Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Friday ordered security forces to grant civilians access to Baghdad's fortified Green Zone in an apparent bid to stem mounting discontent over poor services and abuse of power.
Protected by countless checkpoints and concrete barriers, the 10-square-kilometre (4-square-mile) area on the bank of the Tigris River has become a symbol of the disconnect between Iraq’s leadership and its people – as well as wreaking havoc on traffic in the city of 7 million.
It once housed the headquarters of the US occupation and before that one of Saddam Hussein's republican palaces, and is now the seat of government and of several Western embassies.
“The Green Zone is seen by the rest of the population as a protected area for VIPs,” said Middle East expert David Rigoulet-Roze in an interview with FRANCE 24. “The airport being nearby, officials can also get from their office to their plane without having to go through sensitive neighbourhoods.”
The capital and many southern cities have witnessed demonstrations in recent weeks calling for provision of basic services, the trial of corrupt politicians, and the shake-up of a system riddled with corruption and incompetence.
Thousands of people rallied again on Friday following a call from powerful Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, in what a senior security official described as the biggest protest of the summer.
Partly in response to the protests, Abadi is pushing for reforms to a system he says has deprived Iraqis of basic services and undermined the fight against Islamic State group militants.
He has announced several measures this month to combat corruption and mismanagement including scrapping layers of senior government posts, cutting security details and other perks for officials, and encouraging corruption investigations.
On Friday, he directed military commanders to ease civilian access to the Green Zone and ordered the elimination of no-go zones set up by militias and political parties in Baghdad and other cities in response to more than a decade of car bombings.
Cracking down on privileges
Rigoulet-Roze said the prime minister's announcements were about “proving to the under-privileged that the government is trying to crack down on a number of privileges”.
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.
Abadi’s moves are almost certain to face major resistance from politicians across the political spectrum who have benefitted from security checkpoints and ill-acquired assets.
They are also likely to raise alarm bells among Western diplomats concerned about security threats to embassies located in the Green Zone.
Bomb attacks, many of them claimed by the Islamic State group, continue to rock the Iraqi capital. At least six people were killed on Friday morning in a car bomb attack in the southern district of Zafaraniyah, police and medical sources said.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2015-08-28