Monday, February 25, 2008

Iraqi Security Forces, Local Shop Owners Clean Up Four Corners Market District

Sgt. Brandon Sayles, from Hilo, Hawaii, a squad leader in Troop A, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, speaks with a member of the Concerned Local Citizens in the Four Corners market district , southeast of Baghdad, Feb. 21. The 3rd National Police Battalion, Sons of Iraq, local Iraqi police and coalition forces worked with shop owners in Four Corners to help clean up the market area.

By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Cars did not jam the streets of the Four Corners market district, southeast of Baghdad, Feb. 21. The market was not packed with shoppers and merchants selling their wares; nonetheless, the scene was a far cry from just under one year ago.

Eleven months ago, local people would not come to the market; few shops were even open.

“Sectarian violence and criminals kept people out,” said Sgt. 1st Class James Mattwig, from Ashtabulah, Ohio, a platoon sergeant in headquarters troop, Troop A, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment. “When we first arrived, Four Corners was a hub for enemy supplies going into Baghdad. Not many people wanted to live or work there.”

Since the arrival of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team into the Mada’in Qada, the market has slowly reverted back to a hub of commerce rather than violence.

On Feb. 21, policemen assigned to the 3rd National Police Battalion controlled traffic coming into the market so shop owners could fix up their shops. Members of the Sons of Iraq planted trees and local children picked up trash accumulated along the streets, while local policemen provided security. It was a day of improvement for an area on the upswing.

“Today was a collective effort between the national police, Sons of Iraq, Iraqi police and coalition forces to help local shop owners clean up the market,” Mattwig said. “We are making progress cleaning up the area. It is getting better here.”

Mattwig said soon after coalition forces arrived in the area, shop owners started returning. As more businesses reopened, people started coming back. The influx of people is directly tied to the security of the area.

“We were very aggressive in rooting out the criminals when we first arrived,” he said. “The bad guys packed up and left very quickly. Since November, we haven’t seen any extremist activity and that lone incident was an EFP (explosively-formed projectile) at the edge of our battle space. The bad guys have gotten the message from us: You aren’t wanted here.”

Disuse had caused much of the market to fall into disrepair; without shop owners to clean up in front of their stores, trash accumulated along the roads. When people started returning, business owners were so busy trying to make up for lost time and profit that repair and upkeep lost priority.

“When we first got here it was a train wreck,” said Spc. Garrett Brooks, from Maryville, Tenn., a scout in Troop A. “It was pretty nasty. The people of the area have slowly cleaned it up. I think after today, it will look 20 times better. Just seeing what they’ve done so far is impressive. “

Troop A has provided assistance to many local shops; in turn, the shop owners have hired more workers. Mattwig said more jobs lead to more money infused into the community.

“The more people that have a job are more customers for the shop owners here in Four Corners,” he said. “It’s a cycle -- the more people make, the more they spend. As the shop owners start making more money, they will need to start hiring more people to keep up with demand. It just builds on itself.”

Residents of Four Corners are grateful to coalition forces and Iraqi security forces, according to Brooks.

“The more willing we are to help them, it seems they become more willing to help us return the favor,” he said.

As the Soldiers went through the streets to check on the progress of the cleaning project, they were greeted by shop owners and Iraqi security forces. After months of working together, the three groups are familiar with one another.

“We are glad the U.S. forces are here,” said a local man through an interpreter. “They have helped the people here very much.”

Mattwig was not surprised that residents expressed that sentiment.

“We know each other,” Mattwig said. “We recognize each other and converse. I would say we have a good relationship with the locals and Sons of Iraq.”

Hopefully those relationships will pay off in the future, said Barks.

“It (Four Corners) still needs work,” he said. “There is still a lot of cleaning up that needs to be done, but it is on its way. It’s still a work in progress, but progress is still being made.”

The 3-1 Cav. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March.

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