California investor Llewellyn Werner is trying to help the children of Baghdad forget their destroyed, militarized, and violent surroundings, and make a buck of course. The $500 million project is called “The Baghdad Zoo and Entertainment Experience.” The developers call it an American-style amusement park and have signed a 50 year lease with the mayor of the city for this popular public use area. There will be rides; Iraqi children don’t get enough dangerous thrills, a skate park, a museum, and a concert theatre. The designers of Disneyland have been hired to plan the potentially profitable psychological operation. In addition, the U.S. developers are being given exclusive rights to housing and hotel developments. The 50-acre area in downtown Baghdad adjacent to the green zone is also the site of the Baghdad Zoo and a once popular public park and recreation area that was sacked, looted, and deprived of power after the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. The, until recently, public area is dotted with fountains, gardens, and playground equipment.

 Though most of the zoo’s animals were eaten during the uncertain days following the invasion, the cages are slowly being refilled. The zoo and Al-Zawara Park are starting to fill with weekend picnicers as insurgent attacks decrease. One wonders if such picnics will be free once the American developers “improve” the site. To build interest in the planned $1million dollar skate park opening in July, 200,000 skate boards are being given to children in Baghdad. While Mr. Werner readily admits that, “mostly everything here is for profit”, he does point out that while everything will be owned by U.S. investors, thousands of Iraqis will be employed. Around half of the population of Iraq is under the age of 15, like adult Iraqis, these children swim in a sea of violence and uncertainty and doubtless need some escape from their shattered world. The city boasted two amusement parks before the invasion which are now open only on public holidays. Why these Iraqi owned parks are not being invested in, and how this park will affect the Iraqi owned parks, is an open issue. One of the cities most popular public parks is now off limits within the green zone and the Al-Zawara Park, now being privatized for the “The Baghdad Zoo and Entertainment Experience” is the only park open to the public. While the people of Iraq doubtlessly need more entertainment and escape options, this American amusement park appears to be removing the last public option for the poor to create a greater entertainment experience for a limited number of paying customers.

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