Support our mission
Muhan Hassan Mizaal al-Saadi sits in the doorway of his grilled fish restaurant Friday. Behind the restaurant, Army engineers are in the second phase of a project to renovate and re-open a large park on the east bank of the Tigris Restaurant in Baghdad's Rusafa neighborhood. Al-Saadi hopes that the park will bring people back to the park, and consequently, his restaurant.

Muhan Hassan Mizaal al-Saadi sits in the doorway of his grilled fish restaurant Friday. Behind the restaurant, Army engineers are in the second phase of a project to renovate and re-open a large park on the east bank of the Tigris Restaurant in Baghdad's Rusafa neighborhood. Al-Saadi hopes that the park will bring people back to the park, and consequently, his restaurant. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

Muhan Hassan Mizaal al-Saadi sits in the doorway of his grilled fish restaurant Friday. Behind the restaurant, Army engineers are in the second phase of a project to renovate and re-open a large park on the east bank of the Tigris Restaurant in Baghdad's Rusafa neighborhood. Al-Saadi hopes that the park will bring people back to the park, and consequently, his restaurant.

Muhan Hassan Mizaal al-Saadi sits in the doorway of his grilled fish restaurant Friday. Behind the restaurant, Army engineers are in the second phase of a project to renovate and re-open a large park on the east bank of the Tigris Restaurant in Baghdad's Rusafa neighborhood. Al-Saadi hopes that the park will bring people back to the park, and consequently, his restaurant. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

Sgt. Felinar Guillermo watches from his bulldozer as Sgt. George Daoang rips out concrete and rebar from a park fountain in Baghdad's Rusafa neighborhood. The two, members of the Army Reserve's 411th Engineer Battalion, are part of the nearly five dozen engineers working on the riverside park, which is expected to reopen to the public in November.

Sgt. Felinar Guillermo watches from his bulldozer as Sgt. George Daoang rips out concrete and rebar from a park fountain in Baghdad's Rusafa neighborhood. The two, members of the Army Reserve's 411th Engineer Battalion, are part of the nearly five dozen engineers working on the riverside park, which is expected to reopen to the public in November. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

Oklahoma City-native Spc. Ryan Taylor of Company B, 458th Engineer Battalion, provides security for other engineers working on a park along the east bank of the Tigris River in Baghdad's Rusafa neighborhood. Engineers are in the second phase of a project to renovate and re-open the park.

Oklahoma City-native Spc. Ryan Taylor of Company B, 458th Engineer Battalion, provides security for other engineers working on a park along the east bank of the Tigris River in Baghdad's Rusafa neighborhood. Engineers are in the second phase of a project to renovate and re-open the park. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

BAGHDAD — Muhan Hassan Mizaal al-Saadi sat in the doorway of his grilled fish restaurant Friday, taking in the early afternoon heat and haze along Abu Nuwas street in the city’s Rusafa neighborhood.

The sound of Iraqi voices and drone of passing vehicles were occasionally overpowered by the rumble of Army engineers’ construction equipment working on the riverside park behind al-Saadi’s restaurant.

Although the engineers from the Army Reserve’s 458th, 411th, and 980th engineer battalions and the Arkansas National Guard’s 239th Engineer Company produce large clouds of dirt, al-Saadi couldn’t be happier.

He believes today’s dust is tomorrow’s prosperity for his restaurant and the handful of others bordering the park.

Nearly five dozen soldiers have been clearing and grading land in the nearly mile-long, 100-meter-wide park, which runs along the east bank of the Tigris river in Rusafa, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, for the past few weeks.

They are in the second phase of a three-phase project that is hoped to revive the once neglected park and again make it gathering point for Baghdad’s citizens.

“During the 1980s, this street used to be the traditional point [for people to gather],” al-Saadi said through an interpreter. “They would come and have grilled fish.”

Behind al-Saadi sat a tank filled with Tigris River carp.

“But lately, during the 1990s, this part was forgotten,” he said. “No people would come and visit because of events of the Gulf War and the following Iraqi crisis.”

After coalition forces captured Baghdad last year, Abu Nuwas became even more isolated as barriers sprung up around the nearby Palestine and Sheraton hotels, cutting off the two-lane road from nearly all traffic.

The on-site project engineer, 1st Lt. Brian Mason, said that this project was undertaken after being requested by Baghdad’s mayor, Alaa al-Tamimi, who has recently called for the removal of all defensive barriers around the city.

Rusafa, however, is slowly returning to normal with each pass of the engineer’s grader or truckload of debris hauled off the site.

Mason said the first phase included the removal of wire and barriers from the park and nearby Firdos Square, the site where Marines helped Iraqis tear down a large statue of Saddam Hussein in the initial days of Baghdad’s capture.

During the on-going second phase, which started July 14 and is expected to finish later this month, the engineers are removing damaged concrete fountains and regarding the park’s land in preparation for the final phase.

Mason said that this project will probably be the best-remembered part of the engineers’ tour in Iraq.

“They’re going to remember these two months most of all and say it was worth being here just for this,” he said. “When we get a project like this we get to see the fruits of our labor. It makes a positive impact on the local area.”

“We’re doing what we were trained for,” said the 411th’s Spc. Seth Fillmore, who was a college student in Hawaii before being mobilized. “It’s visible proof that we’re helping the Iraqis.”

The 51-year-old al-Saadi said he greatly appreciates the engineers’ work. “I can see these people came from far away to help us,” he said. “I am looking with my own eyes and see they are doing a great job.”

He has worked in the restaurant since the 1960s. Inducted into the Iraqi army for the 1980 Iran-Iraq war, al-Saadi said he was captured and spent 18 years as an Iranian prisoner. He only returned to the Abu Nuwas street restaurant five years ago.

Al-Saadi said he’s seen more progress in the area in the past five months than in the previous five years.

The final phase, which will run for two months starting around September 1, is the landscaping of the park by Iraqi gardeners.

Mason said officials hope to officially open the park on Nov. 1, none too soon for al-Saadi.

“I hope that this will be more than it used to be,” he said. “We will feel the smile come back to the faces of the Iraqi people.”


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up