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.


More Basra water crises unless Iraq government fixes ‘failures’

Updated 13 min 46 sec ago
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More Basra water crises unless Iraq government fixes ‘failures’

  • Nearly 120,000 people were hospitalized last summer after drinking polluted water
  • HRW slammed Iraqi officials as “short-sighted,” saying they had not properly communicated with citizens about the emergency at the time

BAGHDAD: Human Rights Watch on Monday warned of a repeat of last year’s deadly water crisis in Iraq’s oil-rich southern province of Basra unless authorities correct decades of management failures.
Nearly 120,000 people were hospitalized last summer after drinking polluted water, in a mass health crisis that sparked deadly protests against the dire state of public services.
In a damning report, HRW found the generally poor state of water quality was likely compounded by algae that rapidly spread last year in the Shatt Al-Arab waterway that runs through Basra and provides it with its primary water source.
It indicated that the algae, pollution and high salination could together have sparked the mass health crisis.
“These combined failures violate Basra residents’ rights to water, sanitation, health, information, and property guaranteed under international and national law,” it said.
HRW slammed Iraqi officials as “short-sighted,” saying they had not properly communicated with citizens about the emergency at the time, nor released the results of probes in the year since or dealt with underlying causes.
“While solving Basra’s water crisis will take serious planning, time, and money, it is possible to address so long as authorities take their responsibilities seriously,” said Lama Fakih, HRW’s acting Middle East director.
“The alternative is deadly.”
The report relies on dozens of interviews with residents of Basra, experts and government officials as well as analysis of satellite imagery.
Those images revealed evidence of oil spills and algal bloom in the Shatt el-Arab and other waterways that contaminated the water which, when consumed, could cause abdominal pain, fever, vomiting and bloody diarrhea.
Besides the direct health impact, the water crisis forced families to flee Basra in search of potable water, buy expensive bottled water or keep their children at home if there was no plumbing in schools.
With increasingly scarce water, climate change, pollution and poor water usage, “Basra will suffer from acute water crises in coming years in the absence of strategic solutions,” HRW warned.
It urged authorities compensate those affected and develop comprehensive strategies to prevent pollution and illegal water tapping.
It also said the government should create a health advisory system to keep citizens aware of water quality standards, impending crises and how to deal with them.
In July 2018, mass protests over corruption and government neglect erupted in Basra, swelling in the following weeks and eventually turning deadly, with 12 demonstrators killed.
Iraq is classified as the 12th most corrupt country in the world.