From outpost, soldiers oversee Baghdad industrial revival
BAGHDAD — Piles of ash and scorched factory equipment still litter the Alriyadhi Potato Snack factory in southeast Baghdad, where Mahdi Army militiamen torched Sunni-owned businesses and killed company executives in a terror campaign that blanketed this once bustling industrial zone.
In fact, portions of the plant were still smoldering when U.S. troops with the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment occupied the sprawling New Baghdad factory almost two months ago and converted the structure to a combat outpost.
Today however, commanders of units attached to the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division say the partially gutted factory may play a key role in reviving eastern Baghdad’s tattered economy as well as supporting the new Baghdad Security Plan.
By providing close over-watch for a cluster of metal smelting, paint producing and flour milling businesses that still operate there, commanders say they hope to provide enough security to attract more businesses and create jobs. New jobs, they say, will help erode support for sectarian militias like the Mahdi Army, which is led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
“We are trying to revitalize that little industrial zone, which could employ 3,000 to 4,000 people,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Sauer, commander of the 1-8 Cav. “It was a fairly robust area prior to the war. I can’t necessarily provide the direct funding to businesses, but I can, like a city manager, make sure the infrastructure is there.”
Improved roads, curbs and sanitation networks were perhaps the primary contributions U.S. forces would provide, said Sauer, a 42-year-old native of Mount Prospect, Ill. In some cases, however, the military might fund or oversee the cleaning and rehabilitation of industrial buildings for potential entrepreneurs.
A major element of the security plan now being implemented by Gen. David H. Petraeus is the creation of dozens of joint security stations and company-sized combat outposts throughout the city. Commanders hope that by moving U.S. troops out of super-sized forward operating bases, or FOBS, and into neighborhood bases, soldiers will develop ties to local residents and generate intelligence on sectarian fighters.
At the potato snack factory, which soldiers have dubbed the “Cobra Cabana,” troops from the 1-8 Cav’s Company C say they have been greeted warmly by residents in the industrial district.
“Many of the business owners love the fact that we’re here,” said Capt. Joseph Rosen, 30, of Leesville, La., Company C commander. “We talk to them often. Some of them, yes, they are afraid we’re going to attack them, but we’re trying to approach them as good neighbors.”
The goal, Sauer said, was to create jobs that would employ between 20 and 40 people for two weeks to a month. “We’re trying to stay away from two- to three-day jobs that only employ five or six guys.”