Residents in Berlin's posh Dahlem district have a new neighbor that many in the area would prefer hadn't moved in.
The situation reached a climax after the Iraqi officials sent out an invitation to a party on Thursday, with the attendance of distinguished guests including Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, according to a report in the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, to celebrate the "opening of the new Iraqi Embassy." It prompted two neighbors to file not-in-my-backyard legal complaints with a court in the city, in turn inspiring the newspaper to run its story under the headline "Fears of Little Baghdad."
Officially, the building isn't the new Iraqi Embassy -- the structure dedicated for that purpose is located some 4 kilometers away. But Iraqi officials have long been dissatisfied with the existing embassy, which the ambassador has described as "old and rotten" and unfit for guests. And neighbors fear it will become the equivalent of an embassy, anyway.
'Bullets Won't Be Stopped By a Garden Fence'
Indeed, some in Dahlem are clearly uncomfortable with the presence of a diplomatic outpost of such a politically sensitive country. Oman and Morocco both have embassies in the area, but they have long been accepted as a part of the neighborhood. With Iraq still highly vulnerable, residents fear the presence of senior diplomats from the country could make their neighborhood more open to an attack and drive down real estate prices.
"If there are shots fired, the bullets won't be stopped by a garden fence," a 49-year-old banker who lives near the villa told the newspaper. The banker said he had commissioned a study into the presence of the Iraqi diplomatic facility in the neighborhood which found that real estate prices could drop anywhere between 5 and 35 percent.
After learning of Thursday's event, the man filed for a temporary injunction in a local administrative court, but it was rejected. City officials said there had also been a second legal complaint.
Many remember a bizarre incident in 2002 in which Iraqi asylum seekers living in Germany took the former Iraqi ambassador to Germany hostage in the official Iraqi embassy. No one was hurt in the incident, but it is not the kind of thing neighbors in the prosperous district are interested in seeing repeated.
Of course, a one-time incident like that is unlikely to generate much sympathy with the courts. In their legal complaints locals adopt a more technical argument -- they claim that the Iraqi-owned building which opened this week is located in a residential zone -- a position city officials dispute. Mathias Gille, a spokesperson for the Berlin's Department for Urban Development, told SPIEGEL ONLINE the building is not zoned strictly for residential use. "We say this for two reasons: the house stands on the edge of the residential zone, but not in it, and it hasn't been used as a residence since 1946," he said.
The local court also threw out Thursday's complaints partially because Iraqi Ambassador Al-Hashimy promised the building would not be used as an embassy, stating that the building on Riemeisterstrasse will continue to serve as the main Iraqi Embassy. But the Berliner Zeitung claims the official used the word "embassy" when describing the building in a speech to guests on Thursday.
So will the beautiful new estate, purchased by the Iraqi government four months ago, serve as an unofficial embassy?
A government source acquainted with the case said Friday that German authorities had "recently been made aware of the Iraqi Embassy's intention" to use their new estate for "ambassadorial uses," which the official said was approved by the city's Department for Urban Development. But that doesn't make it an embassy -- at least not officially.
The spokesperson for the embassy, Amir Musawy, was vague when he told the Berliner Zeitung that, perhaps the building could be used for other diplomatic purposes -- or as a residence for Iraqi ambassadors. He also defended the presence of Iraqi ambassadorial activities in Dahlem, stating that the estate -- and its watchmen -- would, if anything, make the area safer.