Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 September 2019

Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone opens to public round the clock, government says

Iraqi prime minister says security has improved remarkably in the capital since the fall of ISIS

Iraqi riot police stand guard at the Jumhuriyah Bridge, a route leading from Tahrir Square to the Green Zone, on May 6, 2016, a week after Moqtada Al Sadr protesters broke into the fortified Green Zone and stormed the parliament. AFP
Iraqi riot police stand guard at the Jumhuriyah Bridge, a route leading from Tahrir Square to the Green Zone, on May 6, 2016, a week after Moqtada Al Sadr protesters broke into the fortified Green Zone and stormed the parliament. AFP

Baghdad’s Green Zone "completely" opened its doors to the public on Tuesday, giving Iraqis a glimmer of hope that security was being restored to the war-torn country's capital.

For nearly 16 years, the heavily-fortified area was segregated from the public as it contained Baghdad’s most important diplomatic missions such as the US embassy and Iraq’s government institutions. The move is viewed by many in Baghdad as a symbolic gesture that signifies the removal of barriers between citizens and the elite.

An element of the public has shown great frustration over the zone's separation since its formation in 2003.

“Dozens of roads inside the Green Zone opened this morning [Tuesday] and over 12,000 concrete blocks surrounding the area and other parts of the capital were removed,” Mohammed Al Bayati, the prime minister’s secretary, said.

The zone was established by the US to secure its embassy and Iraq’s government which was rejected by the public who felt out of touch with the authorities.

Although the central government has persisted for years to open the area to traffic it failed to keep live up to expectations due to security concerns.

“From the first day of Eid Al Fitr, marking the end of the month of fasting for Ramadan, the Green Zone will be completely open,” Mr Abdul Madhi said during his weekly press conference on Monday night.

“By doing this, we are showing that we are convinced the security situation is better” in Baghdad, the premier said.

The area is a 10-square kilometre zone and located in the Karkh district of central Baghdad on the Tigris river.

Iraqis welcomed the premier’s announcement and said it offers them a glimmer of hope for security and stability for a nation that desperately needs it.

“At first I didn’t believe them because for years they have said the same thing over and over again and nothing happens,” Hamza Hussain, a petroleum-engineering student at the University of Baghdad, told The National.

Mr Hussein’s commute to university takes two hours every day especially because the opening times of the Green Zone were restricted to the public.

“By crossing through the Green Zone, I can finally get to university in less than half hour,” he said.

Previous Iraqi leaders have often disappointed the public, Salwa Ali, a homemaker said, but with Mr Abdul Mahdi’s government, Iraqis can envision some growth.

The separation, especially between the provinces and the capital, was a prime complaint by many of Baghdad’s residents.

“All we want is stability for our war-torn country, the opening of the Green Zone offers us hope, at least traffic will be reduced and the public can feel that they are part of the city,” Ms Ali said.

Since taking office in October, Mr Abdul Mahdi has made it a top priority to remove the concrete walls that surround the area and stop its segregation from the rest of the city.

The premier said he wants “Iraq to become a Green Zone".

Updated: June 4, 2019 02:31 PM

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