For the first time in 12 years, Baghdad has opened up the International Zone of Baghdad, also known as the Green Zone, and made it accessible to the public. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has stated that the move is part of his larger reform package to address the poor governance and high level of corruption in the country.
The Green Zone, renamed the International Zone of Baghdad, currently serves as the seat of Iraqi government and contains the offices of its most prominent institutions such as the president, prime minister, and parliament. The Green Zone is also the location of prominent diplomatic missions such as the U.S., British, Australian, and Egyptian embassies.
The Green Zone is a 10-square-kilometer area in the Karkh district of central Baghdad and has served as the seat of multiple Iraqi governments such as those of King Faisal and the Ba’ath party.
In 2003, following the beginning of the Iraq War, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the interim Iraqi government, closed off the Green Zone to serve as a secure center of government and administration. The CPA surrounded the Green Zone with razor wire, chain link fences, and blast-proof concrete slabs, and strictly controlled entry and exit from the area through armed checkpoints. Since the period of CPA administration, the Green Zone has been the site of multiple mortar and rocket attacks.
Opening the Green Zone
Nicknamed “the Bubble,” the Green Zone stands as a symbol of the dysfunction present in Iraqi society and government. In 2009, the U.S. military handed over complete control to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) who have maintained the intense security blanket that envelops the area and separates it from the rest of Baghdad. Beyond the heavily-guarded borders of the Green Zone lies the Red Zone where Iraqi citizens have experienced attacks, violence, and unrest as a part of their daily lives, especially during periods of intense fighting such as 2006 – 2008.
Moreover, there are physical symbols of the country’s high levels of economic corruption and elite capture of resources. Within the Green Zone, some top Iraqi politicians have been able to obtain valuable property, such as Saddam-era palaces, for little or no money. As a result, many Iraqis have argued that the Green Zone, as a physical manifestation of the strong disconnect that exists between the country’s government and its people, ought be dismantled.
Prime Minister Abadi has drawn on these demands to increase support for his new reform package. In his public statement announcing the opening of the Green Zone to the public, Abadi announced, “The opening of the Green Zone is one of the measures we promised the people and we are opening it now.” In order to communicate this message to Western stakeholders, some of whom have become skeptical about the efficacy and scope of the new reforms, Abadi’s official Twitter account stated, in English, “Another milestone achievement this evening in line with commitment to reform as the Green Zone in Baghdad is opened to the public.”
The Future of the Green Zone and Iraq
While the opening of the Green Zone is a substantial change, there is a long way to go until the promise of the reform is realized. Travel on most streets within the Green Zone will still require a special badge and army special forces will continue to maintain a heavy presence.
Beyond the Green Zone, the security situation remains very fragile with costly bomb attacks against crowded civilian areas still being a regular occurrence. As such, there are fears that the opening of the Green Zone could be premature as groups such as the Islamic State group (IS), also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh, could take advantage of the decreased security to launch attacks against the Western officials, and their offices, that are concentrated in the area.
As Abadi moves forward with more reform measures, the international community needs to maintain pressure and ensure that the Iraqi government actually implements the reforms and does so in a way that emphasizes effective, long-term solutions. As with the opening of the Green Zone, if the reforms do not proceed in the correct manner, there could be deadly consequences for the people of Iraq and the region as a whole.