Iraq 2011: The woman who controls access to Baghdad's Green Zone is one of the most powerful Americans in…

Notes from different corners of the world.
May 10 2011 1:51 PM

Badge Wars

The woman who controls access to Baghdad's Green Zone is one of the most powerful Americans in Iraq.

(Continued from Page 1)

Growing Pain No. 2: The Americans are only advising and assisting the Iraqi government, which means the Iraqis ultimately get to decide the system that's best for them.

During the meeting, Saraj also asked Johanek why the U.S. military had issued a top clearance badge to an individual who works for an American contractor.

"He's related to al-Qaida," Saraj said, handing the badge back to Johanek. "We went to his residence. We asked around about him. Then we ambushed him to get your badge back."

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"Wow, you're good," Johanek told Saraj. "That's impressive."

Johanek later said that the Iraqis have been able to conduct better screening in part because they can do what the Iraqi badging office did. They went to the man's house, and they talked to his neighbors.

While Johanek and Saraj were visiting, an Iraqi came to the office and asked about access for about 300 Turkish laborer who are working on a construction site near the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone. Johanek advised Saraj that the workers did not need badges if they would be living in the Green Zone and didn't need to come and go. He agreed.

"But my manager, he will need the blue badge," the man said.

Both Saraj and Johanek laughed.

"What color is your badge?" Johanek asked the man.

"Yellow," he told her.

"Is it Iraqi-wide?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied, showing her.

"Do you need access outside of Baghdad," she asked him.

He grinned. "No."

"No, you don't," Johanek agreed. "You didn't need that badge."

Some of Johanek's vigilance is about the cost of printing badges, which she estimates to be about $40 each. The Combined Press Information Center, which controls press access to the military, has printed more than 27,000 of them.

Johanek said she couldn't even begin to estimate how many badges USF-I has printed.

"The number would be staggering," she said. "In a [one-]year time frame just here at FOB Prosperity we issue approximately 10,000. If you were to apply that number Iraqi-wide and also look at the fact that from 2004 to 2009 we issued International Zone badges to every Iraqi who lived or worked within the IZ, I would cringe to think of the total number of badges printed and issued."

The issue of access to the Green Zone has been a sore point for Iraqis during the years since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Even Iraqis with legitimate business inside the Green Zone often have trouble getting in.

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