Sunday, May 4, 2008

Lets all go to the Green Zone fantasy land

The five billion dollar "international village" inside the Green Zone being envisioned by the Pentagon. Don't know about y'all but I'd just as soon use my money at Disney World.

I’ve been shying away from much of what passes as news lately just because if I see Reverend Wright one more time on television or hear one more political pundit expound on how Senator Obama’s relationship with him takes precedence over silly issues like the economy, the war in Iraq, or global warming I think I will lose what meager brain cells I have left. I’ve contemplated canceling the satellite subscription just to avoid blowhard pundits like Chris Matthews grovel in the emission of his own pomposity but Dragonwife would affect bodily harm on me if I did anything that caused her to miss American Idol or Dancing with the Stars.

Also causing an alarming degree of mental discomfort is Hillary who like Utah Savage said at her current post offers: “A new face for every little media market.” Lately Hillary’s insipid smile has started to look more and more similar to the one Mitt Romney flashed around while he was actively running for president. Both ooze greasy naked ambition and have me pondering at times if they might be related. The two could be alien or satanic spawn out to destroy humanity. Just when I thought I could at least relax a little with Romney going back off to Mormon Land I see him hanging out with McCain a few weeks ago. Romney was trying to suck the old man’s intestines out claiming he would love to have the Vice President spot on the Republican ticket. I don’t which one in the White House would freak me out more because if McCain did pick the dude I hope his Secret Service detail stays sharp.

Now top it all off after hearing a small blurb on the radio about some sort of Green Zone Development plan being supported by the Pentagon I knew those in the five sided funny farm must have surely lost all their marbles. Because, and I’m not making this up, the development plan also calls for a 500 million dollar amusement park. And to think with all that has been going on since Bush stood under his “Mission Accomplished” banner five years ago no one has been having any fun over there. I’ll just let y’all read the rest. Excuse the Fox Noise link since it was the first and actually the most concise of those I found. It’s almost like no one wanted to run this story.

Pentagon Backs $5 Billion Green Zone Development Plan

Forget the rocket attacks, concrete blast walls and lack of a sewer system. Now try to imagine luxury hotels, a shopping center and even condos in the heart of Baghdad.

That's all part of a five-year development "dream list" — or what some dub an improbable fantasy — to transform the U.S.-protected Green Zone from a walled fortress into a centerpiece for Baghdad's future.

But the $5 billion plan has the backing of the Pentagon and apparently the interest of some deep pockets in the world of international hotels and development, the lead military liaison for the project told The Associated Press.

For Washington, the driving motivation is to create a "zone of influence" around the new $700 million U.S. Embassy to serve as a kind of high-end buffer for the compound, whose total price tag will reach about $1 billion after all the workers and offices are relocated over the next year.

"When you have $1 billion hanging out there and 1,000 employees lying around, you kind of want to know who your neighbors are. You want to influence what happens in your neighborhood over time," said Navy Capt. Thomas Karnowski, who led the team that created the development plan.

Karnowski said a deal already has been completed for Marriott International Inc. to build a hotel in the Green Zone. He also said a possible $1 billion investment could come from MBI International, a conglomerate that focuses on hotels and resorts and is led by Saudi Sheikh Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber.

Elizabeth Caminiti, a Marriott spokeswoman, declined to comment. Phone calls and e-mails sent to London-based MBI were not returned.

For the moment, however, it's mortars and rockets — not investment money — pouring into the Green Zone, which includes the U.S. and British embassies, key Iraqi government offices and other international compounds. Militants have escalated their shelling of the enclave since Iraqi forces began a crackdown on Shiite militias in late March.

But developers are clearly looking many years ahead and gambling that Baghdad could one day join the list of former war zones such as Sarajevo and Beirut that have rebounded and earned big paydays for early investors.

Even now — with violence in Baghdad again creeping up — the faint hints of the development plan have driven up the Green Zone's already sky-high real estate prices.

Land that a few years ago was going for $60 a square meter on 50-year leases in the zone is now going for up to $1,000 a square meter, American officials say.

