Cars are now freely driving through the once heavily-fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad for the first time in 12 years, in an effort to introduce greater transparency to a legacy of the American-led occupation that has long symbolized the isolation between the Iraqi government and its citizens.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the opening of the Green Zone on Sunday as part of reforms prompted by protests demanding greater government openness. Abadi personally greeted some citizens in their vehicles as they entered the area.
"Opening the Green Zone is one of the procedures we promised our people, Abadisaidon Facebook. "We are moving ahead with our reforms and we will not step back."
On Monday, cars lined up outside of two newly opened entrances to the Green Zone, with drivers eager to see a space that had been largely off limits to the Iraqi public since the 2003 United States invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein. The zone, which houses government buildings, foreign embassies, and elite private homes, came to represent the headquarters of the occupation and the seat of corrupt government power. Prior to the 2003 invasion, it was the central location of Saddam's government, known as the International Zone of Baghdad.
It contains the US Embassy, which is the largest in the world, as well as Iraq's Parliament and the offices of the prime minister and president.
Checkpoints and concrete barriers have for years blocked bridges and highways leading into the Green Zone, causing considerable traffic disruption in the city of seven million people. Many sectors inside the area will still require a special permit to enter, but Iraqis are expected to cheer the increased openness for reducing traffic snarls within the city.
The reopening of the zone comes amid a wave of protests by Iraqis in Baghdad and many southern cities calling for the provision of basic services, the trial of corrupt politicians and the shake-up of a system riddled with graft and incompetence.
In addition to opening the Green Zone, Abadi's government has eliminated senior government posts and cut politicians' security details and perks in an effort to tackle wasteful state spending and appease public anger over poor governance.
Ringed by concrete barriers, the Green Zone has been a regular target for bombings over the years. Security officials said that Iraqi army special forces would handle the task of maintaining security and prevent terrorist attacks.