By Army Maj. Mike Humphreys
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 29, 2008 - Deep-purple eggplant glisten in the sun while stacks of fresh watermelon rest on display safely under cover from the midday 115-degree heat as Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team walk the street admiring the produce and assessing needs of a popular fish market in the Suleikh neighborhood of Baghdad's Adhamiyah district July 24. The patrol was part of a continued effort to build on the economic success the unit has seen in Adhamiyah.
"The fish market is a great example of what improved security can mean in the lives of Iraqis," said Army Maj. Byron Sarchet, information operations officer for 3rd BCT. "This piece of Baghdad has seen little U.S. or [Iraqi Army] presence lately. Security is being provided by the Sons of Iraq currently, and the market is thriving."
Sons of Iraq are local residents who have taken on some of the responsibility for providing security in their neighborhoods.
But some dangers come with the limited U.S. presence that security success has provided. Sarchet said simple problems with simple solutions often can easily become big problems for U.S. and Iraqi forces if left unattended. Just driving by the fish market, it's easy to get the impression of a flourishing market with no troubles in sight, but a cursory walk through the streets uncovers a problem.
Abdul al-Setar, an Iraqi business owner, runs into the street to greet the U.S. soldiers. Through an interpreter, he gives an animated report that his home and shop have power for only an hour a day. "It is too hot. This is not good for my wife and family," Setar tells the soldiers hoping they can bring relief.
After a round of tea from a street vendor, the soldiers begin their search for the generator meant to provide power to the street. They don't look far before an Iraqi woman approaches with the same concern as Setar's.
The patrol soon finds two generators in the market in similar degrees of disrepair. Sarchet said the first thought might be to contract for repair or replacement of the generators, but that doesn't help the Iraqis solve the problem for themselves.
"We can't let the fish market flounder," he said before explaining what the best solution would be. "It's important to find a local guy with a vested interest in the market and the economy to help provide power to the neighborhood," he said.
Another walk around and the patrol encounters a small store with a healthy generator powering about 60 shops along the busy street. Mustafa Abud Aller is happy to invite the soldiers in to see his shop, and he proudly shows off the generator that he and his brother-in-law maintain.
"Can you fix the generators in the market?" Sarchet asks Mustafa, who answers enthusiastically that he could, but that it would cost money.
"Sure, this guy is taking advantage of the situation," Sarchet said, "but that's business. If we can quickly get him $3,000 and he becomes the power company for the neighborhood, that's business."
Less than two years ago, Adhamiyah was wrought with violence and sectarian strife. Now, markets are flourishing all over the district. Iraqis sell fresh produce, clothes, electronics, auto parts and other wares, bringing normalcy to the area and stimulating the economy. But Sarchet warned that peace is fragile without continued interaction and communication with the people.
"The market here is thriving because the people have had a taste of how good it can be. We just have to keep progressing forward," he said.
(Army Maj. Mike Humphreys serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)