Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A Description of the Embassy (2 days ago)

People sometimes speak of The Embassy as if it were sacred ground… as if it were in some magical way an actual tiny bit of America here in the center of Baghdad, bursting at the seams with democracy, money, cowboy hats, and free cheeseburgers… in short, a microcosm of life in America if America were one big summer rerun. And if only the silly Iraqi’s could get their act together, all of this could be theirs too, courtesy of the US tax payer. It isn’t, of course, really a part of America – in America it is still not common to issue flak vests to the occupants of government buildings, or to share your seat in the canteen with a teenaged solder toting a machine gun. In fact, it’s more like some mud-walled colonial fort in old India, a seemingly impenetrable citadel surrounding an illusion of superiority - only a lot of the folks we’re here to help just aren’t buying it any more.

Originally built by the British in the 1930s, the building was later taken over by the Baath Party, and has since been reincarnated as Saddam Hussein’s Presidential Palace, Headquarters for the original Coalition Provisional Authority, and the US Embassy to the independent nation of Iraq. Encompassing three stories and stretching over a city block in length, the brown stone front is majestically curved to accommodate a lengthy U-shaped drive way, perfect for motorcades or convoys of gun trucks, as the case may be. With a large lawn, well-trimmed topiary and several small [disused] fountains, it really is quite elegant looking. To me, it looks like a government building should – strong, well proportioned… a palace of the people. Except for the armed Gurrkas and sandbagged machine gun posts.

As you enter there is a large domed courtyard with a Green Beans coffee shop, a small internet café, real leather couches, and several shelves of donated books. The room is filled with convention center-style tables and chairs, mostly wooden, which can be moved to the sides when someone important needs a place to address the troops. That was what they did when the President held his video teleconference the last time he visited, back in, what? August? And it was here my friend Brent H. almost had a heart attack when the Presidential VTC circuit dropped out in the middle of the President talking (luckily, a back up circuit was available). As I look around there are numerous officers and diplomaticos relaxing at the tables, and it is not for the first time that I get the impression a lot of important decisions are made here, in the very center of the illusion, over a double chocolate latte grande.

Each of the other two wings have smaller courtyards, but we’ve built plywood partitions and turned them into offices. Very elegant. The original ceilings are high, and on the wall space above the partition there are still several Baathist Party propaganda murals. On one, muscular Arabian Stallions lead the charge toward what was supposed to be a Pan-Arabic Socialist future. On another, flocks of ominous-looking missiles with Iraqi flags painted on their sides are launching toward the United States.


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