Opening up Green Zone sends a powerful message

The Green Zone, home to the Iraqi parliament and US embassy, will be opened to traffic around the clock from Tuesday, the government said. AFP
The Green Zone, home to the Iraqi parliament and US embassy, will be opened to traffic around the clock from Tuesday, the government said. AFP

Its concrete blast-proof walls and barbed wire surround gave it the nickname “the bubble” and even inspired a Hollywood movie. Baghdad’s Green Zone had been heavily fortified since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, its 12,000 concrete blocks not just a physical barrier but a metaphor for the vast disparity between ordinary civilians and out-of-touch politicians sitting in government offices within. Before the war, the Green Zone was home to Saddam Hussein’s palaces. After the invasion, it contained the US embassy, earning it the moniker “Little America”; as the seat of successive Iraqi regimes, it became an ugly symbol of corruption and inequality. So when the concrete walls were finally pulled down this week, opening up a 10-kilometre square stretch of the city, it filled Iraqis with hope. Atheir Assam, a 25-year-old who ventured into the zone for the first time, put it best when he said: “I feel that Baghdad is bigger than before”.

Politicians had talked of opening up the Green Zone for years but that promise has only just materialised, at a time when heightening US-Iran tensions threaten to tip war-scarred Iraq into another period of instability. Last month the US state department ordered non-emergency US government employees out of Iraq for security reasons. Days later, a missile was fired into the Green Zone, fortunately with no casualties. Amid Iraq’s insistence that there is no security risk, opening up the fortified zone is a way for authorities to send a strong message to the world that it is, once again, open for business.

Not only does this demonstrate Baghdad is generally safer, it is also a means to unite a divided city, the geography of which was still shaped by its conflict-ridden past. It will have a practical effect in drastically reducing traffic, which previously had to do a detour, and bring back a sense of normality to the everyday lives of Iraqis.

Still, Iraq has a long way to go before its citizens can lead peaceful lives. The country is still coming to terms with the terrible legacy of the ISIS regime and has yet to rebuild. Some areas still lack basic infrastructure such as electricity and roads. Meanwhile, the political system is still bogged down by endemic corruption and Iran-backed militia threaten the nation’s fragile stability. Despite all the setbacks, with the dismantling of these walls, Iraqis are showing the world they will not be beaten.

Published: June 5, 2019 07:43 PM

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