Green Zone mindset: America is not the only policeman

FOLLOWING the death of Iraq’s most wanted terrorist, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, President George W. Bush undertook a 5-hour blitz tour of Baghdad, err, and better make that a tour of Baghdad’s Green Zone. The Green Zone is that heavily fortified bunker-like enclave that houses the Iraqi government and most foreign legations.

By Claude Salhani

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Published: Thu 22 Jun 2006, 9:40 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 1:35 PM

In a way, Baghdad’s Green Zone is reminiscent of the foreign enclave that existed in Beijing during the Chinese Boxer revolt in 1889-1901. The rebellion was romanticised in the 1963 Hollywood epic film, 55 Days at Peking, starring Ava Gardner, Charlton Heston and David Niven. Indeed, similarities between the Boxer rebellion and the Sunni uprising are many. Foreign powers who had gained control of several Chinese territories, imposed —through gunboat diplomacy —preferential trading concessions. Being militarily weak and strongly divided along feudal lines, China was unable to stand up to the foreign powers militarily.

The Boxers were a quasi-religious society, originally a secret one, that first saw the day in the 18th century, mainly in opposition to the foreign interference in Chinese sovereignty. They believed their religion, mixed in with a form of martial art, prevented them from feeling pain. And they were opposed to anything foreign, including Christians. Their slogan was "Support the Qing Dynasty and Kill the Foreigners."

The rebellion was, initially at least, directed against their own weak, puppet government. But soon enough, the violence spread. The Boxers killed a Japanese embassy official and a German minister and attacked foreign embassies, ransacking and burning them. The foreign powers —including Russia and Japan —reacted by sending 2,000 troops from eight different nations —an early coalition of the willing. Heavy fighting ensued and the Boxers laid siege to Beijing’s earlier version of Baghdad’s Green Zone. The siege lasted 55 days. The rest is history.

The siege on Iraq’s Green Zone has been dragging on for far more than 55 days. And the violence, despite Zarqawi’s death, continues. Bush was hardly back in the safety of the White House when a bomber blew himself up in a mosque killing several people; more suicide slaughter and more kidnappings; more violence, more deaths and more uncertainty.

Now if that was not enough trouble for the American president, there is the issue of the Islamic Republic of Iran wanting to go nuclear. Iran hopes it can become the second nuclear-armed country in the Middle East —after Israel. And while the Islamic republic tempts the US with its quest for nukes, communist North Korea ups the ante. Pyongyang wants to become the second nation in Asia —after China —to have the capacity to reach the US with its nuclear weapons. Earlier this week the reclusive regime in Pyongyang announced it was ready to test launch a long-range ballistic missile.

Of course there are also India and Pakistan, nuclear powers in their own rights, but for the moment they are friends. India, as the world’s largest democracy and a growing economic powerhouse, is most likely to remain friendly with the West. Nuclear-armed Pakistan, where there is still sympathy for the Taleban and Al Qaeda offers a very different picture.

Consequently, the US now finds itself caught between two nuclear conundrums —Iran and North Korea. However, many analysts see in Pyongyang’s announcement that it has a long-range missile capable of hitting the continental US as placing more bargaining chips on the negotiating table.

If both Iran and North Korea were to proceed with their nuclear ambitions, there is a good chance of other countries in the region feeling obliged to follow suite. Egypt and Saudi Arabia would most certainly feel threatened and would understandably wish to purchase their own nuclear insurance policies.

In trying to keep up with the nuclear race Egypt’s economy would suffer terribly; that in turn would strengthen the opposition Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists.

But just as in the Peking enclave at the turn of the century, the US is not alone in trying to be the policeman of the world. In today’s nuclear age, yesterday’s enemy —China —has joined the chorus of voices calling for a ban on North Korea’s missile tests. And as in the past, China fears Pyongyang’s nuclear proliferation could be used as a pretext by Japan to step up its own efforts toward its missile defences and in doing so, develop stronger security ties with the US. But North Korea, say experts in Seoul, may be using the missile launch to create a war-like mood to tighten its control over the people and cope with mounting outside pressure. In essence, the Green Zone mentality persists in one fashion or another.

Claude Salhani is International Editor and a political analyst with United Press International in Washington. He may be contacted at

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