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December 25, 2006 3:00 AM

In Baghdad, bureaucrat seeks to turn entire city into a green zone

The flowers appear overnight, and in the unlikeliest of places: carnations near a checkpoint, roses behind razor wire, and gardenias in a square known for suicide bombings. Sometimes, U.S. armored vehicles hop a median and mow down the myrtle, leaving Baghdad parks workers to fume and reach for their trowels. When insurgents poured kerosene over freshly planted seedlings, landscapers swore a revenge of ficus trees and olive groves. Its all part of a stealthy campaign to turn the entire capital into a green zone. Jaafar Hamid al Ali, the Baghdad parks supervisor, leads the offensive. Hes got a multi-million-dollar budget, along with 1,500 intrepid employees and a host of formidable enemies. Theres the fussy climate, salty soil, and nonstop violence that killed 30 of his workers in 2006. Every fallen gardener, Ali said, is a martyr in the struggle to beautify Baghdad.

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