Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone opens to public

image source, Getty Images
image captionThe Green Zone is protected by a number of checkpoints

Iraq has declared Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone open to the public for the first time in 12 years.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the move was part of a reform drive that he had "promised the people".

However, he added, some restrictions would remain, with a number of streets requiring a special pass.

The 10 sq km (four sq miles) area - home to government buildings and foreign embassies - was closed after the US-led invasion in 2003.

"The opening of the Green Zone is one of the measures we promised the people," a statement from Mr Abadi's office said on Sunday.

"The prime minister opened the Green Zone to public passage and people in their vehicles came in droves," it added.

It is the latest in a series of steps by Mr Abadi to ease sectarian tensions and crack down on corruption.

Baghdad has seen weeks of protests over poor services and abuses of power.

image source, AP
image captionIraqis have been protesting against corruption and a lack of basic services

The Green Zone - which lies on the west bank of the Tigris River - was declared a no-go area for the public in 2003.

The complex is protected by high concrete walls with barbed wire and a number of checkpoints.

Despite this, it has been targeted a number of times by militant groups.

Many Iraqis have long complained that the Green Zone has become a symbol of disconnect between the country's top officials and ordinary citizens.

The opening comes a day after at least 18 people were killed in two car bomb attacks in Baghdad.

Dozens of people have been killed in bombings across the capital in recent months.

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