Baghdad’s Green Zone reopens to the public after 16 years

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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)
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The Green Zone has been heavily fortified since the US-led invasion that overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. (AFP)
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The Victory Arch known as the Swords of Qadisiyah in Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone. (AFP)
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Iraqis drive in Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone after all the main roads criss-crossing the enclave were opened. (AFP)
Updated 04 June 2019
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Baghdad’s Green Zone reopens to the public after 16 years

  • The prime minister said the Green Zone will be fully open to the public on Eid Al-Fitr
  • The area was home to Saddam Hussein’s palaces before the war

BAGHDAD: Baghdad’s Green Zone area, the heavily fortified strip on the west bank of the Tigris River, reopened to the public Tuesday after 16 years — a move meant to portray increased confidence in the country’s overall security situation after years of war.
Maj. Gen. Jassim Yahya Abd Ali told The Associated Press that the area, which houses the US Embassy and Iraqi government offices, is now open “twenty-four hours a day without any exceptions or conditions.”
The 10-square kilometer (4-square mile) with its palm trees and monuments has been off limits to the public since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.
“I feel that Baghdad is bigger than before,” said Assir Assem, a 25-year-old who drove his car inside the Green Zone for the first time in his life on Tuesday. He said his generation didn’t know anything about the Green Zone and felt that people there lived in another country.
“Now there is no difference, and this is beautiful,” he said.
The area was home to Saddam Hussein’s palaces before the war. It then became known as “Little America” following the 2003 US invasion that toppled him, after it was seized by US military forces. In later years, the walled off area surrounded by cement blast walks became a hated symbol of the country’s inequality, fueling the perception among Iraqis that their government is out of touch.
Only Iraqis with special security badges could enter the area.
Various attempts and promises by the Iraqi government to open the Green Zone to traffic over the past years have failed to materialize, because of persistent security concerns.
Earlier this year, the government began easing restrictions in the area. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said the Green Zone will be fully open to the public on Eid Al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.
Ali said authorities removed d 12,000 concrete walls from the area.
“Thank God the opening of the Green Zone happened during the Eid. ... It is a very good initiative and will ease transportation in Baghdad,” said Abdullah Mouhamed, a taxi driver.


Saudi Arabia: Palestinian initiative ‘a great opportunity to bring prosperity and opportunities’

Updated 3 min 6 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia: Palestinian initiative ‘a great opportunity to bring prosperity and opportunities’

  • UAE’s Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid Al-Tayer said "we should give this initiative a chance."
  • Tony Blair insists to Jared Kushner that there must be a two-state solution

MANAMA: Saudi Arabia's Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said Wednesday the Kingdom will support whatever economic plan will bring prosperity to the Palestinians.

Speaking on the second day of an international conference on a US initiative to improve the economic plight of Gaza and the West Bank, Al-Jadaan said he was “very, very optimistic” about the plan. 

“The region is in desperate need of prosperity and hope and we and our colleagues share the view that whatever brings prosperity to this region, we will support it,” he said, alongside US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin and the Bahraini and Emirati finance ministers.

“We have been a great supporter of Palestine for decades … so its not something we are going to shy away from and we will continue supporting the Palestinians,” Al-Jadaan added.

The initiative was outlined by Donald Trump's senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner on Tuesday as the conference in Bahrain got under way. The $50 billion economic formula would see investment in infrastructure, tourism and education.

Palestinian leaders have accused the plan of legitimising Israel’s occupation of their territory and for being secondary to a political resolution to the conflict. But on the second day of the conference, both Arab and western political leaders, ministers and  business chiefs discussed what needed to be done to make the plan work.

Al-Jadaan said the plan was a “great opportunity” and that there was a “significant international commitment” to support the people of Palestine to bring prosperity and opportunities.

“You need political commitment, you need clear transparency, you need predictability for the private sector to join, you need the rule of law … and you want to make sure that there is proper governance in place,” he said. 

The UAE’s Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid Al-Tayer said "we should give this initiative a chance."

Earlier, Jared Kushner discussed the initiative with the former British prime minister Tony Blair, who insisted there still must be a two-state solution to the conflict. The White House has not said it backs the principle, and the political element of its plan has not yet been revealed.

"It's absolutely foolish to believe you can have economics without sound politics, but it's likewise completely futile to think politics will work without economics buttressing it," Blair told the gathering.

The foreign minister of Bahrain also reiterated the need for a two-state solution but said the plan was an "opportunity not to be missed".

"I think if we take this matter seriously it could be a very important game-changer," Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa said.

In an earlier panel, Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas said the initiative “will definitely require a lot of work but it is definitely achievable.”

Bahrain’s Labor Market CEO Osama Al-Absi, told the panel, entitled Empowering the People, “we must look at how post-war economies were built” in order to make the plan work.

International Monetary Fund managing director, Christine Lagarde, said generating economic growth in conflict-riven countries can be a struggle.

The IMF puts unemployment at 30 percent in the West Bank and 50 percent in Gaza, which has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades and recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas' rival in the Israeli-occupied West bank.

"Gaza right now is feeling a lot of pain because of bad leadership and the sanctions that have been imposed on them because of it," Kushner said. "So the question that (Hamas)leadership has to ask themselves is...do they hate their neighbour in Israel more than they love their citizens and their people?"

The 179 proposed infrastructure and business projects in the plan include a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza, which has been floated before and stalled for lack of underlying political or security agreements.

Palestinian businessman Ashraf Jabari, chairman of the Palestinian Business Network, told the gathering it is difficult to build an economy with a "siege and unstable situation".

"Frankly, we demand an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967," said the businessman from Hebron who has co-founded a trade group to boost business between Palestinians and Israeli settlers."

*With Reuters