Bishop Warduni: A statue of liberty to celebrate the opening of the ‘Green Zone’ after 16 years

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For the end of Ramadan, the government is opening the area to the public. This is a “political” message for a “new era”. For the Auxiliary of Baghdad, security has “improved” but must be guaranteed to everyone.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – After more than 16 years of isolation, Baghdad’s “Green Zone” is now accessible to ordinary citizens, following the end of Ramadan. The ??maximum-security area in central Baghdad is home to the government district and foreign embassies. With Eid al-Fitr celebrations, Iraqi leaders lauded the start of “a new era”, sending a strong political “message” to a population torn by decades of bloody wars and jihadist violence. The situation has improved, at least in part, as evinced by the UN mission in Iraq, which has, recently, stopped releasing the monthly count of casualties. Speaking to AsiaNews, Mgr Shlemon Audish Warduni, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad and right-hand man of the Chaldean patriarch, Mgr Louis Sako, described the event as “extremely positive”, very “good news for the whole Iraqi population”. The area, the prelate noted, “was forbidden to the public” for far too long. “Access to it was very limited” and highly inconvenient. “We too needed to go to the area, to embassies or diplomatic services, but we couldn’t. This is a great joy for everyone.” The Green Zone covers ??about 10 square kilometres along the Tigris river and is protected by massive security measures. Also known as the “international zone”, it is now open to Iraqi nationals who, for a long time, were able to look at it only from the outside. The zone’s anti-rocket walls and barbed wire protected the Iraqi Parliament and government, as well as the US and British embassies, the United Nations mission and the headquarters of the military coalition that fought the Islamic State group. Since the days of the dictator Saddam Hussein, the area was a “symbol of power” inaccessible to ordinary people. Following its invasion, the United States built one of the most imposing diplomatic mission in the world, covering an area that became known as ‘little America’. For many analysts and experts this area best represents a huge gap between power and ordinary people, left to fend for themselves amid growing insecurity, violence, bomb blasts and attacks. For several observers, the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi decided to open the zone to re-establish “a link” to the people by returning this “parallel space” to “its rightful owners”. In the fact since taking office in October 2018, the cabinet meets outside the Green Zone. Most Iraqis welcomed the decision, especially given the need to manage traffic in a city of 7.6 million residents that is largely congested by private and public transport. More than a year after the military victory over the Islamic State group (which survives as an ideology and some underground cells), Mahdi reached out to Iraqis in order to convince them that the security situation had improved and that there were no “structural problems”. “What was called the” Green Zone actually was a ‘red zone’ off-limits to many,” explained Mgr Warduni. With the opening, “People celebrated the event, which coincided with the end of Ramadan.” Now the Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad would like to see the construction of a “statue of Iraqi liberty “as a sign and symbol of a newly-found unity and renewed openness as well as new freedom, which however is still limited.” “The general security situation has improved, but we must continue to work hard so that all Iraqis can benefit from it. We want a free Iraq in all its aspects, to be looked at by the rest of the world with eyes of love and freedom.”