MR
27/06/08
Iraq:
We All Work for the Casino in the Green Zone

An Interview with Martin Eisenstadt

As you know, there's a talk of developing the Green Zone.  The Marriott Hotel chain is here, and I too am involved in hospitality.  I'm representing interests that are building a hotel. . . .  Five stars, a casino, gambling, and it's going to be here in the Green Zone.

The sponsors are a Dubai-based company which has a lot of experience with hotels and casinos in the Middle East.  And there's also a Las Vegas partner.

There's a lot of disposable wealth now in this region, as you must know -- a lot of foreign investors, foreign contractors, the troops are paid in dollars.

I'd call it a cultural center.  We're excited to build hotels, to build golf courses, to bring Madonna, and to bring Elton John.

Money does talk.  Democracy is the first step, but it needs to be followed by capitalism and entertainment, because that's what brings people together, and it's worked many times before.  I noticed that now in the Green Zone there's even a Wendy's.  Wendy's is a very famous American hamburger restaurant. . . .  Do what tastes right!  Yeah, Wendy's, it's an exciting process.  I see the Green Zone transforming before my eyes. 

And it's to the benefit of the Iraqi people, because that disposable income trickles down, as we say in America trickles down, when the people with the big money are spending that at roulettes they are also leaving tips to waiters.  We have 6,000 rooms, we need many young girls to clean them.  We're going to have a golf course, which needs gardeners, people with the gardening background.

The massage.  We're gonna be able to bring people from all around the world, so your masseuse might actually be from the former Soviet Union or from Thailand.   A boxer might come from America, mixed martial artists might come from Brazil.  That's what I'm trying to convey.  And there's been some lobbying, because there's a vote this week in the parliament.  Democracy is vibrant, it's alive, and the Iraqis feel . . . right, the feeling is here, the feeling of democracy.

There's an issue of legalized gambling.  I know in Kurdistan there is a casino that is very successful, and that's what we are trying to bring to Iraq.  And I'm telling you, Iraq is already transforming, but soon it's gonna be like Berlin, it's gonna be like Okinawa, it's gonna be like Seoul, it's gonna be like Las Vegas, but within the Iraqi context, sensitive to the sensibilities of local people, of course.  There'll be a mosque, a room for prayers, five times a day, there will be a call for prayers.  We're gonna have a special section for Shesh Besh.  Backgammon.  Not just roulettes, blackjack, and poker, but a special section for Shesh Besh.  So, we are going to incorporate local norms.  And we are going to have off-track betting for the camel races in Dubai and countries nearby.

But yes, the pizzazz, the Vegas pizzazz, the American, can-do, let's-have-fun, we're-all-one attitude, yes, unapologetically, we're going to bring that here, but mixed with local sensibilities. 

When you have a jack and a six, and you hit, everybody is in it together.  That rush transcends your language, your culture, your religion.  That I think is what's gonna really bring people together. 

Whether you are Shia, Sunni, or Kurd, you're gonna be seen wearing the same casino uniform, with the same nameplates. which says we're all one, we all work for the casino, there are no differences between us.  Our employment is going to be one third, one third, one third, so that all the peoples of Iraq are represented.

I haven't spoken as much about this in America, but I think here it's ok, it's gonna happen soon.  I'm probably soon gonna be an advisor for the McCain campaign, because my candidate, Rudi Giuliani, dropped out.  And I can assure you that John McCain supports this effort.  John McCain will likely be the next American president.  And I think the people here in Baghdad should understand that a future American president supports this endeavor. 

John McCain as the head of the Indian Affairs Committee in the Senate knows hands-on, full well, the importance of development, how a casino, haw a sauna, how a golf course can transform a people, can transform a region and bring peace to groups that otherwise fight.  We also had a racial conflict, between Indians, the white people, the Caucasians from Europe, and the Black people from Africa.  And somehow casinos have managed to fix that divide.  Only twenty years ago the Indians were drunk, and homeless, and committing crimes.  Today, they're prosperous and wealthy, driving a Mercedes, with their kids with Game Boys and PlayStations, satellite dishes on their homes.  And so too the Black people with sports have managed to advance themselves in this kind of entertainment sector.  It's brought harmony between all the peoples.  And we intend to bring the same thing here to Baghdad. 

Iraq has changed.  I think it's because of casinos.  You find that today there's a wide consensus, across the board the American people are committed to helping Iraq see this problem through to its end.  We're not gonna cut and run, we're partners, we're in this together for at least a hundred years.  And I'll see you at the blackjack table.  And what happens in the Green Zone stays in the Green Zone.


This is a partial transcript (omitting the interviewer's questions) of a program that is said to have been broadcast on Al-Iraqia in February 2008, featuring Martin Eisenstadt speaking at the "Baghdad Business 2 Business EXPO."  H/T to Juan Cole, Raed Jarrar, and Rick B.  The video is (most likely) a satire.
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