Revitalizing Baghdad

February 1, 2008

In the United States, we’re used to having everything we want or need, virtually at our fingertips. If we decide that we need something from the grocery store, it’s just a matter of hopping in our car and driving to the nearest grocery store. Convenience stores are on almost every block and many cities have Walmarts and malls. When visiting these places of business, we rarely think about safety and convenience of parking, as most of these places have well lit, large parking lots with security cameras. Convenient shopping is something that we’re accustomed to here in the United States. We have the convenience of safe parking, clean supermarkets with pretty much anything we’d want at our fingertips. In Baghdad, shoppers haven’t had that convenient for many years, even before the war started in 2003. They often risked their lives to purchase groceries. They didn’t have the convenience of electricity to keep produce cold and thus preserved.

Soon though, shoppers in Baghdad will have these convenience, when the New Baghdad Market opens. Thanks to the “Baghdad 2″ provincial reconstruction team and the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2-69th Armor Battalion, who have been working with the Baghdad Provincial Council, local district and neighborhoods and the US Agency for International Development’s Inma agribusiness program. The plans are for a modern community-based retail food market. In Arabic, the word “Inma” means growth, and growth is just what’s happening.

(Army Capt. Alexis Perez-Croz and Lt. Col. Khalid, executive officer of the 319 Iraq Army Tank Battalion, survey the New Baghdad Market. The “Baghdad 2″ embedded provincial reconstruction team and the US Army 2-69th Armor Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, have been working with local leaders to revitalize the market. US Army Photo by Spc. Nicholas Hernandez)

The new market is located near a highway and next to a bus station. It’s also surrounded by a large residential community. The design of the market was done with the idea of secure shopping, sanitary food handling and safe food storage in mind. The market was build with USAID funding in 2004 and remained unoccupied due to violence and ethnic tension in the area, which drove many of the residents away.

Local police were kept busy running squatters out of the stalls. Coalition forces often had to clear the area of weapons caches. As things began to stabilize in the community, vendors returned to the neighborhood and took over nearby streets, building makeshift stalls from scrap materials to sell their products, mainly vegetables, chicken and other meats.

“The area developed so fast economically that it attracted people even from outside the area,” said Army Capt. Alexis Perez-Cruz. “Neighborhood council meetings have now shifted focus from security to economic issues.”

The council observed that the New Baghdad Market remained unoccupied and saw an opportunity ripe to be developed. For the Iraqi police, opening the market, allowed them to clear the roadways and coalition forces saw yet another chance to work with the locals people and the Iraqi government, in order to improve the community and make life easier for the residents.

“A clean safe market, offers Iraqi shoppers one small semblance of normalcy in their lives,” said Inma Chief of Party Herschel Weeks. “The facility will ultimately impact farmers by becoming an introductory step toward modern marketing and packaging.”

The next step was for Inma engineers to visit the New Baghdad Market. They found street lights in place, but no electricity, sewers and toilets were needing cleaning and repair, but had no running water. Correcting these problems was tantamount to being able to strengthen Iraq’s agribusiness value chain.

Soldiers from 2-69th Armor designed security for the market to ensure the safety of shoppers and business owners alike. The security includes the placement of T-wall barriers, drop arm vehicle entry gates and pedestrian checkpoints. The battalion is also coordinating with crews to clean the streets and parking lots and cleaning the sewer system. The Iraqi government and local councils have documented land ownership at the market and will secure an agreement that will allow vendors to hold official leases for their stalls.

Display stands will be completed by USAID contractors, as well as the installation of roller shutters. Any construction repairs and upgrades that are needed, will be managed by USAID contractors as well. These upgrades and repairs could include things such as electrical, plumbing, flooring, roofing, doors and shutters, for the booths located in the market.

Inma will take the lead in the market completion and will install security elements, as well as provide generators and cold storage units. The facility will be managed by the 9 Nissan Market Agricultural Association. They will register as a legal nongovernmental organization and will conduct training for association members, in facility operations and food safety management.

When opened, the market will have 730 new stalls. Vendors who are now selling on the street, say that they would prefer to rent one of the booths, in order to improve their safety and comfort. New tenants will also be candidates for micro loans and grants, which could help them purchase items such as coolers and other fixtures they may need in their stores.

Not only will the market provide work for the vendors, but it will also create job opportunities for transporters, cleaning personnel, as well as other service providers. By sticking to a high standard of cleanliness and safety, it will enable restaurants and cafes to grow up around the market. This will also provide more job opportunities for women.

As more and more improvements are occurring in Iraq, the people of the country are beginning to lead more normalized lives. As hospitals are built or improved, core services such as water and electricity and updated and modernized, schools are reconstructed or built, life is beginning to return to normal across the country. Many of these seemingly ordinary things, we allowed to become run-down or didn’t exist during the reign of Saddam Hussein. By helping Iraq to rebuild their cities and communities, the US Government is demonstrating to the Iraqi people that they are committed to ensuring their security, economic and political stability, by working hand in hand with the Iraqi government on all levels. As times goes by, we’ll see more and more examples of success and revitalization in the country of Iraq.



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