In the Green Zone, Light at the End of the Tunnel

For nearly six years, the Green Zone’s perimeter walls have choked off several key traffic arteries where they intersect in the heart of the capital. One may now be opening. A major east-west highway, which dips into a tunnel in mid-Green Zone and emerges in western Baghdad, is being prepared for traffic again.

The work has been visible for weeks. Semi-trailers and cranes have been used to place blast walls along the approach to the tunnel – which is inside the Green Zone near the Iraqi parliament. Road crews have pulled up the weeds that grew between the road’s concrete segments during the years it has been blocked off. U.S. Army personnel have come to oversee the work. Several rows of barricades still have to be removed before traffic can pass and new gates and walls will be needed to separate the road from the secure areas.

The opening date is still not public but word has spread among Iraqis who are eager for any relief of the traffic congestion, which has been badly aggravated by this chokepoint at the center of the grid. While U.S. troops still watch over and control the area, where the U.S. Embassy, Iraqi leadership and thousands of Iraqis and foreigners live, official jurisdiction was handed to the Iraqi government in January. There’s been a growing push by the public and Iraqi politicians to open the roads.

Still, the Green Zone remains very heavily fortified with walls and checkpoints not just around it but in clusters inside. Yesterday, when it was thought President Barack Obama might be visiting and amid a wave of recent car bombings in the city, columns of armored vehicles closed off streets inside the Green Zone itself. Sometimes that happens even without a presidential visit. So while they might be opening an important underground thoroughfare, it doesn’t mean there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

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