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

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.


Russian forces deploy at Syrian border under new accord

Updated 1 min 48 sec ago

Russian forces deploy at Syrian border under new accord

  • Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached an agreement Tuesday that would transform the map of northeast Syria, installing their forces along the border and filling the void left by the abrupt withdrawal of American troops
  • The Kurdish fighters were given a deadline of next Tuesday evening to pull back from border areas they have not already left

AKCAKALE, Turkey: Russian military police began patrols on part of the Syrian border Wednesday, quickly moving to implement an accord with Turkey that divvies up control of northeastern Syria. The Kremlin told Kurdish fighters to pull back from the entire frontier or else face being “steamrolled” by Turkish forces.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan echoed those warnings, saying his military would resume its offensive against Kurdish fighters if the new arrangements are not carried out.
Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached an agreement Tuesday that would transform the map of northeast Syria, installing their forces along the border and filling the void left by the abrupt withdrawal of American troops. The Kurdish fighters, who once relied on the US forces as protection from Turkey, were given a deadline of next Tuesday evening to pull back from border areas they have not already left.
Iraq, meanwhile, closed the door on the US military’s attempt to keep the troops leaving Syria on its soil. Iraqi Defense Minister Najah Al-Shammari told The Associated Press that those troops were only “transiting” Iraq and would leave within four weeks, heading either to Kuwait, Qatar or the United States.
Al-Shammari spoke after meeting US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who earlier this week had said the American forces from Syria would remain in Iraq to fight Daesh. Iraqi’s military quickly said they did not have permission to do so.
The clumsy reversal underscored the blow to US influence on the ground in the wake of President Donald Trump’s order for US troops to leave Syria. Those forces were allied to the Kurdish-led fighters for five years in the long and bloody campaign that brought down Daesh in Syria.
Now a significant swath of the territory they captured is being handed over to US rivals, and the Kurds have been stung at being abandoned by their allies to face the Turkish invasion launched on Oct. 9.
The Kremlin pointedly referred to that abandonment as it told the Kurds to abide by the Russian-Turkish accord.
“The United States was the closest ally of the Kurds during the last few years, and in the end the US ditched the Kurds and effectively betrayed them,” leaving them to fight the Turks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russian newswires.
“It’s quite obvious that if the Kurdish units don’t withdraw with their weapons then Syrian border guards and Russian military police will have to step back. And the remaining Kurdish units will be steamrolled by the Turkish army,” he said.
Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters terrorists because of their links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. It has demanded they retreat from the entire border region, creating a “safe zone” where Turkey could also settle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees on its soil.
Ankara would gain that goal under the new accord with Moscow along with the agreement last week with the US that put a cease-fire in place.
Kurdish forces completed withdrawing on Tuesday from a stretch of territory 120 kilometers (75 miles) wide along the border and 30 kilometers (19 miles) deep between the towns of Ras Al-Ayn and Tal Abyad. That pullback, allowing Turkish-backed forces to take over, was required under the US-Turkish accord.
The new agreement with Russia allows Turkey to keep sole control over that area. For the rest of the northeastern border, Russian and Syrian government forces will move in to ensure the Kurdish fighters leave. Then after the deadline runs out Tuesday, Turkish and Russian forces will jointly patrol a strip 10-kilometers (6 miles) deep along the border.
The Russian Defense Ministry said a convoy of military police had crossed the Euphrates River and deployed in the Syrian border town of Kobani.
“The military police will help protect the population, maintain order, patrol the designated areas and assist in the withdrawal of Kurdish units and their weapons 30 kilometers away from the border,” it said.
The Turkish military said it would not resume its offensive “at this stage” after the US-brokered cease-fire expired Tuesday night. However, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusolgu said that Turkish forces would “neutralize” any Syrian Kurdish fighters they come across in areas that Turkey now controls.
President Erdogan said the attack would start again if the Kurdish pullback does not take place.
“Whether its our agreement with the United States or with Russia, if the promises given are not carried out, there will be no change concerning the steps we need to take,” he told journalists, according to the newspaper Hurriyet.
Erdogan said he had also asked Putin what would happen if the Syrian Kurdish fighters donned Syrian army uniforms and remained in the border area. Putin responded by saying that he would not let that happen, Erdogan said.
Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said the deal with Russia would continue until a lasting political solution for Syria is reached. He also said that Turkey agreed not to conduct joint patrols in the city of Qamishli at the eastern end of the border, because of Russian concerns they could lead to a confrontation between Turkish troops and Syrian government forces in the area.