BAGHDAD: In the eye of the storm, Baghdad’s Green Zone remains sealed. The sealed-off area, with its palm trees and monuments, is home to the gigantic US Embassy in Iraq, one of the largest diplomatic missions in the world Baghdad’s Green Zone has been a barometer for tension and conflict in Iraq for nearly two decades. The 10-sq km heavily guarded strip on the banks of the Tigris River was known as “Little America” following the 2003 US invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. It then became a hated symbol of the country’s inequality, fueling the perception among Iraqis that their government is out of touch. The sealed-off area, with its palm trees and monuments, is home to the gigantic US Embassy in Iraq, one of the largest diplomatic missions in the world. It has also been home to successive Iraqi governments and is off limits to most Iraqis. Before the invasion Security was always tight around the area, as Saddam Hussein’s presidential palace complex was located inside. So were the homes of some of Iraq’s top government officials. Every year in July, Iraq’s army held a massive parade marking the 1968 coup that brought Saddam’s Arab Socialist Baath Party to power and ruled the country until the US invasion in 2003. All in the past? There has been talk for years that restrictions would be lifted in the Green Zone, first by then-Prime Minister Haider Abadi in 2015. In March, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi removed thousands of grey cement blast walls, easing the snarling traffic around Baghdad, and public access to the “Victory Arch” was restored. The UN envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, told a UN Security Council meeting earlier this month that “very soon the Green Zone will no longer exist.” Only a few days earlier, a rocket was fired into the Green Zone, landing less than a mile from the sprawling US Embassy. Eager to show the war-scarred nation is returning to normal, Abdul Mahdi is now promising to open it to the public on the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, the upcoming holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. “Once the area is fully opened, all Iraq will be green,” said Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamid Kadhim.