Thursday, January 08, 2009

Driving in the IZ

My job requires that I leave the Embassy fairly regularly and go to other places in the International Zone (IZ).  Up until the end of the year, we were pretty comfortable in doing that at almost anytime.  I mean, we had these big honking up-armored SUV's that look like regular SUV's, but opening the door takes the strength of Hercules because they seemingly weigh about 400 pounds apiece.  Americans had a lot of immunity in the IZ anyway.  So we weren't worried about getting stopped by Iraqi army or police forces because the Americans pretty much controlled the whole area.

January 1 brought a new order of business.  Americans aren't in control of the IZ anymore, Iraqis are.  There was a good bit of anxiety about that because nobody knew what would happen.  Would they pull people over left and right?  Would they set up checkpoints all over the place?  Would they block off streets to all but official Iraqi vehicles?  Would traveling in the IZ be hazardous to our health?  Nobody knew.

As it turns out, not much is different.  Iraqis have control over the IZ and have indeed set up some new checkpoints.  But they have Americans with them and they all seem to be getting along just fine.  After a bit over a week under the new order of business, it looks pretty much like the old order of business.

So what's it like to drive around the IZ?  Well, in the first place, traffic really isn't that bad, since not that many vehicles are allowed in here.  Only those with official business, or those who live here, can come in.  So despite the fact that we're in the middle of a huge city with traffic jams all over the place, our roads are pretty clear.

As for rules, well, it's kinda like Italy.  Lane lines, stop signs, and speed limits are only suggestions at best.  Nobody really speeds since the troops at checkpoints get nervous about cars bearing down on them at high velocities, and you don't want to make troops nervous when they're armed with AK-47's, M-4's, and 50-caliber machine guns.  No, sir.  So everybody seems to cut everybody else a good bit of slack.  As for lane lines, well, if I need to use that particular piece of roadway, and you're not using it at the moment, what's the harm if I do?  

Having been through the joint Iraqi-American checkpoints quite a few times now, I've found the Iraqi soldiers to be very pleasant and businesslike.  They check my badge to make sure I'm authorized to be there and we wish each other a very pleasant day, with big smiles all around.  I'm happy they're doing their job, and they're happy to be there doing their job.

But words can't describe what the place looks like.  So while driving around today, I took some pictures.  No, I'm not going to show you any of the checkpoints, nor am I going to show you places that are readily identifiable.  There are still a lotta people out there that could use that information in ways I wouldn't like.  

Here's a typical thoroughfare in the IZ, with a typical amount of traffic.  

When I talk about T-walls, this is what I'm talking about.  They're big, temporary concrete walls that can be moved around as needed.  Americans seem to like the gray concrete aesthetic, while Iraqis go for color.  T-walls are everywhere.  Literally.

This is a nice-looking arch that hasn't been damaged very badly.  Note more T-walls.

T-Wall Canyon Street.  Which is just about anywhere here.

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