Last week, a Los Angeles-based holding company for equity firms, C3, confirmed it was starting a $500 million project to build an amusement park on the outskirts of the Green Zone in an area encompassing the Baghdad Zoo. The first phase, a skateboard park, is scheduled to open this summer.

But any Green Zone project is literally starting from the ground up.

"There is no sewer system, no working power system. Everything here is done on generators. No road system repair work. There are no city services other than the minimal amount we provide to get by," Karnowski said.

He noted that of 500 development projects carried out in Baghdad last year, not one was done in the Green Zone — with the exception of the building of the new American embassy.

The plan also envisions significantly reducing the non-Iraqi footprint in the Green Zone, a five-square-mile area crisscrossed by 15-foot-high blast walls and checkpoints.

About 50 percent of the area is now occupied by coalition forces, the U.S. State Department or private foreign companies. If all were to go according to Karnowski's plan, only 5 percent of land in the Green Zone will be in foreigners' hands in five years.

Privately, American diplomats say the plan is, at best, wishful thinking.

Security is nowhere near the level needed for major development projects. Then there is the question of whether the Iraqi government even wants U.S. involvement in developing the center of their capital.

One diplomat, who asked not to be named because of no authorization to speak to the media, said they did not think Iraqis would want Washington to "turn this area into downtown Kansas City."

But Both Karnowski and Iraqi officials said the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is interested in hearing U.S. ideas in developing the Green Zone, though many Iraqi leaders have expressed worries and words of caution.

"The Iraqi government wants to limit U.S. power in the Green Zone," a top adviser to al-Maliki said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Iraqis also complain that the Americans — because they control security in the Green Zone — essentially hold a veto over the investors.

Karnowski acknowledged that American officials would vet potential investors because of a "vested interest."

Some Iraqi leaders even have drawn parallels to the U.S.-backed development plan and what Saddam Hussein did in the area — known by its Iraqi name of Tashri during his regime.

Hussein stocked the neighborhood with family and tribal allies, political loyalists and members of his elite Republican Guard. Karnowski called the accusation "partially true."

"Why do people build fences around their house? The intent is until such time as it's much safer around here, you want to be able to influence what goes on," he said.

The biggest hurdle to the plan is sorting out the true owners of property in the Green Zone, where "eminent domain by gun" was employed during the Saddam era, Karnowski said.

The chaos after Saddam's fall also added the murkiness.

"It's a jungle here," said Hussein, a 28-year-old from Lebanon who started a contracting company about a year ago in Baghdad and rents out living space in the Green Zone on the side. "It used to be like the Wild West — you grabbed some property and said, 'this is mine."

Air Force Lt. Col. Monte Harner leads the effort to discover who owns the titles and consolidate the areas held by the U.S. military.

He said the Army plans to move a military hospital in the zone — now located in a former private medical facility — to a base nearby, freeing it up for Iraqi use. Also in the works is the consolidation of Green Zone housing used by American troops.

Sadiq al-Rikabi, a top adviser to al-Maliki, said there are also plans for development projects at the Baghdad airport west of the city, including a hotel.

American officials confirmed some projects would be carried out near the airport.

According to Karnowski, the United States will spend $120 million to demolish buildings damaged by air strikes during the opening days of the war.

Both Karnowski and Harner are aware their Green Zone plan is viewed as unrealistic by many, primarily U.S. Embassy officials.

"If you talk to people at the State Department, they still believe a hotel isn't going up. But it is a done deal," Karnowski said of the Marriott project.

Harner also believes even having a blueprint is important.

"You have to stake a goal in the sand before you can begin to move toward it," he said. "Without a vision of what could be, you're just treading water."


Mike said...

I have my own vision of what I would like to see Iraq look like and it would cost a lot less than what our wonderfully whacky government has in mind.

Vigilante said...

A truly shocking read, Beach. I haven't been able to absorb all of it yet.

Utah Savage said...

I'm really going to be sick now.

