...and I’ll tell you where you can go. This is neither pre-democracy South Africa, nor pre-civil rights USA. Welcome to post-Saddam Iraq. For those whose PC sensitivities are already raised, calm down: I am not discussing skin color, but badge color. In post-2003 Iraq, to be able to move around and have access to some areas, one needs a different array of ID’s giving their holder certain privileges. It was one of the first things I noticed when I landed in Baghdad: a pouch hanging from people’s neck, or in the case of the macho ones, wrapped around their biceps, with all types of ID’s in them. Most of these protective cases have an embroided Iraqi flag, with messages ranging from “US Embassy Baghdad”, to “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. It didn’t take too long for me to discover the meanings of the rainbow range of colors, and to find out the advantages and disadvantages of each one of them.
Baghdad's center of power today is based in the ex-Green Zone, now International Zone or IZ. Once a safe area in a city gone mad, it is today the target of multiple mortar attacks. Not to worry too much about it though: with a population density as low as the Antarctic, very few of the projectiles cause casualties. Many public servants working for the new Iraqi government are fortunate enough to live in the blessing of almost uninterrupted electricity, water and cleaner environment.
So who can go to the Green Zone? This where comes the famous badge, and the color one can get. Lets start with our hosts, the masters of the house: residents get obviously get a badge. One have to mention that many original residents were squeezed out with no compensation and very short notice. Families of newly elected MP's and government employees quickly replaced them. The best badge an Iraqi can get is the Blue stripe MNFI(Multi National Forces Iraq). It is strictly reserved for high level officials and MPs. Next in line, is the Brown MNFI. This one gives its holders the privilege to access the Saint of Saints, aka the Green Zone, without being searched, and can even escort people in. NATO and Coalition countries nationals get this badge automatically. However, other nationalities, including Iraqis, can only get it after a convincing justification from their job. Next in line is the Orange MNFI for Arab nationals and other developing world nationals. Those can access the IZ after being subjected to a search, and they don't have the escort privileges. I can also briefly mention the Yellow MNFI which is for private security personnel to escort "clients" to and out of the IZ
At the bottom of the color range, comes the Red stripe MNFI: this is issued to the common mortals, Iraqis who happen not to live in the IZ nor to have a high necessity to access it. What makes me feel the irony of the situation is that me, as a Canadian with a Brown badge, can escort an Iraqi to this area of HIS capital, when am a guest in HIS own country. Why are Iraqis so disenchanted with their newly found freedom? Go figure!
Above the rainbow colors, comes the golden standard, which I nicknamed the “Open Sesame” badge: “I have a DoD” would tell you their holders with a certain note of disdain in their voice. Department of Defense contractors, who are US citizens, get this ultimate magic key. For them, no Ministry is out of bounds. The Republican Palace which became the US Embassy, while the biggest US Embassy in the world is being built along the bank of the Tigris, is their favorite place of meeting. They even had a Starbucks open in one of the halls of the Palace. I wonder how Iraqis feel when they see G.I.’s hanging out in the middle of what was the symbol of the Republic, drinking lattes and listening to their IPod. I'm not even from here and I found it highly revolting and profoundly humiliating.
Freedom came to Iraq, we hear. Freedom of what Iraqis ask? The years to come will be revealing, and the controversy will carry on for generations to come.