So much of the war in Iraq is completely abstract. We hear every day about the "Green Zone," the airport, "Sadr City," and so on. These places might be far out of sight but they are in fact quite real. As I've always been fascinated by maps, new (and publicly-available) satellite mapping is essentially my favorite toy. I think some of these images are a testimonial to the stupidity, futility, and utter lack of planning that define this conflict.
These images are relevant when you consider the new opulent US Embassy complex (the only part of the entire Iraq reconstruction process that was completed on time and on budget – I'm sure the Iraqis appreciate that) is in the GZ. And even when troop levels are drawn down, we're not abandoning that thing. That is, not until Iraq erupts into complete and full-intensity civil war without our military to absorb the punishment. Of course what this means is that we will eventually be faced with the prospect of evacuating the GZ "Fall of Saigon" style. Or if you prefer we could do "Fall of Phnom Penh" style.
First, note the location of the Green Zone relative to Baghdad's lifeline to the rest of the world – its airport. While they're "only" six miles apart, the trip between the two routinely takes more than an hour. Completely unable to prevent regular attacks on the direct airport-GZ route, the military has taken to using convoluted and indirect routes to try to thwart insurgent attacks. It is tempting to ask what kind of absolute idiot would not set up a fortified position with its ass pressed directly against the escape route (i.e. the airport) but I'm afraid the answer would be rhetorical. Rule One is that you don't put yourself in a physical position from which you cannot extract yourself.
Rule Two is that you don't set up a defensive position with your back to a wall. If I'm not mistaken, setting up the GZ in a bend in the Tigris does exactly that. Smart. Very smart.
Rule Three is that you always have an alternate escape route. A backup plan. "Another way off the island" so to speak – and the metaphor is appropriate since the GZ is essentially an island. Look real closely at the next picture and tell me if you see another way out of the GZ. I (very crudely) marked a hint for you.
Yes, that's right. Our alternative to an airport evacuation would be to evacuate the GZ via one two-lane bridge, which the military would be forced to hold indefinitely. What you hear right now is the sound of good planning.
At this point an impartial observer might begin to question the wisdom of holding a small fortified island in the middle of an otherwise uncontrollable and hostile sea of people. We have secured the airport, we have (essentially) secured the GZ, and nothing inbetween. I have no doubt that our military, were its full force brought to bear on the situation, could facilitate an evacuation (or continued re-supply of an otherwise isolated GZ) if necessary. But it certainly won't be pretty and, like everything else about this war, it will be made infinitely more difficult than it needs to be thanks for a combination of stupidity, hubris, and They Will Hail Us as their Liberators planning.