BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered security forces to prepare to open Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone government and embassy area to the public, his office said Friday.
The order comes in the third week of a reform drive by Abadi aimed at combatting rampant corruption and streamlining the bloated government, in response to weeks of protests and calls from top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Abadi directed security forces to make “the necessary arrangements to open the Green Zone to the citizens,” a statement from his office said.
If the move actually goes ahead, it is likely to face significant opposition from embassies in the Green Zone including those of the United States and Britain due to security concerns.
While attacks have dropped in Baghdad compared with the first half of last year, bombings that are sometimes claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group are still a frequent occurrence in the capital.
The Green Zone is surrounded by high concrete walls, guarded by labyrinths of successive checkpoints and protected by Abrams tanks, armoured personnel carriers and elite members of the security forces.
It held lavish palaces occupied by former president Saddam Hussein and other senior figures and supporters of his regime before his overthrow in 2003, but was much more accessible then than it is now.
After his fall, those same palaces served as the headquarters for the US-led occupation, and later for Iraq’s new political elite, whose corruption has aroused widespread popular ire.
Easy entry requires going through a byzantine process to obtain necessary badges that has itself been said to be a source of graft, with large payments reportedly expediting the procedures.
Abadi also ordered that streets shut by political parties and influential figures be opened in Baghdad and other provinces.
Top politicians have closed off roads leading to their homes and even those of their relatives in Baghdad, while pro-government militiamen have also shut streets, adding to the already dense traffic in the capital.
The premier also ordered the formation of committees to review the sale and rental of state properties and to return illegally obtained assets and restore to the state those that were “unfairly evaluated”.
Some top politicians have managed to obtain Saddam-era palaces or other valuable properties either free of charge or for far less than their true value.
Both opening the streets and efforts to recover ill-gotten state assets are almost certain to face major resistance from politicians across the political spectrum who have benefitted from both.