Deaths in Baghdad's Fortified Green Zone Raise Security Concerns

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 23, 2009

BAGHDAD, May 22 -- An American working for a small company with a Defense Department contract was found dead in a vehicle in the fortified Green Zone on Friday morning, U.S. officials said.

Another American working for a contractor was killed later in the day in a suspected rocket attack near the U.S. Embassy, U.S. officials said. It appeared to be the first fatal rocket attack in the Green Zone in more than a year.

The man found in the car had been stabbed multiple times, according to a U.S. official familiar with the investigation. He had been blindfolded and his hands were bound, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

A security alert sent by Western security officials in the Green Zone to an American client said the man was apparently abducted Thursday night as he was leaving a shop in the Green Zone. The alert, which was provided to The Washington Post, said the man's throat had been slit.

The U.S. official said a preliminary investigation suggests the killing might have been a crime of passion.

"Our suspicion is that it was some kind of an argument that went bad," the official said.

The rocket attack occurred shortly after 8 p.m. The round landed in a compound near the U.S. Embassy where military contractors live, the official said.

The deaths raised fears among Green Zone residents about security in what was once regarded as a safe haven for Americans living in a war-torn country.

The Iraqi government assumed nominal control of the heavily guarded area Jan. 1, in accordance with a security agreement with the United States. Since then, as Iraqi security forces have assumed more control over the four-square-mile zone, Americans have been urged to take precautions when they venture outside the massive U.S. Embassy compound and the handful of remaining American military installations. U.S. Embassy employees are no longer allowed to leave the facility alone.

It is now possible to enter the Green Zone without interacting with U.S. soldiers at checkpoints. But the American military still issues badges that grant varying levels of access and has sought to delay the opening of a key bridge that connects the Green Zone to regular traffic. The International Zone Police, staffed by U.S. military personnel, continues to patrol the area.

Several Americans have been killed in mortar and rocket attacks in the Green Zone in recent years, but officials said they could not remember another case in which an American was the victim of a noncombat homicide. U.S. Embassy and military spokesmen confirmed that they were investigating the death but provided no details.

As the U.S. military prepares to withdraw from inner-city bases by a June 30 deadline imposed by the Iraqi government, some officials have expressed concern that militiamen might once again be able to launch rocket attacks with ease.

One of the few outposts the U.S. military is trying to exempt from the deadline requirement is on the southern edge of Sadr City, from which most rocket attacks on the Green Zone originated last year.

Staff writer Mary Pat Flaherty in Washington contributed to this report.

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