Keshi said...

WOW Im thinking so hard now BB!


Vigilante said...

Congratulations, Beach! A really, really, really good post. You could call it a major league swooping!

Mr. Stetzel said...

So this is what the lying SOB President means by no long term or takover plans. The truth is surfacing and has a truly smelly odor. If not for oil why are we there planning to rebuild a new Las Vegas? Oh, right, we are there to "help" the Iraqi's. The mafia is running the country at our expense. For those tails who will say love it or leave it..I already did!!!! I live like a king in Thailand and watch the fools go down the toilet. IMPEACH THE ASS! There is no other hope to maintain any semblance of a Republic. Would you want the kind of Democracy we have provided Iraq? I love the USA but despise the scoudrels destroying it.

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

I had NO idea. That's just crazy.

And I'd inflict bodily harm to The PK if he tried to take my satellite away. I CAN'T MISS "Deadliest Catch" and "Dirty Jobs"...they're some of my favorite shows! :)

I can't wait till all this political crap is overwith!

Utah Savage said...

You inspired me to write a post called Let's Drop The Big One Now. And TomCat in his comment left the Randy Newman clip. Tke a look and a listen. And thanks for the inspiration.

Colonel Colonel said...

I'm trying hard to remember- who's country is that again?

I like the idea of an amusement park though- think of all the great thematic rides they could have- the 'Shoot and Whirl', 'Bomber Cars', and "Whack a Sunni'...

Beach Bum said...

Mike: Yeah, I'm very tired of all the factions and ancient crap Bush has gotten us tangled up in.

Vigil and Utah: First heard about this either Thursday or Friday morning on NPR. The company mentioned in the linked article, C3, wants to start a skateboard park and hand out hundreds if not thousands of skateboards and knee pads to introduce the sport to Iraq. The guy from the company sounded about as wacky as they come and I wondered how long it would take before skateboarding Iraqi insurgents were caught on video shooting up an American convoy. Long story short the NPR interview was surreal.

Keshi: After hearing about all of this I honestly just wanted not to think.

Mr. Stetzel: Sir, just as soon as my kids are grown I'm becoming a an expat myself. My current favorites to move to are New Zealand and Mexico.
I still love my country as well but sadly the country I love doesn't really exist anymore. What has replaced it is a proto-imperial power lazy and banal. Constantly living in fear of losing their standard of living and whatever bogeyman the government wants us to fear this year. Mr. Stetzel you are alway welcome and drop by again.

Stacy: My son and I watch Deadliest Catch all the time. And my son thinks Mike Roe is cooler than me.

Utah: Just got free and will be ther in a few minutes.

Colonel: Someone link to my site from AOL news and when I backtracked I found one guy commenting at AOL that one of things to sell at the amusement park would be IED suckers. I found myself laughing despite the dark humor.

Zombieslayer said...

Wow. And you think our deficit is bad now?

Anyways, yes, by all means use that Scientific American article. I'd love to see that get out as many places as possible. We need something for energy in the future and our dependence on foreign oil is just going to get us in more wars in the future. Solar power too is about the most environmentally friendly thing I can think of besides wind, which simply isn't enough.

Beach Bum said...

Slayer: It's sort of funny that they projected the cost of this grand scheme at only five billion. You would almost think that they would have thrown at least a few billion more just for giggles.

Thanks for letting me go with the Scientific American article. Since you saw and wrote about it first I didn't want to give the impression of stealing. Should have it done in a couple of days.

Jessica said...

That just made my stomach hurt!

Beach Bum said...

Jessica: It made my head hurt as well.

Nitu said...


Stella said...

IMPEACH THE ASS! There is no other hope to maintain any semblance of a Republic. Would you want the kind of Democracy we have provided Iraq? I love the USA but despise the scoudrels destroying it.

Mr. Stetzel, thank you for saying exactly what I think far more concisely then I do.

A great weekend to you all.

Malana said...

Well written article.

Anonymous said...

interesting post...
Thanks for sharing......

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