I worked for a short while in the International Green Zone about a year ago. The Green Zone is a large section in the middle of Baghdad that has been cordoned off from the rest of the city for the American and British embassies and for the Iraqi government. No one can get into it except through one of the many highly guarded checkpoint entries around the city. American soldiers, Iraqi high-level officials, and those with a Department of Defense badge can easily drive in, without waiting in a lane for two hours by showing their badge. Iraqi citizens, with their red (red=stop) badge have to wait in line for hours to be searched and IDed. The Green Zone is basically a bit of unreality in the middle of Baghdad (electricity on all day, clean, quiet streets, no sewage flowing around, etc-though it does get hit very often by mortars and RPGs).
When I first started going to the Green Zone, I'd have my husband drive me in, with his Iraqi badges and our American passports. We'd show off our American English, and the soldiers would usually wave us in, ahead of the rest of the cars, after asking us which state we were from.
That was until the 'rules' toughened up a bit. After a few weeks, the American passport wasn't always enough to get us in front of the other cars waiting in the lane (depended on the American soldier guard, and what set of rules he had recently received, I guess), so my husband would drop me off at the 'pedestrian' lane and I would flash my English language and American passport and get in.
My Iraqi co-workers used to tell me about how they had to leave home at least two hours before work, because that was usually how long they had to wait in line to get into the Green Zone for work, and that with their Green Zone badges. My fifteen minute trip in made me thankful.
A while later, I had to sumbit my application for a Green Zone badge. Apparently, there are different colored badges, with different clearance privileges; basically depending on what your job is. The average Iraqi citizen working in the Green Zone gets a red badge- his car must be searched, his person searched and he waits in the regular lane (not the priority lane), amongst other things. Anyway, I submitted my application, and when I went in to get photographed for my badge, I discovered I was issued an orange badge- higher than the red one. The only real difference is that the orange badge gets you into the 'priority lane' instead of the regular one, but it doesn't make too much of a difference, because the women's lane is usually short anyway. I didn't have a high position job, so the only reason I can find for the fact that I was issued an orange badge instead of a red one, without even asking or fighting for it, is my American passport.
I always discussed this matter with my husband, telling him how this whole issue was really a reverse prejudice that him and I were benefitting from. We knew that we were getting treated this way for the sole reason that we were Americans. But at the same time, the fact that I wasn't a 'traditional' American (with my hijab) kept me from getting a 'higher'-colored badge and from driving in through the military lane without any search or wait. It was nice not having to wait two hours to get into work, but it just makes matters worse for the average Iraqi who is being treated as a second class citizen in their own country, on their own land.
I don't know how much things have changed in the past year, but I do know that the Green Zone remains a bit of non-reality in the middle of Baghdad- a true symbol of an ongoing occupation.