Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi declared the heavily fortified Green Zone in the capital Baghdad open to the public Sunday after 12 years. The move is part of a reform drive prompted by greater demands from Iraqi citizens for transparency in public affairs, Reuters reported.

The Green Zone -- a four square mile compound on the west bank of the Tigris River -- houses government buildings and foreign embassies, including that of the United States. The complex is characterized by high walls and barbed wires, and heavily monitored checkpoints. It also shelters former ruler Saddam Hussein’s palaces and was converted into an administrative headquarters for the coalition forces following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to CBS News. Since then, the compound has been declared off limits to the general public.

“Opening the Green Zone is one of the procedures we promised our people. We are moving ahead with our reforms and we will not step back," Abadi tweeted, according to Reuters. Abadi, however, added that not all restrictions have been revoked, and some streets within the Green Zone would require a special pass to enter, BBC reported.

"Army special forces in coordination with Baghdad's security operation will make sure security will be maintained to prevent any terrorist attacks," Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Gen. Saad Maan reportedly said.

According to Saad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for the prime minister, Abadi personally welcomed some citizens as they entered the Green Zone Sunday through the newly opened gates, Reuters reported.

Baghdad has seen weeks of protests against the government over poor services and abuses of power, and the latest move is likely to ease some tensions since the fortified area is widely seen as a symbol of disconnect between the Iraqi people and the government.