Monday, May 5, 2008

A Green Zone Of Hotels And Amusement Parks: Six Plagues Over Baghdad

There is a place, right next door to hell, that stays under regular mortar and rocket fire, and there's no working sewer system. My wife has a first cousin who was a contract worker in the Baghdad Green Zone for a year, and she's been doing the PTSD thousand-yard stare much of the time since she returned.

But developers envision condos, luxury hotels, amusement parks and high-end shopping there -- and in the not-so-distant future. And the Pentagon is with them, all the way and more.

Welcome to the Green Zone of Western dreams. It's an air-conditioned yuppie paradise rising from sun-baked rubble. Starbucks, Macy's, Neiman-Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, an Audi dealership, and a few of those ice bars that are so popular now in oil-rich Arab cities (no booze in Muslimland, of course).

It's everything that a well-paid Halliburton type could ask for, except that the beer, wine and martini gin would come from smuggling or the black market.

Sound crazy? Well, lunacy has been sold more than once within the past seven or so years. It's a real plan, and here are some details, as reported by 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.

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.

If it wasn't official before, I think it is now: One can dredge up, just about any place, anytime, wealthy vermin who are more than willing to capitalize on the organic rot of human misery, like maggots feeding on compost. It's so predictable.

And, our government is more than willing to encourage this, but not because of any economic concern for the Iraqi on the street. It's so that they can surround that new U.S. Embassy, the one that is supposed to top out bigger than the Vatican, with lots of swell commerce and housing so that perhaps the neighborhood guerrillas will think twice before shelling it.

Just when I think I've seen and heard it all, damn, I haven't. But wait, there's more:

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.

The investors' gamble is that by the time they get Six Plagues Over Baghdad completely open, conditions will have quieted considerably. It's just a matter of time, and staying the course.

Yeah. Like, where have we heard that one before?

Crossposted at Manifesto Joe.