Live from Baghdad

My adventures in Iraq.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Ka Boom

I've had a few questions about the recent attacks on the Green Zone and, specifically, my personal safety. First, you need to put these reports in perspective. We have approximately 75 reported insurgent attacks per day in Baghdad. This figure includes everything from VBIED attacks on American convoys, to mortar attacks on outlying military camps, to small arms fire attacks on Iraqi police forces. Ninety-nine percent of these attacks occur out in the "Red Zone" (which is everything not inside the Green Zone).

The other 1% of attacks (usually one every other day) are targeted on the four-square-mile Green Zone. Occasionally, these attacks consist of mortars or rockets, usually launched from somewhere across the Tigris River. They refer to mortar attacks as IDFs or indirect fire attacks, because the insurgents literally lob shots into the air with the hope they'll come down on somebody. The mortars always come in twos as the attackers know the helicopters will come looking for them. They have just enough time to launch two mortars before they throw the launch tube in the back of a pickup and hightail it out of there. When a mortar hits, it explodes upward and outward like a fountain, so as soon as one hits you drop to the floor to avoid shrapnel. We also have concrete blast walls around all of our trailers.

Rocket attacks are a little scarier as they pack a lot more punch. However, the insurgents will typically target high-rises like the Al-Rasheed Hotel that they can aim at from a long way off. The only time a rocket attack has affected our little compound is when a rocket motor fell off as it passed over head and came crashing down in our courtyard (before I arrived here).

Lately, or at least for the last week, it seems the insurgents have switched tactics. We haven't had any mortar or rocket attacks within the Green Zone but there have been a lot more suicide car bombs or VBIEDs, including the two that hit the gates on consecutive days. There are probably thousands of Iraqis that work in the Green Zone everyday. These include day laborers, cooks, drivers, maids, and our engineers. All of these Iraqis have been cleared by security and have ID cards allowing them into the IZ. They line up at the 8 entrances to the IZ every morning. Many of them park their cars outside the gates and walk in to avoid the long lines as every vehicle is searched for explosives. It's these soft targets that the insurgents have hit recently with 20 dead Iraqis in two days.

Ironically, or perhaps tragically, these are not considered particularly successful attacks. In both cases, the bombers failed to get near American soldiers and even failed to cause a significant loss of life. According to the recent security assessments, these attacks are seen as "throw-away" attacks by the insurgents with no more purpose than to show that they haven't forgotten about the Green Zone. Of course, it also doesn't hurt that 90% of the foreign press lives in the Al Rasheed Hotel, less than a kilometer from the gate. Most of the reporters have stopped going out of the Green Zone so all they have to report on are attacks within walking distance. Thus, these relatively small incidents are your headlines.

Anyways, you can be sure that when we hear something go BOOM!, we hit the floor, slap our helmet on, and throw our flak jackets over top. And we all breathe a big sigh of relief when the "All Clear" comes over the intercom.