Friday, September 07, 2007

What is "Normal" in Baghdad?

This, as everyone knows, is a fortified city. In every sense. In the Green Zone, or International Zone as it is now being called, no one takes any chances and a drive down a side street through the suburbs is a drive through canyons of concrete walls, check points and roadblocks. Everyone is on a relaxed "edginess" as passes are examined, destinations questioned and faces checked against photos. Yet at the same time there are moments of normalcy that are startling. And encouraging. Down from the new US Embassy compound (a huge complex) a blond Caucasian woman wanders along the street, handbag over her shoulder. Cranes work on lifting cement onto the top of the new court complex (some of which was repaired for the trial of Saddam) and in the distance, outside the IZ and in the so called Red Zone, cranes are working on new buildings. Next to where I am camped a team of good natured Iraqis work on a building site, starting from scratch. They could be any blue singlet gang from any building site in Australia - you don't need to understand Arabic to know these guys are joshing each other as they work. Men wait at a bus stop for the bus, just down from a main IZ entry check point where a low loader has just brought in some Hummers and there are more armoured vehicles than soft skinned ones. I have not seen a bus yet but they clearly expecting one. A young Iraqi man poses in front of a Saddam era statue and has his photo taken by his friend. To complete my picture I stood in line at immigration yesterday with a young couple and a baby about two months old. They had among their baggage a pile of baby toys for the cot. They were standing among a group of visitors who were predominantly boot shod, cargo pant and T-shirt clad ex military types heading in to do their thing. The couple with their sleeping baby were a poignant signal that this is what everyone here is about - trying to create an environment that allows this sort of normalcy that we all take for granted. Who doesn't want the freedom to be able to fly in and out of your own country and to buy toys for your kids? That these people need help getting back to that point is a crucial issue that is hard to appreciate outside of this country. Miranda Devine addressed this point in part rather nicely in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday. Visiting here is one way to see what is possible and how important it is that the job is completed properly - else "normal" becomes fear and destruction, not bus stops, a safe wander up the street, workmates and kid's toys. (But which ever way you look at it there is nothing normal about those Crossed Swords).

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