Friday, March 14, 2008

Good News from Iraq: 14 Mar 2008

From MNF-I, Salman Pak market opens for business.

COMBAT OUTPOST CARVER — A new market opened in Salman Pak March 11 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by leaders of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, local citizens and council leaders.

The market consists of seven stores including two restaurants, a supermarket, an electronics shop, a photo shop, a sweets store and a cell phone store.

Capt. Mathew Givens, projects planner for the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, said planning for the market began last December when 1-15th Inf. Regt. Soldiers in the area saw run-down shops where the new market now stands.

Givens, a native of Columbus, Ga., said the stores had potential to be revitalized and turned into a thriving shopping area.

“We chose the area because there is so much going on and it is at the beginning of the main part of town,” Givens said. “The JSS (joint security station), the government building and the Salman Pak Fire Station are right across the street. It’s in a central location.”

Leaders of the 1-15 Inf. Regt. provided store owners with microgrants enabling them to refurbish their stores.

“The electronics store owner bought more work tools,” Givens said. “The cell phone store owner bought a display case. (The restaurant owners) bought refrigerators and tables and chairs so people can sit outside and eat. They were also able to design their own store front signs. Out in front of the market is one central sign with all the store names.”

Fathil, owner of the al Ressala restaurant, said before the project, his store was too small and lacked necessary equipment.

“With the microgrant,” he said through a translator, “I bought more equipment, the sign, a storage shed and tables and chairs. People like to come here now because they can sit out front of my restaurant and eat and rest.”

Construction of the $240,000 refurbishment began in early February, Givens said. In addition to the stores’ interior renovations, the outside of the market was painted and a raised, cement walk with a rubber, non-slip coating was added to the front of the building.

Givens said while the market is not 100 percent complete, each store is fully operational. He said lights and cement garbage cans will be emplaced soon.

Givens attributes much of the success of the project to the improved security in Salman Pak.

“We could not have done any of this without the improved security in the area,” he said. “Before, the market was dead. No one wanted to shop here because it wasn’t safe. Now they are coming back because they feel safe.”

After the opening ceremony, Salman Pak leaders were invited back to COP Carver for a luncheon hosted by Lt. Col. Jack Marr, from Minneapolis, commander of the 1-15 Inf. Regt.

Before the chicken, lamb and rice spread was served, Marr welcomed Gen. Jassem, commander of the 9th Iraqi Army Division, and Gen. Abdullah, commander of the 1st Brigade, 9th IA Division, whose unit recently assumed responsibility of Salman Pak from the outgoing 1st Brigade, 1st National Police Division.

Jassem said he wants people to come visit the Mada’in Qada to see the improved security.

“The efforts of the good people in the area are not lost,” he said through a translator. “People ask me, ‘Is the area safe?’ … I tell them, ‘Yes, it’s safe.’”

The 3rd HBCT, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.