Iraqis cross a checkpoint as they celebrate the re-opening of the Green Zone, home to government buildings and Western embassies, on December 10, 2018 in the capital Baghdad. Image Credit: AFP

Although the palaces were heavily bombed during the United States invasion, they were chosen to house the US government’s occupation administration, headquarters and later the embassy.

As the resistance to the US presence took the form of more and more deadly bombings, many of them by suicide bombers, the entire area was sealed off to the public, subjecting many Iraqis to long and often impossible waits to obtain basic government services.

Other embassies and international agencies moved into the relative protection of the Green Zone, which US officials tried unsuccessfully to rename the “International Zone”, beginning in late 2003.

It was a doomed rebranding as the Green Zone became enshrined in books, articles and at least one feature movie, Green Zone with Matt Damon.

Suicide bombers

Its towering blast walls, many more than 20 feet high and yards thick, became emblematic of an era in which extremists deployed massive bombs, often driven or carried by suicide attackers, which defeated normal protections such as armoured cars and roadblocks.

As much as it was fortified and blocked off, the Green Zone remained a target.

In 2004, two suicide bombers managed to infiltrate the zone, killing dozens of Americans and others at a cafe and a souvenir market.

Three years later, the parliament was bombed, killing one legislator.

For a period in 2008, the zone sustained rocket attacks almost daily by followers of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, firing from the Sadr City neighbourhood across the Tigris River.

Rockets struck the Rashid Hotel there when the then deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz visited in 2003, killing a US soldier and wounding 17 others.

In 2016, anti-corruption protesters broke into the Green Zone, blocking the parliament building and bringing the government to a standstill.