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Baghdad checkpoints are obstacle to productivity

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 18, 2007 

— I left the office at 9:30 a.m. and returned a little before 7 p.m. You'd think I'd have accomplished a full day of work. But this was for just two appointments. Here's a rundown:

Forty minutes of traffic to the Green Zone is followed by four pedestrian checkpoints. Two are body searches, two are just badge checks. At one checkpoint, pedestrians are asked to walk through a spaceship-looking X-ray machine. The elderly Iraqi woman in front of me starts to cry when she is asked to spread her legs and arms and step inside the machine.

"I'm scared," she says between sobs.

When I'm done there, a dog sniffs my camera, cell phone and recorder for explosive substances.

Finally, at 10:45, I'm inside so I can get bused from one part of the Green Zone to another for a lunch with Gen. Rick Lynch. He tells us attacks and deaths are dramatically down in his area of operation, and two hours later we're done. Once again we're loaded onto a bus and taken back to the Combined Press Information Center.

From there I walk over to the gate that leads to two office buildings. I go into the women's search area, where a woman gropes for anything illegal under my clothes and searches my bag. I forgot to empty my large tote. It's full of notebooks and pens, makeup, a glasses case and other useless items. It takes forever. I turn in my phone -- they're not allowed inside the office buildings -- and get a visitor's badge. Now I'm on the grounds and I head to the entrance of the building. Once again I have to be searched, my bag is rifled through and I hold up my arms so another woman can check if I have any illicit items under my clothes. This time they take my camera and recorder.

Finally I'm inside. I sit down with Bassam Ridha al-Husseini, an adviser to the prime minister. We chat over sweet cups of tea and then I'm ready to go. I retrace my steps and pick up my breadcrumbs, my camera and recorder at one gate, my cell phone at another. Once again I'm searched. Once that's done, I exit the building. It's 4 p.m.

The driver picks me up and we head to a checkpoint that we pass through before we cut across the Green Zone to the gate where we exit to get home. This checkpoint typically takes about 45 minutes, dogs sniff the cars, and men and women have mandatory body searches. But before we reach the checkpoint, we're told to turn around. One of the dogs smelled explosive residue. Of course, this could be because the vehicle passed through an area where a bomb had recently exploded.

For more than two hours, we wait. The car is checked out and found to be of no harm. The checkpoint opens and people rush to get through.

The sun has set and we nervously exit the Green Zone, unaccustomed to driving on Baghdad's dark roads to come home. A full day out and barely anything accomplished.

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