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Troops Help Iraqi Farmers Team Up With Co-op

By Spc. C. Terrell Turner, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

RASHIDIYAH, Iraq, April 14, 2006 – Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers worked with residents and farmers here to create a farming co-op that held its grand opening April 6.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
The tractors shown were provided as part of the building of a local farming co-op that opened its doors in Rashidiyah, Iraq, April 6. The co-op will provide support to about 3,000 acres in the Rashidiyah region. Photo by Spc. C. Terrell Turner, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image)

The co-op is a major step in stabilizing and strengthening the agricultural output in the region. Local farmers joined together and created a business plan that will consolidate their resources to benefit the entire community.

The new facility provides local farmers with tractors, various types of plows, fertilizer and seeds. Sharing the resources will allow the farmers to "lower costs, increase production and improve the agricultural situation in this area," said Capt. Wendy Weinell, civil affairs team leader, Company A, 490th Civil Affairs Battalion.

A local sheik and the city leaders helped to begin the co-op project about 18 months ago. The project will provide agriculture support to about 3,000 acres of local farmland in the Husseniya, Rashidiyah and Sheiksad areas.

The region produces a variety of fruits and vegetables, including date palms, citrus plants, okra, tomatoes, corn and cucumbers. Plans include expanding the facility to provide support for 6,000 square acres, Weinell said.

Iraqi soldiers and police worked alongside coalition forces to provide security for the grand opening.

"More than 200 members signed on to be a part of the co-op after an initial election," Weinell said. "There's a board of directors of which Sheik Mohan is the current chairman. He's worked with coalition forces since we first got here, and was instrumental in making the co-op happen."

Lt. Col. Rocky Kmiecik, commander of 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, sat with Sheik Mohan and several board members at the grand opening ceremony. Kmiecik and local farmers enjoyed a guided tour by a board member involved in the project.

For one local man, the co-op is a hands-on opportunity to help the community.

"I used to be a security guard at a local power plant," Mohammed Waleed said. "Eight months ago when the project was approved, I signed up to be the caretaker. Because they knew I was a good guard, they appointed me here."

Waleed, who lives nearby with his family, also helped in the construction of the facility. "He would point out deficiencies to me that he felt I should know about," Weinell said.

Adnan Najeen, 56, said he has been a farmer since he was born, and that he sees the new building as a way to bring more opportunities to the area. He remembers the area the facility now occupies as bare ground, lying in front of an aged water tower next to greenhouses built in the 1970s. The new building will enable farmers to grow various plants throughout the year.

"This has been a very successful project and will provide us with fertilizer and seeds," Najeen said. "All the farmers will benefit, as it raises the living standard of all the farmers. This will be a much easier time for us than in the time of former President Saddam Hussein."

(Army Spc. C. Terrell Turner is assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team public affairs, 4th Infantry Division.)

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