By Elaine Eliah
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 29, 2008 - To many Americans, convenient shopping means easy, safe parking at clean, wholesome supermarkets. In Iraq, where shoppers often risk their lives buying groceries and vendors watch produce rot for lack of electricity or transport, marketing has different requirements. The New Baghdad Market, also known as 9 Nissan, soon will be able to meet these special needs.
The "Baghdad 2" embedded provincial reconstruction team and the 3rd Infantry Division's 2-69th Armor Battalion have been working with the Baghdad Provincial Council, local district and neighborhood councils and the U.S. Agency for International Development's "Inma" agribusiness program to rekindle plans for a modern community-based retail food market. Inma is an Arabic word that means "growth."
The high-profile New Baghdad Market is perfectly located beside a highway, adjacent to bus transport and surrounded by a large residential community. It was designed for secure shopping, sanitary food handling and safe food storage. Built with USAID funding in 2004, the market remained unoccupied as violence and ethnic tension drove many residents away.
Local police continuously ran squatters out of the stalls, and coalition forces often found weapons caches there. As stability took hold and local residents returned to their neighborhood, hundreds of vendors commandeered nearby streets, building makeshift stalls from scrap wood and plastic sheeting to sell vegetables, chicken and meat.
"The area developed so fast economically that it attracted people even from outside the area," said Army Capt. Alexis Perez-Cruz, who has worked for 10 months with Iraqi police and soldiers in the area of the market. "Neighborhood council meetings have now shifted focus from security to economic issues."
Looking at the unoccupied New Baghdad Market, the council saw economic opportunity ready to be developed. The Iraqi police saw a way to clear a major thoroughfare, and coalition forces saw an opportunity to work with the Iraqi government to improve a community and the lives of its residents.
Late last year, 2-69th Armor and the Baghdad 2 team asked Inma to help make the market viable. Inma's value chain strategy for improving Iraq's private sector agribusiness recognizes that increasing the supply of farm produce without enabling markets to accommodate the demand cannot lead to sustainable development.
"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."
When Inma engineers visited the New Baghdad Market, they found street lighting in place, but no electricity; sewers and toilets were in need of cleaning and repair, but had no running water. Strengthening Iraq's agribusiness value chain requires water and electricity for cleaning, packing and refrigerating produce to prolong its shelf life.
Soldiers from 2-69th Armor designed the security for the market, including T-wall concrete barriers, "drop-arm" vehicle entry gates and pedestrian checkpoints. Their noncommissioned officer for projects, Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Rogers, has been instrumental in bringing together the many stakeholders. The battalion will coordinate crews for clearing parking lots and cleaning the sewer system.
Representatives of the Iraqi government and local councils documented land ownership at New Baghdad Market and will secure an agreement that allows market vendors to hold official leases for their stalls.
USAID contractors will complete display stands and install roller shutters on the stalls. They also will manage construction repairs and upgrades, including electrical and plumbing installation, flooring, roofing, doors and shutters for market booths.
Taking the lead on market completion, Inma will install the security elements and will provide generators and cold storage units. Inma helped the 9 Nissan Market Agricultural Association, which will manage the facility, legally register as a nongovernmental organization and will train association members in facility operations and food safety management.
Opening New Baghdad Market will ease traffic congestion by ending street-selling. Many vendors say they prefer renting one of the 730 new stalls to improve their safety and comfort. New tenants will be prime candidates for micro loans and grants, funds that could help them purchase coolers and other store fixtures.
"It's a tremendous opportunity for stability," said Capt. Joseph Peppers, 2-69th Armor effects coordinator. "These stalls mean steady jobs – a chance to have a regular business."
Community buy-in is vital not only for market viability, but also to make New Baghdad Market a respected, protected, permanent fixture in the neighborhood and to further increase the number of people who benefit from its operations.
"This will be the best market, and everyone will want to say they're in the best place," Peppers said. "It's going to act as a model market – a mini mall."
While each of the stalls will provide sales employment for tenant vendors, the market itself will generate hundreds of other job opportunities for transporters, cleaners and other service providers. A higher standard of cleanliness and safer, more secure facilities will enable restaurants and cafes to grow up around it – many of which will employ women.
"If you walk through New Baghdad Market, it doesn't exactly match its name," said Neighborhood Council Chairman Haitham Ali, while touring the current vending area. "We are working together to make New Baghdad, really New Baghdad."
Rebuilding the New Baghdad Market demonstrates the U.S. government's three-track strategy – security, coupled with economic and political stability – through the cooperation of the U.S. military, USAID and Department of State and through collaboration with their Iraqi counterparts in government, police, nongovernment organizations and the private sector.
"New Baghdad Market also shows the Iraqi people that this market, started by Americans, was finished by Americans – with the help of their Iraqi colleagues," Weeks said.
(Elaine Eliah, Inma Public Relations/Communications Manager, has worked in Iraq for over three years.)