I don't think I approve of the hookahs, but otherwise I think the coalition might win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis a lot quicker if they invited them to party.
Raucous bar scene emerges in Baghdad's green zone
By Jim Krane, Associated Press, 6/16/2004 14:27
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) The job of occupying Iraq means hardship and long hours and sometimes a game of Risk over a hookah and a few beers.
In a city where few people drink, Baghdad's sealed-off green zone counts at least seven bars, including a Thursday night disco, a sports bar, a British pub, a rooftop bar run by General Electric, and a bare-bones trailer-tavern operated by the contractor Bechtel.
Only employees of the occupation are welcome in most of them. U.S. troops ejected a reporter from the basement sports bar a few months ago, at the instance of Coalition Provisional Authority employees drinking inside.
The plushest tavern is the CIA's rattan furnished watering hole, known as the ''OGA bar.'' OGA stands for ''Other Government Agency,'' the CIA's low-key moniker.
The OGA bar has a dance floor with a revolving mirrored disco ball and a game room. It is open to outsiders by invitation only. Disgruntled CPA employees who haven't wangled invites complain that the CIA favors women guests.
An American government worker said the British residents are especially keen to drink. A joke running through the green zone says that British officials overseeing construction of their new embassy are giving highest priority to opening the embassy pub.
One of the more interesting hangouts is the Green Zone Cafe, a tent erected in the parking lot of a former gas station. The cafe brings together a raucous mix of occupation personalities and others like reporters who don't carry government IDs.
On a typical evening, one can see U.S. soldiers smoking from 4-foot-tall hookahs and security contractors guffawing over beer, their machine guns by their sides. The CPA's would-be strategists can sometimes be seen in their ubiquitous military desert boots and dress shirts and slacks, playing Risk, the board game of global domination.
One night, the CPA's senior adviser for youth and sport, Mounzer Fatfat, sat at the head of a banquet table in white shirt and tie, beating out an infectious rhythm on an Arab derbakah drum. Bar patrons danced and clapped along.
A tiny back room at the cafe also holds the green zone's chief liquor store, where bottles of whiskey, vodka and wine are sold at approximately double the price charged outside the green zone's blast walls.
The backroom liquor store is a typical stop along the way to one of the green zone's frequent ''trailer parties'' held in the cramped temporary housing.
Luckier residents prefer the big barbecue parties put on by security firms like Kroll and Olive. The green zone's dearth of eligible women means men aren't as likely to be invited.
Worst off, perhaps, are the few thousand U.S. soldiers living in full view of the carousing. The Pentagon's General Order No. 1 prohibits U.S. troops from drinking, although soldiers say liquor is easy to come by especially in the green zone.
The zone also boasts a pizza parlor and pair of highly competitive Chinese restaurants. There is the palace swimming pool and a ''casino'' that is really a glorified game room. The zone's several gyms are popular, the occupation seeming to have transformed many who arrived overweight into fitness buffs.
One street has been converted into a souk, where Iraqis sell bootleg DVDs, rugs and trinkets. On a recent visit, a boy on a motorbike pulled up and made a hushed offering: ''Hey! porno?''
''I don't know if they are corrupting us or we're corrupting them,'' one CPA official quipped.