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story.lead_photo.caption In this Dec. 10, 2018 file photo, Iraqi security forces stand guard as they check motorists entering the Green Zone, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim, File)

BAGHDAD -- Baghdad's Green Zone area, the heavily fortified strip on the west bank of the Tigris River, reopened to the public Tuesday after 16 years -- a move meant to portray increased confidence in the country's overall security situation after years of war.

Maj. Gen. Jassim Yahya Abd Ali said the area, which houses the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices, is now open "twenty-four hours a day without any exceptions or conditions."

The 4-square-mile area with its palm trees and monuments has been off limits to the public since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.

"I feel that Baghdad is bigger than before," said Atheir Assem, a 25-year-old who drove his car inside the Green Zone for the first time in his life on Tuesday. He said his generation didn't know anything about the Green Zone and felt that people there lived in another country.

"Now there is no difference, and this is beautiful," he said.

The area was home to Saddam's palaces before the war. It then became known as "Little America" after the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled him, when it was seized by U.S. military forces. In later years, the walled-off area surrounded by concrete blast walls came to be seen as symbol of the country's inequality, fueling the perception among Iraqis that their government is out of touch.

Only Iraqis with special security badges could enter the area.

Various attempts and promises by the Iraqi government to open the Green Zone to traffic in past years have failed to materialize because of persistent security concerns.

Earlier this year, the government began easing restrictions in the area. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said the Green Zone will be fully open to the public on Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

Ali said authorities removed 12,000 concrete walls from the area.

"Thank God the opening of the Green Zone happened during the Eid. ... It is a very good initiative and will ease transportation in Baghdad," said Abdullah Mouhamed, a taxi driver.

A Section on 06/05/2019

Print Headline: Baghdad's Green Zone open to public again

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