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Baghdad's Green Zone to open '24 hours every day' from Eid

Iraqi PM Adel Abdul Mahdi said the zone, which houses the US embassy, would be made accessible to the public
The Victory Arch, known as the Swords of Qadisiyah, in Baghdad's high-security Green Zone (AFP)

The Green Zone in Baghdad, the highly secured region of the capital that houses embassies and the parliament building, is to be fully opened to the public from Tuesday for the first time ever.

As Iraq prepared to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced that the heavily fortified 10-square-kilometre district of the capital, established after the 2003 US-led invasion, would be accessible 24 hours.

"Extra gates will be opened, including the Eastern Gate of the Ministry of Defense,” Abdul Mahdi told a press conference.

He cited the improved security situation in the capital - which in the last 16 years has seen street fighting, ethnic cleansing and regular car bombs - as a reason for the move.

“Neither the Americans nor the previous governments were able to do this,” he pointed out.

Iraq declared victory in its war with the Islamic State group in December 2017.

Since coming to power last year, Abdul Mahdi has overseen the removal of concrete blast walls and checkpoints around the Green Zone and has opened traffic routes in the district at set times.

The zone's closure has long been blamed for exacerbating traffic jams in the city.

US withdrawal

The move to fully open the district comes weeks after the US announced it was pulling out all non-essential staff from its diplomatic buildings in Baghdad and the Kurdish capital Erbil in the north.

The Green Zone houses the US embassy - the largest such American embassy in the world - as well as the Hands of Victory monument, Al-Rashid Hotel and the Republican Palace.

The US said in May that it had evidence that its staff were at risk from armed groups in Iraq backed by Iran, with whom the US has been ratcheting up tensions in recent weeks.

A rocket was fired into the Green Zone on 19 May, without causing any casualties. The US blamed Iran-backed groups for the attack.

The Daily Beast quoted a senior official in Iraq's elite Counter Terrorism Services (CTS) saying that Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed group which the US has designated as a terrorist organisation, were responsible for the rocket attack.

However, the CTS later said the statement given to the Daily Beast was "untrue" and disavowed any information not given through its official channels.

On 21 May, a group calling itself the Operations of Martyr Ali Mansour claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in retaliation for US President Donald Trump pardoning a soldier over the 2009 killing of an Iraqi detainee.

Michael Behenna, a former United States first lieutenant, was convicted of murdering an Iraqi prisoner, Ali Mansour Mohammad al-Jabouri, in 2008.