Friday, December 09, 2005

Uncommon Access Card?

To enter military bases and other restricted areas in Iraq, civilians like myself have been issued a special card by the government. The application process included several weeks of waiting and approvals from numerous government agencies, and even crossed the desk of my housemate. She wrote me a surprised note saying she had seen my paperwork and asking if I was really going to Iraq. A few days before I left I visited Ft. Belvoir, a military base near DC, and received my Common Access Card, in Iraq more commonly referred to as "the DoD."

There are two types of CAC cards floating around. Americans receive cards with a green stripe, others are issued cards with a pink stripe. I should be more specific here. "Others" does not include Iraqis. They're not issued CAC cards as far as I know. They receive passes that are only valid for individual locations, such as the Green Zone.

When I visited a government office in the Green Zone, I left my CAC card as a deposit to ensure that I would return the visitor's badge I was issued. Big mistake, my escort told me. Now it would be more difficult for me to enter his office with my other IDs. The CAC card is your passport, he explained, the only universally recognizable ID in Iraq, and you should never part with it. It also includes a special chip, which is supposedly linked to the blood sample I gave when I was issued the card. I'm dubious of this, but several people have told me that following bombings the chip has been used to identify otherwise unrecognizable remains.

Yesterday I received a government email that said foreigners will no longer be issued their pink cards. Instead, they must "pay for their Iraqi visa when they arrive in Baghdad. The cost in CASH - is $80 plus another $1. The entry visa is valid for 10 days. You will need to work with the local authority to receive an extension of the visa or a resident permit." I've found paying the one dollar entry/exit tax to be a funny excercise. For one dollar or 1000 dinars (66 cents) a very unofficial looking man slaps a stamp on your boarding pass.

Slightly more official-looking figures who check passports will be collecting the $80 dollars. This will affect many people, as there are thousands of contractors. I have heard estimates of 13,000 South African contractors alone. No one seems to know what the implications will be though, including the US government. The email closed: "At this point we do not have further information, but will share with you when we receive new information. We would be most interested in hearing your travelers' experience when they arrive at International Airport."


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