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Monday, April 09, 2007

General Petraeus Goes to Market

By Maj. Kirk Luedeke
4th Light Infantry Brigade
Combat Team Public Affairs

BAGHDAD, April 4, 2007 - U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, visited the Dora Market March 31 and saw the significant improvements made there since December.

“Chai for everyone,” Petraeus exclaimed with a smile as he placed some money on the counter at a small tea shop to buy tea for all who accompanied him on the trip and then some. Later he sipped tea with an Iraqi Army battalion commander and Col. Ricky D. Gibbs, commander of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, whose unit is responsible for securing the Dora Market area. They discussed the visible progress in what was, just four months ago, a dangerous cluster of ramshackle buildings full of roaming death squads and criminals.

“This is still not pretty, but it has made substantial strides,” Petraeus said, noting that many of the dilapidated storefronts and houses in and around the market still show signs of the December violence in the once-vibrant economic hub of some 700 stores and kiosks. On Dec. 23, there were three shops left.

“There will be challenges here. This is an area that al-Qaeda continues to go after because it does represent success for the Sunni Arabs, and they (al-Qaeda) don’t want to see cooperation with the Iraqi government and Iraqi Security Forces,” Petraeus said. The market now has 141 stores and stands open for business, with room for many more as the situation improves. Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Forces - Iraq, was a welcome visitor to the market for Iraqi Army Lt. Col. Najm Abdul Wahed Motleq.

“I’m very honored to have the general here today to come and observe the situation on the ground here at the market,” Najm said. “This market was dead in the past and brought back to life with our presence here and with coalition forces securing this market.”

Najm’s 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 3rd Iraqi Army Division has received high marks from its U.S. counterparts for its professionalism and willingness to take on the responsibility of securing the market.

“They’ve done a great job and have taken ownership for the market,” said Capt. Ben Jones, whose Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment shares responsibility for security with the Iraqi Army. The Fort Carson, Colo.-based unit is attached to the 4th Brigade. Jones, a native of Meridian, Miss., and his rifle company have set up shop in the market, establishing a combat outpost that his unit, nicknamed the Gators, affectionately calls “the swamp.”

“People are coming back,” Jones said. “You talk to the people here, and a lot of them send their women to the market because they’re afraid to go out.” He described a dynamic that he and hissoldiers, along with the troops of the Iraqi Army, are working diligently to change. By occupying the first such combat outpost of several for his battalion, the Alpha Gators hope that their daily presence and professionalism will lead to trust between them and Dora’s population.

Gibbs said the Dora Market is only the beginning of productive inroads planned in Southern Baghdad.

“We have over 50 projects across the Rashid District with many more on the way,” the Harker Heights, Texas native said. “One of those integral to the Dora Market’s revitalization is a fence that will keep the criminals and violent elements out, while allowing the law-abiding merchants and citizens to conduct their business without interference.”

As Petraeus continued his tour, he stopped at a kiosk and purchased a tube of toothpaste. “Five dollars for toothpaste,” one bystander asked incredulously. “Anything to help the economy,” Petraeus replied as he handed the cash to the proprietor and moved on, toothpaste in hand.

Photo: U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, Multi-National Forces - Iraq commander, conducts a tour of the revitalized Dora Market in Baghdad, March 31, 2007. In late December, there were three shops open for business, but on the day of the visit, 141 stores were open. U.S. Army photo by Maj. Kirk Luedeke.

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