands of Victory monument, erected by Saddam Hussein, is shown February 21, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq.
I ran by the famous monument of the crossed swords everyday. The third day, I noticed a familiar blast pattern scored into the sidewalk that wasn’t there the morning before. A mortar must have hit and exploded in the night. I wondered if it got anyone.
Finally, on Saturday, I was able to leave. I took off to be embedded with the military. When I arrived at the Army base, I checked my email and had one from a friend staying with Newsweek. A few hours after I’d left, a huge and unprecedented fusillade of daytime mortars had crashed around the Green Zone, and one had landed at the front gate of the Newsweek house. Everyone in the house was shaken but fine, though their generator had been destroyed and an Iraqi man who’d worked across the street was killed. “It’s pretty bad when you feel safer out on the streets of Baghdad than in the Green Zone,” she wrote me.
BAGHDAD, IRAQ – JUNE 14: The streets just outside the Green Zone sit empty June 14, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq.
So that’s it for the Green Zone jogging for now. Good riddance. I’ve seen some grim places but the Green Zone has got to be one of the most strangely depressing four square miles on Earth.