Iraq opened doors to its "Green Zone" after 12 long years. Though the Iraqi PM made the announcement, many citizens felt disillusioned after witnessing what they had gained access to.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Sunday that Baghdad's Green Zone, an exclusive enclave for the rich, famous, and influential, was open to the public. The Green Zone was shuttered to ordinary citizenry for 12 long years after the U.S. invasion. The 10-square-kilometre (3.9 square miles) has always been heavily fortified with armed guards and been off-limits to regular citizens.
But the day it was opened, people came flocking, said a statement.
"The prime minister opened the Green Zone to public passage and people in their vehicles came in droves."
However, many excited Iraqis who rushed to get a glimpse of the territory left disappointed. This is because severe restrictions, still in effect, prevented the majority of Iraqis access to most of the area. This didn't stop the PM taking credit for the initiative.
"The opening of the Green Zone is one of the measures we promised the people and we are opening it now."
The Iraqis have always been flummoxed about not having access to an area that was in the heart of their capital. Needless to add, it is a very common grievance.
Complained one Iraqi, "It's our capital, but it's like entering a foreign country."
However, the Green Zone has housed country's top political institutions and embassies, including the largest and most expensive U.S. mission in the world, reported the Salt Lake Tribune. Huge government buildings are flanked by luxurious mansions that house the country's political elite and the influential citizenry.
Owing to the sensitivity of the area, the Green Zone always remained behind towering walls that could withstand mortar and shelling and countless security checkpoints that were meant to restrict access and dissuade the general public from venturing too close, let alone enter the premises. The Green Zone was further secluded by the meandering Tigris River, which formed a natural moat.
It was certainly quite an occasion when Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi personally welcomed the first lot of cars after opening part of the Green Zone to members of the public. It was immediately clear that the access was quite limited and wasn't as unbridled as hoped.
The access to Green Zone is quite limited, with most streets still requiring a special badge, reported Yahoo News. Access to the majority of the area still requires a specially issued security badge that's time-bound. Those without these special passes can travel through the Green Zone in a single direction. This thoroughfare too doesn't offer much sightseeing, as most of the buildings have been accorded additional protection by newly erected blast doors, which give the illusion of driving through a walled freeway, said an Iraqi citizen who had waited for a long time to get the first glimpse of the Green Zone and witness firsthand the change that had taken place after 12 years.
"I thought I'd see members of parliament on the street, but all I found was concrete and blast walls."
What's even more disappointing is the fact that the getting through the mere 2 km stretch requires multiple security checks, as guards examine cars with sniffer dogs and bomb detection units.
The Green Zone once housed the palatial bungalows and sprawling estates of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein. However, those wishing to see those or any other architectural marvels will be greeted by a one-way street, flanked by security walls on either side.
Though the government claims opening access, albeit conditional, to the Green Zone will ease traffic congestion, given the sheer quantum of security checks, it seems unlikely.
[Image Credit | Sabah Arar / Getty Images, Jim Gordon via Wikimedia]