Monday, May 21, 2007

Babylon's Crowning Achievement

Well, real quick, despite all of the reconstruction woes and abysmal failures that we keep hearing about plaguing the primitivized state of Iraq right now, it seems that the U.S. government is managing to complete at least one project on time and on budget.
Question is, can you guess which one?

[Image: World's Biggest U.S. Embassy May Not Be Quite Big Enough, Washington Post, May 16, 2007, By Daniel Berehulak -- Getty Images.]

Yup, that's right - the U.S.'s New Embassy Compound (NEC) hulked down within the Green Zone. That wasn't really to difficult to figure out, was it? And I don't mean to overlook any of the other successful projects that have actually made a significant infrastructural difference over there, but it just seems so symbolic right now. Even more so, is the fact that the new embassy apparently hasn't calculated enough armored housing for its roughly 1000 employees. The Washington Post reports, that while "there are more than 600 blast-resistant apartments in the NEC, there's a need for several hundred more apartments."
Furthermore, many of the embassy employees are currently occupying "tin-can trailers" with "no overhead protection." So, as they are, understandably so, freaked out by frequent enough mortar and rocket attacks the same article also says that "New guidelines" have told them "to wear helmets and flak jackets when walking in the open" - really? Thanks for the solid advice. Some employees have gone as far as to ask for "bullet-resistant Kevlar blankets" to protect from shrapnel in case blasts occur while asleep.

[Image: A portion of the new US embassy under construction is seen from across the Tigris river in Baghdad, Iraq. Ed Pilkington in New York, Monday May 21, 2007, The Guardian. Photograph: AP.]

In case you missed our last post about the magnitude of this thing, the Guardian breaks it down like this: "It will cover 104 acres (42 hectares) of land, about the size of the Vatican. It will include 27 separate buildings and house about 615 people behind bomb-proof walls." There are of course the special amenities for the ambassador and his deputies, like a pool, gym, and their own power and water supply.
Needless to say, it will be the biggest U.S. embassy on earth at an estimated cost of $592m and, as previously stated, will most likely be finished as scheduled by August.
And so, years after the lynching of Saddam's great statue and the permanent vacation of Saddam from all of his fortresses, the people of Iraq now have this to look at in their place. Wow, they must feel so much more liberated and secure already just standing in this great new shadow. Oh, but the embassy is not approachable enough to even stand in its shadow.
What will become of this preeminent monstrosity not 200 years from now, but, how about - 50? Seriously, the long term prospect is probably more conceptually interesting but the more immediate consideration is crucial - will the Americans still occupy it, and what would that mean for not only Iraqi politics but regional politics as well? Either way, it looks designed for permanent battle use, to say the least. Say they abandoned it - one wonders what will and should become of it then, if anything, after it has been evacuated, overtaken, or merely turned over? Or, can such a fortress persist only towards an inevitable destruction? Will its very architectural existence always ensure that conflict will surround it? Can these types of buildings ever be considered out of context? Of course they can, but I am confounded by all of the military urbanism that is left on the planet, like an ocean floor littered with bombastic vessels and semi-buried sunken structure, where mankind's military legacy completely reconstitutes the landscape.
Crazy to think about what the future of the New Compound Embassy will be. What it will go on adding to already being, or whether it can become something completely brand new. Or, whether it can only end in total destruction.

(Thanks Rob!)


Blogger Bryan Finoki said...

Regretfully, what if in the end the “world’s largest embassy” today becomes a kind of future iteration of a new great walled city tomorrow, like Jerusalem. That is to say, I wonder if the creation of the NEC isn’t in some ways becoming a kind of conflicted capital zone that shares many of the same problems, political spheres, territorial disputes, as that between Israel and Palestine. What comparisons can be made between the Israeli domination of Jerusalem and the American occupation of Baghdad? As long as the mess in Iraq looks like a larger extension of the Arab/Israeli conflict, then I am curious to trace the spatial constructs and dimensions of power that also illustrate this link. Are the Americans constructing another militarily contested urban Jerusalem out of Baghdad? Will the New Embassy Compound serve the future sectarian divide of Iraq the same way as Jerusalem has the chief contested spot between the Arabs and Palestinians? Are the American’s literally reconstructing a repeated mistake with this new walled city? It makes Jerusalem look so garrisoned for military purposes. Am I crazy or are there mad connections to be made between the state of Jerusalem and Fortress Baghdad? Will this massive compound that is the size of the Vatican city be the new Jerusalem in 200 years?

9:53 PM  
Blogger Phila said...

Or, can such a fortress persist only towards an inevitable destruction? Will its very architectural existence always ensure that conflict will surround it?

Bingo. As per W.G. Sebald, it "casts the shadow of its own destruction before it."

3:04 PM  
Blogger Subtopia said...

great quote, Phila.
perfect, actually. thanks!

12:37 PM  
Blogger MT said...

It's not so analogous to new Jerusalem as to the ancient walled city of the crusaders. I could imagine the size of the footprints are comparable, given that Sulamein's walls encompass more area than the walls in the crusader period did.

3:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like they don't want anyone seeing those plans...

11:23 AM  
Blogger MT said...

Well here at least is a plan of Jerusalem, which suggests that the Guardian's 104 acre spec for the American fortress in Baghdad sound about equivalent. Unless the Guardian meant crusader acres. I could believe we're talking about a fortress that's 104 times one of those.

5:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The comparison to Jerusalem, especially the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, is painfully appropriate.

That "model" also illustrates that the only time an occupying army has been able to eliminate an insurgency is when the occupiers totally destroy the country.

Short of bringing in a 350,000 member UN Peacekeeping force from China to disarm the country border-to-border and door-to-door, and despite the horrors of Saddam Hussein, Rumsfeld may have won the battle in March of 2003, but he lost the war in July 2003 when he disarmed the surviving Iraqi army.

We will be paying for his stupidity for a long, long time.

9:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


9:03 PM  

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