Picture, if you will, a tree-lined plaza in Baghdad’s International Village, flanked by fashion boutiques, swanky cafes and shiny glass office towers. Nearby a golf course nestles agreeably, where a chip over the water to the final green is but a prelude to cocktails in the club house and a soothing massage in a luxury hotel, which would not look out of place on Sydney Harbour. Then, as twilight falls, a pre-prandial stroll, perhaps, amid the cool of the Tigris Riverfront Park, where the peace is broken only by the soulful cries of egrets fishing.
Improbable though it all may seem, this is how some imaginative types in the US military are envisaging the future of Baghdad’s embattled Green Zone.
A US$5 billion tourism and development scheme for the Green Zone being hatched by the Pentagon and an international investment consortium would give the heavily fortified area on the banks of the Tigris a “dream” makeover that will become a magnet for Iraqis, tourists, businesspeople and investors. About half of the area is now occupied by coalition forces, the US State Department or private foreign companies.
The US military released the first tentative artists’ impression on Sunday. An Army source said the barbed wire, concrete blast barriers and checkpoints that currently disfigure the area would be replaced by shopping malls, hotels, elegant apartment blocks and leisure parks.
“This is at the end of the day an Iraqi-owned area and we will give it back to them with added value,” said the source, who requested anonymity.
Marriott International has already signed a deal to build a hotel in the Green Zone, according to Navy Captain Thomas Karnowski, the chief US liaison.
Also in the pipeline is a possible US$1 billion investment from MBI International, a hotel and resorts specialist led by Saudi sheikh, Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber.
One Los Angeles-based firm, C3, has said it wants to build an amusement park on the Green Zone’s outskirts. As part of the first phase, a skateboard park is due to open this summer.
US officials stress that final decisions about reconstruction and development rest with the Iraqi government.
Karnowski said that as well as the benefits of renovating and demilitarizing an important area of Baghdad; the blueprint would help to create a “zone of influence” around the massive new US embassy compound being built on the eastern tip of the Green Zone. He acknowledged that any project would face formidable difficulties.
“There is no sewer system, no working power system. Everything here is done on generators. No road repair work. There are no city services other than the minimal amount we provide to get by,” he said.