OUBAIDY, Iraq — Approaching the market in this area of eastern Baghdad, one is nearly overwhelmed by its sights, smells and sounds.

Covered by flies and unrefrigerated, fish for sale lie in the sun.

Residents snake through the crowded narrows between vegetable stands.

Children pester soldiers for watches, pens, chocolate, money or anything else.

Once past the squatters’ stands, the market improves drastically. Things are calmer, cleaner and shaded inside. Merchants in hard-stand storefronts sell spices, scarves, shoes and other sundries. For a moment, it’s not unlike flea markets in some European cities.

The 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment is undertaking an effort to improve the Oubaidy market, which it sees as a vehicle to better overall conditions in the area.

"Oubaidy is really the fringe," said Maj. Jeff Bramlett, the executive officer of 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. "It’s right on the edge of some really bad areas. It’s gotten bad in the past. It’s sort of on the tipping point. What we’re trying to do is come in, get the Neighborhood Action Councils involved, get their input, try to get them on board and then we come in with the projects."

The goal of the projects is to establish a safe, secure market that would be an economic engine in the area, providing jobs and injecting money into the local economy.

A throng of illegal squatters’ stands impedes entry into the formal market.

"It doesn’t facilitate a lot of business at times," said Capt. Adisa King, commander of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. "People just kind of gather there. What we want to do is show them that, economically, you can get yourself sustained and this is how we can help you."

A better market would also serve as a viable alternative for those tempted to engage in violent activity — a point Bramlett summed up in a conversation with the owner of a fruit stand.

"Who wants to blow something up when they can make money?" Bramlett asked.

Nine different projects are slated for the Oubaidy market. Specifically, the battalion wants to increase accessibility to the market by improving the surrounding roads. Some roads in the area are flooded with 10 to 14 inches of sewage. Work should begin on the projects later this month. Additionally, microgrants of a few thousand dollars each will also be offered to help business owners in the market. During a visit to the market Wednesday, Bramlett told merchants to talk to their Neighborhood Action Council about how they want the market improved.

The market-improvement plan in Oubaidy is something the battalion is working on to replicate in the other areas where it operates.

"Right now, it varies from area to area," Bramlett said. "Markets are a good focus for us. It’s something that people are behind. It brings in a lot of other things. Micro-power generation is another one to address a lot of the energy concerns. It varies a little bit, depending on what the needs of the people are in that area."

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 Now