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Iraq’s Green Zone: Seat of Power, Heart of Protests

The protected Green Zone in the centre of Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, was stormed by irate demonstrators last month, the most recent of nearly two decades of assaults on the seat of power.

The Iraqi parliament, the British and American embassies, the prime minister’s official house, and military headquarters are all located inside the heavily guarded compound, which is 10 square kilometres (6.2 square miles) in size.

After the 2003 invasion to remove Saddam Hussein, US troops established the defensive zone; nevertheless, since then, it has experienced ongoing unrest.

When followers of influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr broke through security barriers and took over buildings last month after their leader announced he would leave politics, fighting broke out for over 24 hours.

When asked about the violence on August 29, Major General Tahseen al-Khafaji, a military representative for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, was quoted by AFP as saying, “They intended to tear down the walls.”

Following months of disagreements between Sadr and rival Shiite factions, the ensuing fighting—the deadliest in almost three years—took place as a result of the political impasse that has prevented the country from having a new president, prime minister, or government since elections in October of last year.

Soldiers and the Popular Mobilization Forces, once Iran-backed paramilitaries absorbed into the regular army, were engaged in combat with Sadr supporters. Hundreds of people were hurt, and at than 30 supporters of Sadr died.

Khafaji emphasised that despite this, the military fulfilled its duty, detailing how soldiers used water cannons to push back demonstrators.

I feel we have shown our professionalism, he said. “Our reaction was successful,”

When Iraqi forces took over control of the area in 2009, the government had a safe location to meet, even during the period from 2014 until ISIS’s eventual defeat in terms of territory in 2017.

The enclosure is surrounded by military checkpoints, and the official buildings are protected by concrete blast barriers, or “T-walls,” which are three metres (nearly 10 feet) tall concrete blocks.

To enter the perimeter, a unique badge that is given out only after a comprehensive background check is necessary.

But the Sadrists had no trouble getting over the fence when they overran the Green Zone in August.

They even used pick-up truck-pulled ropes to topple sections of the blast barricades.

Two employees at one of the embassies in the Green Zone, who requested anonymity, recall what happened on August 29.

According to an embassy employee, there was nonstop “Boom! Boom!” and that they spent a lot of the time hiding under a bed. Even though the fighting were two kilometres away, the worker admitted, “We were pretty afraid.” It wasn’t the first time, either.

Today’s Green Zone consists of a number of remote parcels connected by broad boulevards.

Portraits of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, the Revolutionary Guards leader killed in an American strike in Iraq in 2020, can be seen on several of them. Protesters now frequently aim at it.

Before that, Sadr’s supporters had already entered the Green Zone twice, taking over parliament in late July and waging a sit-in that lasted for a month.

With 73 MPs, Sadr’s coalition won the most seats in the assembly following the elections in October, but it was still far from a majority.

Since that time, the nation has been embroiled in political impasse, leaving Iraq without a new administration, president, or prime minister.

After the violence in late August, Iraq’s top executive authorities and major political parties agreed to work toward holding early elections in an effort to end an 11-month political impasse. However, Sadr boycotted the meeting.

There won’t be a quick cure, according to Abu Turab Shams Ali, a 54-year-old resident of the area and president of a resident group.

Democracy “comes from the people, from the education they acquire,” he claimed. ” It takes time. Democracy cannot be manufactured.”

The French, German, and Spanish missions are among the several diplomatic missions that have chosen to conduct their operations outside of the Green Zone.

It was a straightforward equation, according to a Western official who wished to remain anonymous.

Because we’re not in the Green Zone, he claimed, we’re not as well protected. But we’re also less targeted.

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