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Iraq's Green Zone opens after suicide blasts kill 18

The "Green Zone" was a heavily fortified area within the Iraqi capital that served as a safe zone for U.S. forces and international diplomats during the U.S. occupation.

By Fred Lambert
Iraq's Green Zone opens after suicide blasts kill 18
An American soldier stands outside the gates of the "Green Zone" in Baghdad, following an attack on May 6, 2004. On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the Green Zone was open to the public for the first time in 12 years, when the area was shut off to the public following the U.S. invasion. File photo by Jose Jimenez/ UPI | License Photo

BAGHDAD, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Sunday announced the "Green Zone," a heavily-fortified safe zone within the Iraqi capital, is now open to the public.

The 4-square-mile area, which hugs the western bank of the Tigris River in central Baghdad's Karkh district, was closed off to the public following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and comprised several government buildings and foreign embassies, hidden behind blast walls designed to protect U.S. officials, military forces and visiting diplomats.

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"The opening of the Green Zone is one of the measures we promised the people," the BBC quoted a statement from Abadi's office as saying Sunday, adding "people in their vehicles came in droves."

For years, many Iraqis complained the high-security area, known also as the International Zone of Baghdad, was a symbol of disconnect between top officials and ordinary Iraqis.

The move is part of a reform package Abadi announced in August following weeks of nationwide protests, which reportedly began due to unreliable electricity amid a heatwave. The package, among other things, was designed to reduce government spending, fight corruption and ease sectarian tensions.

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Sunday's announcement comes one day after suicide car bombings in the predominantly Shia neighborhood of Kadhimiya, in northwestern Baghdad, killed 18 people and injured another 37.

The attack follows a suicide bombing at a parking garage in the Sadoun area of the capital last Tuesday that killed seven people and injured three others.

No groups have claimed responsibility, but the Islamic State has said it was behind similar attacks in the capital over recent months.

The Sunni Muslim terrorist organization has since June 2014 controlled vast swaths of territory in Iraq's west and north after spilling over from Syria.

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