BAGHDAD – A sharp increase in mortar attacks on the Green Zone — the one-time oasis of security in Iraq’s turbulent capital — has prompted the U.S. Embassy to issue a strict new order telling all employees to wear flak vests and helmets while in unprotected buildings or whenever they are outside.
The security deterioration also holds dire implications for the Iraqi government, which uses the Green Zone as a haven for key meetings crucial to its ability to govern. On Wednesday, for example, Vice President Dick Cheney held meetings in the Green Zone with Iraq’s prime minister.
Reporters covering the Cheney visit were hustled into a secure area when a large explosion rattled windows in the U.S. Embassy late in the afternoon. Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said the vice president’s meeting “was not disturbed and he was not moved.”
The increase in mortar attacks comes despite the presence of tens of thousands more American and Iraqi soldiers in the streets of Baghdad as part of the security crackdown ordered by President Bush in January.
Because of the “recent increase of indirect fire attacks” — the military term for mortar and artillery barrages — the order told embassy employees that until further notice, “outdoor movement” must be “restricted to a minimum.”
“Remain within a hardened structure to the maximum extent possible and strictly avoid congregating outdoors,” the order said.
Government employees who work outside of a “hardened structure” such as the current embassy building or travel “a substantial distance outdoors” must wear “personal protective equipment,” meaning flak jackets and helmets, the order said.
But security has now become a prime topic of discussion among embassy staff. Many are increasingly worried and even glum — although few want to complain publicly, said the two American employees who spoke anonymously.
They are especially worried about their sleeping quarters in trailers on the current embassy compound — fearing that mortars could crash through the thin roofs as they sleep, the two said.
Mind you, this is the Green Zone. The best protected spot in all of Iraq. At this point, any idiot can tell things are not improving – except for the folks who wish ill upon Americans and ordinary Iraqis. If GW gets everything he wants from Congress, how much worse will things be in six months? In a year?