By Army Sgt. Jeremy Todd
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 28, 2008 - More than 70 Iraqi business owners gathered in the Babylon Hotel on the Karadah Peninsula in southeastern Baghdad for the inaugural Rebuilding Karadah Expo and Conference, May 23-24. Entrepreneurs and shopkeepers met at the hotel to display their products and services and to meet other Karadah business owners and community leaders.
Participants setting up booths represented businesses in the fields of retail sales, construction, durable and industrial goods, and even a beekeeper selling honey. In addition, several nongovernmental agencies and municipal officials set up and visited booths, and various Arab media organizations covered both days of the conference and expo.
The Iraqi Chamber of Commerce and Industry hosted the two-day event, which the Baghdad 2 Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team officials estimate more than 2,000 visitors attended.
Conrad Tribble, leader of the Baghdad 2 EPRT, a Washington D.C., native, said this was the largest event of its kind to take place in Baghdad outside the International Zone in a long time.
"The event was a success because it sent a strong message to government leaders of Baghdad that business owners are an important voice of the community," he said. The business owners of Karadah have a positive message, he added.
The Baghdad 2 Embedded PRT, based at Forward Operating Base Loyalty, and the main Baghdad PRT, based in the International Zone, each sponsored 10 booths at the expo for local small-business owners.
In addition to leading the team, Tribble serves as theteam's political specialist, drawing on his 20 years of experience as a State Department foreign-service officer. He said his mission is to bring civilian development and diplomacy to the operating environment of the 10th Mountain Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team.
"What we are trying to do through our participation is to stimulate the private sector as well as see what kinds of businesses would come out," Tribble explained, crediting the Iraqi Chamber of Commerce and Industry for planning and executing the expo and conference.
Madeeha Hasan Odhaib, a Karadah business owner and member of the Karadah District Advisory Council, whom Time Magazine recently named one of the world's 100 most influential people of 2008, attended the event. She employs 100 Iraqi women in the sewing factory in the district.
"I'm happy that Iraqi ladies of Karadah are allowed and encouraged to participate in events such as these," said Odhaib, whom Queen Rania of Jordan nominated for the Time Magazine honor.
Baghdad's provincial governor, Hussein al Tahan; Sabir al-Isawi, the mayor of Baghdad; and Muin Hamid Abd al-Majid al-Kadhimi, Baghdad Provincial Council chairman, attended the event to support Karadah businesses.
The Baghdad 2 Embedded PRT and main Baghdad PRT sponsored the Business-2-Business trade show in February, in which more than 300 businesses from throughout the capital participated. That "monumentally successful" event, Tribble said, spawned the idea for each local district to have its own expo, highlighting local business owners and addressing their concerns.
Next month, the Rusafa district of Baghdad will host its expo, and it won't be long before every district in Baghdad has celebrated inaugural business expos, Tribble said.
"This is sort of developing a Baghdad-wide wave of enthusiasm and attention to the private sector, which we all like to think is the primary stimulus for economic growth, ... the main potential for employment growth over the next several years," he said.
(Army Sgt. Jeremy Todd serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 10th Mountain Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team.)