BAGHDAD – The dress code at the Blue Star restaurant inside Baghdad’s Green Zone now calls for vest and hat.
Flak vest and Kevlar helmet, to be precise. And it’s a good thing. At least four mortar rounds hit inside the Green Zone about 1:30 p.m. Saturday, killing two Iraqi civilians, according to a U.S. soldier who could not speak for attribution because he’s not authorized to talk to reporters.
Meanwhile, a State Department official, after initially denying that State had ordered its 1,000 Baghdad personnel to wear protective gear, said that a copy of the order obtained by McClatchy Newspapers was an undiscussable security breach.
Saturday’s attack followed a barrage of up to 35 mortars and rockets that slammed into the Green Zone – considered the safest place in Baghdad – on Wednesday.
The embassy issued its memo later that day.
“As a result of the recent increase of indirect fire attacks on the International Zone, outdoor movement is restricted to a minimum,” it states. “Remain within a hardened structure to the maximum extent possible and strictly avoid congregating outdoors. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is mandatory until further notice.
“Public places that are not in a hardened structure – such as the Blue Star Restaurant – should be frequented only in conjunction with the use of your PPE.”
An embassy spokesman on Saturday initially denied that State now requires workers to wear body armor in the Green Zone. He got upset when shown the memo.
“You’re asking me to comment on an internal document?” he said, refusing to give his name. “How did you get it? We don’t talk to what our security posture is.”
Saturday’s attack, which, like most of the rest, came from the east, the stronghold of Shiite Mahdi Army militia members loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, closed the Blue Star for lunch. But it reopened at 6 p.m. for dinner.
The place features white plastic tables and chairs, a magnum bottle of Johnny Walker Red scotch on the bar, plastic fish squirming in a faux aquarium and bootleg DVDs in a rack. All beneath a blue-and-white striped canvas tent.
Research Triangle Institute, of Durham, N.C., runs the compound where the Blue Star’s located. The institute is helping local governments ramp up utilities and other projects in Iraq’s provinces.
Five contract workers from the Research Triangle Institute filtered in. All wore flak vests and helmets. Mark Grubb, the first to arrive, ordered a 16.9-ounce Carlsberg beer. A choice of spaghetti, kebabs and burgerish meat lay ahead.
“A (mortar) round landed here in the compound,” Grubb said. The blast severed a water line and the Internet cable. It also hit where the compound’s security chief resides. “You could see it on the closed-circuit camera,” Grubb said.
There were no injuries.
While some 100 British embassy workers and about 55 United Nations personnel living in the Green Zone sleep in hardened housing, State Department personnel sleep unprotected.
Asked how State could require workers to walk around outdoors in body armor while making them sleep in unprotected quarters, the embassy official said: “I wouldn’t characterize it as being a mixed message.”
U.S. embassy workers, speaking on condition of anonymity, have told McClatchy that they’re angry and scared.
They’ll get hardened sleeping quarters when construction of the new American embassy compound is complete. That’s expected to be this fall.