BAGHDAD – Iraq's parliament will start holding sessions outside the U.S.-protected Green Zone in the fall, the deputy speaker said Tuesday.
The 275-member legislative body currently meets in a heavily guarded convention center inside the Green Zone, a sprawling maze of concrete barriers and checkpoints in central Baghdad.
Deputy parliamentary speaker Khalid al-Attiyah told lawmakers they will move to the Saddam Hussein-era parliament building for the next legislative term, which is due to begin on Sept. 1.
The National Assembly building that was used by the Iraqi parliament under Saddam is in the Allawi district, about 500 yards from the blast walls that form the perimeter of the Green Zone on the west side of the Tigris River.
It was looted and burned in the chaos that followed the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces in April 2003. But al-Attiyah said its reconstruction has been completed.
The announcement comes as the U.S.-backed Iraqi government tries to bolster public confidence in recent security gains and assert its independence.
"There is progress in the security situation and the reconstruction has been completed of the new building," al-Attiyah said, adding the new accommodations will be large enough for the full legislature and staff members.
The Green Zone, which also houses the U.S. and British embassies and the Iraqi government's headquarters, is one of the main symbols of the continued American presence more than five years after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam.
Iraqi legislators hold sessions in a former convention center amid tight security that was reinforced after a suicide bomber slipped through the checkpoints and blew himself up in the building's cafeteria, killing a lawmaker, on April 12, 2007.
Al-Attiyah said the building was prepared for the next term and security officials would meet to discuss preparations for the move. The relocation itself, however, was meant to be temporary until a new compound for the parliament can be built, he added.
His adviser, Wissam al-Zubaidi, also said the parliament planned to shorten its two-month break that was due to start in July and adjourn only for the month of August.
The legislative body has come under past criticism for failing to take advantage of the decline in violence to make sufficient progress on U.S.-backed legislation aimed at promoting national reconciliation among Iraq's divided Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government has been trying to assure a fearful public that recent security gains can be maintained and has launched a series of offensives aimed at clamping control on some of the most violent areas in Iraq.
The U.S. military also has touted a steep decline in violence over the past year but has warned that Sunni and Shiite extremists remain a serious threat and the gains are reversible.
Underscoring the continued dangers, an Iraqi state TV reporter was shot to death Tuesday near his apartment in the northern city of Mosul, officials said.
Gunmen emerged from a car and opened fire on Muhieddin Abdul-Hamid, a policeman said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.
Colleagues said the 50-year-old journalist was a local anchor for the station in Mosul, the center of an ongoing U.S.-Iraqi operation against the most prominent remaining stronghold of al-Qaida in Iraq, a Sunni extremist group.
Excluding Abdul-Hamid's death, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 129 journalists and 50 media support workers have been killed since the U.S. invasion in 2003.
In other violence Tuesday, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle struck a Baghdad checkpoint manned by U.S.-allied fighters Tuesday, killing one and wounding four, officials said, in the latest attack targeting Sunni groups that have turned against al-Qaida in Iraq.
The U.S. military, meanwhile, continued its campaign against Sunni insurgents in northern Iraq, killing four and detaining 10 others.
South of Baghdad, Iraq's Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said large numbers of gunmen have surrendered to government forces and handed over weapons in Amarah ahead of a military operation due to begin there on Thursday. He was not more specific.
The Iraqi government has given residents in Amarah a Wednesday deadline to turn over heavy weapons, saying it hoped to "demilitarize" the Shiite city without bloodshed.
Iraqi troops have fanned out across Amarah, a stronghold of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia and the purported center of weapons smuggling from Iran.
But no fighting has been reported and Sadrist officials have said they won't put up any resistance unless government troops make arrests without warrants or commit other violations.
Iraqi security forces have collected an unspecified number of weapons from streets and school yards since Monday, said Latif Abboud, the head of the security committee for Maysan province, which includes Amarah.