News: West Baghdad Market Thrives During Troop Surge
By 1st Lt. Brian Cooke
2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment
BAGHDAD—Adjusted security measures have resulted in a resurgence of economic growth in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Hateen. A local market has seen a resurgence of activity as Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers and Iraqi Security Forces give way to shopkeepers, and fear gives way to progress.
Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment, have teamed up with members of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army to find a way to stimulate business in the Hateen Market while still maintaining security. As a result, economic activity in the market has increased, fostering better relations between local merchants and the Iraqi Army.
The market, located in the southeastern Mansour neighborhood of Hateen, is the economic center of the area and its activity is directly tied to the economic prosperity of the residents.
Markets in Baghdad have long been a favorite target of suicide bombers, and the previous Iraqi Army unit in Hateen worried that the market there might be next in the long line of attacks committed by insurgents. With its three blocks of grocery stores, butcher shops, cafes, and vegetable stands, the Hateen Market presented a security problem for 3rd Battalion, 5th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Infantry Division.
In response to this problem, the Iraqi battalion blocked the roads leading into the market with concertina wire and concrete and sand-filled barriers. The concertina wire and concrete kept suicide bombers at bay, but it also limited pedestrian access to the market. As a result, sales plummeted and a large number of proprietors closed their shops.
The local merchants were distraught by the decline in customers, and requested that the Iraqi Army and Coalition Forces find a way to secure their market without limiting pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
The new Iraqi Army battalion commander, Col. Ali Al-Obaydi, made fixing the situation in the Hateen Market his top priority. On May 21, Col. Ali toured the market, along with Maj. Jim MacGregor, 2-32 FA's executive officer, and Capt. Brian McCall, commander of Battery A, 2-32 FA.
Together, the three leaders engaged local merchants about the status of commerce in the market and asked the shop owners what could be done to stimulate business. Most of the owners agreed that the Iraqi army needed to remove the concertina wire and abandon its blocking position to allow local residents easier access to the market.
They also asked that coalition forces conduct regular combined patrols of the market with Iraqi army units. Within one week, the blocking position was unmanned and the concertina wire was removed. Business in the market immediately picked up. Soldiers from 2-32 FA regularly patrol through the market with Iraqi Army troops, and local merchants greet both forces with smiles and, many times, an offer of a cold drink or snacks.
"It was unbelievable," remarked McCall, following a patrol of the market a week after his tour with Col. Ali. "Just a week ago, half of these stores were closed, and the ones that were open had owners who only wanted to complain to Col. Ali and I. Today, a week later, I felt like I was walking through a completely different market. The shops were all open. The merchants seemed happy, and best of all, there were customers everywhere."
McCall added that his unit, in conjunction with 2-5-6th IA, will continue to evaluate economic activity in the market. He said they are currently planning an advertising campaign that will use billboards to highlight the security of the market.