Baghdad Fair Helps Residents Plan for Economic Future
By Pfc. April Campbell, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Feb. 12, 2008 In the late-morning sunlight, the crowd paid close attention to the speaker. He was one of them -- a home-grown leader.
Army Col. Jeffery Bonner, a Fayetteville, Tenn., native who serves as an agricultural and commercial business development officer with the local embedded provincial reconstruction team, speaks to citizens from the Suleikh, Tunnis and Qahira neighborhoods in Baghdad’s Adhamiya district during a market fair in Suleikh, Feb. 9, 2008. Photo by Pfc. April Campbell, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
They heard this meeting would offer them benefits, and Fikrat Kareem, the neighborhood advisory council leader for Tunnis, was introducing the day's topic: their neighborhood economies.
An estimated 200 Iraqi residents from the Qahira, Suleikh and Tunnis neighborhoods in Baghdad’s Adhamiya district began planning for the economic future of their areas by attending a Feb. 9 market fair in Suleikh.
Along with seminars providing business-management coaching, the event, coordinated through the combined efforts of Iraqi and coalition forces leaders in the area, also introduced these Iraqis to the concept of a market action committee. Such committees have proven successful in nearby neighborhoods within Adhamiya.
Army Col. Jeffery Bonner, a Fayetteville, Tenn., native who serves as an agricultural and commercial business-development officer with the local embedded provincial reconstruction team, is helping to implement the market action committee idea in neighborhoods throughout Adhamiya.
The idea behind the market action committee is "to get leaders (within) these specific areas to come together to form a council under the government of Iraq as a not-for-profit organization," Bonner explained.
As a nonprofit organization, the groups will be able to work with representatives from organizations such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, the colonel added.
Robert C. Dose, an agricultural market specialist with the USAID-sponsored Agribusiness Program, was present at the event.
"This area is on the edge of an agricultural production area and an urban area," Dose said. "We're here to provide new technology in areas such as food processing and packaging."
The ability of civilian representatives from such organizations to come to the area to work with Iraqi citizens is largely due to the improved level of security provided by the Iraqi security forces, citizen volunteers and Multinational Division Baghdad forces, he noted.
"This whole area has become permissive for us to work with the local leaders," Dose said. "Six months ago, we wouldn't have come here."
The market fair not only was a result, in large part, of better security, but also is a way to help ensure the area stays safe.
"In order to maintain the positive security momentum," Bonner said, "we have to have some vehicles to start bringing life back into the community and allow people the means of creating some personal revenue."
In addition to enabling USAID and representatives of other groups to work with the neighborhood business leaders, the market action committees also act as advocates from the business community to local governments.
Having an organization that can communicate with the local government about the forecast of different capitalization projects in the area is important when attempting to rebuild a neighborhood fixture such as the local marketplace, Bonner said.
It is important not to rebuild an entire market, he said, “only to find out that four months later, the local government is going to come and tear up the street and sidewalks to go put in water lines or gas lines."
Iraqis who attended the fair walked away with a sense of hope.
Muthier Salah Abidilkhalik, of Suleihk, said he attended the fair because he heard there would be projects to help his neighborhood people. The idea of the people working together to better the neighborhood economies will benefit the area now and also in the future, he said.
(Army Pfc. April Campbell serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)